Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lord Woolton Pie

We can say what we like of Lord Woolton.
Or at least we can say what we dare.
But England must sit up and listen.
When Woolton is heard on the air.
Our portions may be microscopic.
But they grow every moment more dear.
And Woolton dictates on a topic.
That touches us near.

Anyone with a cursory acquaintance with this blog or its author knows that savory pastries are dear to my heart. Pies and crumbles, pasties and samosas, sausage rolls, stromboli, calzones, or anything en croute...whatever the filling, it is my firm belief that encasing it in carbohydrates and baking it will only improve the situation. And so today I am delighted to present that formidable example of wartime dinner pastry, Lord Woolton Pie. As the World Carrot Museum (!!!) tells us, this was a vegetable casserole consisting of assorted roots and tubers, baked with a topping of mashed potato or pastry dough - sort of a meatless cottage, shepherd's, or pot pie.  It was apparently invented at the Savoy Hotel and named for Frederic Marquis, 1st Earl of Woolton, who became the nation's Minister of Food shortly after Britain joined the war (the song above goes on for several more stanzas, but you take the point). As you can see from the "Official Recipe," this dish is fairly flexible and workmanlike, but one is bound to admit that it sounds rather bland and - dare I say it? - joyless. Then again hunger is the best sauce, mustn't grumble, worse things happen at sea, etc., and we can assume that a hot dish of anything must have seemed pretty appetizing whilst (see what I did there?) allowed a mere two ounces of fat per week for fourteen years.

Since wasting food should be every bit as big a no-no today as it was in 1941, a few changes were made to increase this dish's chances of being eaten by my family. First, I splurged on a bit of margarine in which to sauté the veggies, instead of boiling them as in the prototype; I also substituted sliced mushrooms for the swede/turnip because it is one of the few vegetables I cannot abide, added a few herbs for seasoning, and threw in some leafy greens to alleviate the of the whole. Since the original recipe allows for a choice of potato or pastry topping, I opted for the latter since 1. see above in re: pastry making everything better, 2. there was a box of Bisquick languishing in the cupboard, and 3. the idea of making something featuring potatoes on the inside and the outside seemed somehow gratuitous. 

And you know what? It was absolutely delicious; an unqualified success. The vegetables were herby and soft but still retained just enough of their separate characters, what I feared would be the excess liquid was absorbed in the baking process, and the biscuity topping made the whole thing perfect for a chilly October evening. Even the resident parsnip hater ate a huge helping! In short, this one will be staying in rotation even after the war - er, Vegan MoFo - is over. So thanks, Lord Woolton; there'll be no belt-tightening at ours tonight!

Woolton Pie
~ 1 tbsp. margarine
~ 1 large onion or 2 leeks, chopped (I used a combination)
~ 1 large potato, diced
~ 2 large carrots, diced
~ 2 large parsnips. diced
~ 2 cups chopped cauliflower florets
~ 2 cups sliced mushrooms (and/or diced turnip, if you can abide the stuff)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, sage, marjoram, thyme, Marmite
~ 1 cup vegetable stock or water
~ 1 tbsp. each: rolled oats, flour
~ A few handfuls chopped leafy greens such as kale, chard, or spinach
~ Mashed potato or pastry for topping

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a deep pot with a lid (I used a Dutch oven), melt the margarine and sauté the onion and/or leek over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the potato, parsnips, carrots (and loathsome turnip if using), and a splash of water, and then cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes.
~ Add the cauliflower, mushrooms, and seasonings, and stock. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook another 5-7 minutes.
~ Remove the cover, raise the heat to medium, and stir in the flour and the leafy greens. Cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring often, until slightly thickened.
~ Transfer the vegetable mixture to the prepared casserole, and top with mashed potato or pastry topping (I used a biscuity topping of 2 cups Bisquick mixed with 1 cup plain, unsweetened soymilk; highly recommended and easy).
~ Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.


  1. Lord Woolton Pie was absolutely scrummy. "Like many another economical dish, it can be described as wholesome fare" certainly sounds like the kind of thing that would make the children (and adults) cry, but even if the blogger hadn't added a dollop of margarine and sauteed the poor vegetables instead of boiling the little bastids, this would have been a joyful and delicious dish. I had just gotten out of the car after an 8-hour drive, feeling bleary and otherworldly, and Lord Woolton genuinely gave me the will to carry on for a bit. Thanks honey!