When I lived in England, my American friends often inquired about our home across the pond. My response was that “I live in the Shire” – J.R.R. Tolkien’s magical green land, bordered by rivers and fertile valleys. The statement, inspired by my mental image of the land of the Hobbits, was in fact remarkably close to the truth. I later discovered that Tolkien modeled his Shire after rural Worcestershire, where he spent his childhood and where I lived more than a century later.
Mr. Tolkien, you were so right – it was and still is a lovely green land.
On a recent visit to my old Worcestershire neighborhood, I was tooling down a country lane on a gloriously crisp English morning — off to meet my golfing friends. After rounding one of many blind corners on the route, there it was – a hunt, straight ahead and coming my way! It was a vivid reminder of the timeless and charming character of rural England. Delete my car (the only modern element) from the scene, and here was Tolkien’s Shire.
I pulled over and scrambled for my camera, but, at the time, it seemed more important to adhere to etiquette (not spook the horses) than to take photos. So, I sat quietly in my car as the horses trotted past and each rider thanked me for stopping. I did manage to get two photos just as the last rider went by:
This quintessentially English scene was just the beginning of a week of rural England at its best – lovely English friends, golf in the Vale of Evesham, a ramble through the Malvern Hills, a bit of English Arts and Crafts and great English food.
Blimey, a perfect week in The Shire!!
The great English food? Well, in a too-short week, I managed to feed my face with a long list of favorites: Cornish Yarg, back bacon, local bangers, broad-bean salad, black pudding, toast with Marmite (not for everyone), sticky toffee pudding, steamed vegetables, and, last but not least, a home-cooked Shepherd’s Pie.
Shepherds’ Pie is a glorious winter dish and an excellent choice for a crowd. Steer clear of the Americanized versions advocating hamburger and frozen vegetables. Easier, perhaps, but it simply won’t cut it. First, make your Shepherd’s Pie with LAMB, not beef, which would be Cottage Pie. Second, cut the lamb in very small pieces or use a coarse grind. Third, brown the lamb in batches to bring out the full flavor. Finally, for a bit of extra pizazz, try my friend Sandy’s delicious leek and cheese topping.
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Serving Size: 4
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, maris piper or russets
4 tablespoons butter
2 ounces milk
1 tablespoon oil, canola
1 1/2 pounds lamb, coarse ground
3 medium onions
3 sticks celery
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon thyme, fresh, chopped leaves
1/2 teaspoon rosemary, fresh, chopped leaves
2 tablespoons flour, all purpose
1 cup stock, chicken
1 cup wine, red
5 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons ketchup
2 teaspoons tomato paste
LEEK AND CHEESE TOPPING (OPTIONAL)
2 tablespoon butter
3 ounces cheddar, English, grated
1. Peel the potatoes, cut them into pieces and place in a stockpot covered with cold water. Salt the water (about one heaping tablespoon for a large pot). Bring to a boil and cook until tender – about 25 minutes.
Drain and return potatoes to the stockpot. Heat over very low heat for a few minutes to steam out excess moisture. Turn off heat and add butter. Mash with a potato ricer (not a potato masher). Add a bit of milk, 1-2 ounces, just enough to get a workable consistency while potatoes are warm. If potatoes are too thin, they will cook into the lamb mixture. Taste for salt. Set potatoes aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) if you are planning to cook the pie immediately after assembly.
3. Heat olive oil in a wide stockpot at medium-high heat. Add coarsely chopped/ground lamb without crowding – in batches if needed. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Once lamb begins to brown on the bottom, stir and chop to cook fully. A bit of browning will add flavor to the final dish. Remove meat from pan and set aside. Remove pan from heat but do not wash.
4. Chop onions, peeled carrots and celery into small dice. I prefer about 1/4 inch dice, but larger sizes are suitable.
5. Return stockpot to medium heat and add butter. Add vegetables to pot and sweat. While vegetables are cooking, add salt, pepper, cinnamon, thyme and rosemary.
Sprinkle 2 T flour into vegetables and stir until flour cooks slightly. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. The roux (butter and flour) will thicken the sauce.
Add red wine and cook about 20 minutes until flavors blend, wine evaporates and sauce is thick.
Add Worcestershire Sauce, ketchup and tomato paste. Taste for seasoning – adding more salt, pepper or Worcestershire if needed.
6. At this point, the sauce should be thick, not watery. If it is too thin, cook further to reduce liquid. If it is too thick, add a bit more stock or water. The sauce should have sufficient consistency to support the potato layer.
Place lamb mixture in an oven-proof casserole dish.
7. For the topping, clean leeks and cut into slices. Sweat leeks in a bit of butter in a small sauté or sauce pan. Set aside.
Reheat potato mash (microwave or stovetop) to achieve a soft consistency that will be easy to handle. Carefully place spoonfuls of potato on top of the lamb mixture. Smooth pototo into a thick, even layer.
Sprinkle leeks on top of potatoes. Top all with grated cheddar.
If you do not use the leek/cheese topping, cut swirls into the top of the potatoes with a large fork, providing extra browning surfaces and a pretty finish.
8. Bake Shepherd’s Pie 375 deg F until topping is lightly browned, edges are bubbling and the center is heated through (to 165 F).
9. DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS: Prepare lamb base through Step 6, cover tightly and freeze. The day before serving, remove from the freezer and thaw overnight in refrigerator.
Prior to baking, prepare potato mash and topping. Top thawed lamb base with potatoes and topping (Step 7) and bake as directed.
You can also prepare Shepherd’s Pie through Step 7 (with topping) and freeze. However, mashed potatoes do not fully retain their texture if frozen. So, if I have the time, I prefer to make and add the topping the day that I bake the Shepherd’s Pie.
My mother used to make us shepards pie all the time when we were kids, I can’t remember the last time I had it. I really like your version with the leek and cheese topping – that sounds amazingly delicious and I am going to make it for my mum when she comes out for her next visit 🙂
Glad I inspired you 🙂 It is one of my favorite “comfort foods”. My Mom used to make it too (probably not typical for a 1950s U.S. mom), although usually Cottage Pie.
That’s a very good Sheperd’s Pie recipe….love the topping, although I think I would stick to the mashed potato. I was at prep school in Worcestershire in the 50’s, in Chaddesley Corbett, and I remember the Tolkienesque countryside so clearly. Haven’t been back there for a long time.
Thanks. I remember that area – also beautiful. We did some nice walks through there (Wyre Forest?).
Beautiful Shepherd’s Pie. They do call the beef version shepherd’s stateside. Don’t know why, never saw a shepherd with cows!
You certainly wouldn’t see me shepherding cows! I find them big scary creatures – and stay as far as possible when rambling through fields 🙂
LOL, they are funny creatures.
Love the green and pleasant land, I miss the hedgerows. Great traditional pie, especially with that topping.
No hedgerows on the Hebrides??
I miss them here as well (Midwest U.S.). You can grow them but they don’t get as big, substantial and beautiful. “Wanna be” hedgerows, I’d call them.
Jeannee, your Shepherd’s Pie sounds just as good as I remember eating while living in England. Now I’m glad to have an authentic recipe. And the leek and cheese topping will be the perfect touch. Happy New Year to you. We have so enjoyed getting to know you this year and look forward to more of your wonderful posts. 🙂 ~ Terri & James
Terri/James – Thank you. Wishing you a very happy new year as well. I also thoroughly enjoy your posts. Probably no surprise there. I share your love of travel and, in particular, love the way you approach it….
Your shepherd’s pie sounds great with the leek and cheese topping. Most everyone here in New England calls it shepherd’s pie if it is made with lamb and cottage pie if it is made with beef. As you said…shepherds flocks are sheep. LOL.
Thanks Karen. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that New ENGLAND gets it right 🙂
That cheesy leek topping completely takes this dish to another level… yum, it looks delicious! I love England. I miss it dearly and still see it as my homeland, though I have been living in Australia for most of my life now. Your post perfectly encapsulates the beauty of the ‘motherland’ (as Aussies call it). So nice to see a new post from you, hope that you have a beautiful start to the new year! xxx
Thanks Laura. Wishing you the best. See you in 2014!
England is an excellent country to visit, and I quite like a lot of the food, bur alas, don’t go too often. Nice to see your post.
And I never traveled to Norway when I lived in the UK, yet it is a very easy trip. Of course, there is never enough time to visit all the places you would like….
What an adventure your week was! I would love to experience the English countryside. Beautiful post.
Thank you. It is really a beautiful place. What makes it so special is that they make such an effort to preserve their lovely villages/countryside and protect the villages from urban sprawl with tight regulations.
Shepard’s Pie is a favorite around here and I just love your idea of a leek topping and the mix of hearty vegetables.
I often make a Shepard’s Pie using the Indian lamb preparation ‘Kheema’ with sweet corn and peas topped with mashed potatoes and cheese:) A delicious merging of flavors….
Interesting. I assume that is your glorious creation rather than an Indian tradition 🙂
Hello, i accidentally stumbled on your lovely blog while I was looking for pictures of Worcestershire online. The beautiful picture of The Shire particularly caught my attention and I wanted to ask for a permission to use it for flyer that promotes non-profit local charity event for villages in Worcestershire area – off-course you would be properly credited as the pictures author and get some recognition around the area. The flyer is professionally designed and your picture would be treated tastefully and with respect. Please get back to me and send me an email with your contact details if you are interested and if you would like to see how the flyer would look like. My email is email@example.com
Beautiful view of Worcestershire from the Malverns. I look at this when I get homesick! I was brought up in the Vale of Evesham, now live on Vancouver Island, Canada.
Thank you. And, yes, it is a beautiful area. As an American, I felt priveliged to be able to live there for a while, and I also miss the place and friends there…