I love autumn and all of the new opportunities it brings for food. We are a household that hunts and forages, and I wanted to recreate a recipe that honors those fresh ingredients while reflecting on how they were used in the past.
I’m happy to say my husband harvested an anterless deer on the first day of muzzleloader season, so I’ll have lots of venison to work with this winter. For this past Sunday I chose to re-create a venison pie recipe from James, V. E. Mother James' Key to Good Cooking: With Complete Instructions in Household Management, Designed to Meet the Requirements of Common Every-day Use in the Country and Village Homes of the Present Day, Being the Result of Forty Years' Experience in Practical Housekeeping and in Every Phase and Department of Cookery from the Humble Country Home to the City Mansion. United States: N.D. Thompson. 1892
I know, that’s quite a title!
Here is the recipe:
I also like to forage mushrooms, and tweaked this recipe to include some that are growing right now. The day before I made this dish I found a few penny buns and shaggy mane mushrooms. If you’re not familiar with shaggy manes they need to be cooked immediately or they will deliquesce, or turn themselves into an inky substance. So I sliced all of these up and sautéed them in beef tallow. Once they were totally cooked down I put them in the fridge to store until I was ready to make my pie.
In the morning before I made my pie I went on another walk and found a large amount of pear-shaped puffball mushrooms and another penny bun. I also chilled these until I was ready. These mushrooms do not need to be cooked immediately and will store in the fridge for a day or two just fine.
I feel a responsibility to tell everyone at this point that while I use wild mushrooms in my recipes I would not suggest you do so unless you know what mushrooms you’re finding and can identify it with 100% certainty.
I preheated a dutch oven over the fire and prepared my chopped onion and cleaned venison meat. For this I used two good steaks and removed any connective tissue, bone or fat.
You don’t need to add butter or oil to your cooking pot because you’re covering that meat, onion and spice mixture with water.
I then let this simmer until it was completely tender, which took about an hour and a half. During the last half hour I cut those little puffball mushrooms in half and sliced up the last penny bun mushrooms and added them to the cooking pot.
I don’t have a pie plate I can use in an outdoor oven so I used the cast-iron skillet. I coated the skillet with a bit of beef tallow to prevent sticking. If you don’t have beef tallow you could use butter, shortening, or any rendered fat like duck fat. You just need to have two pie crusts; you could make your own basic flaky pie crust ahead of time and have it ready in the fridge or cheat and use store-bought ones, which will turn out just fine.
Using a slotted spoon I pulled the meat onion and mushrooms out of its cooking liquid and into a mixing bowl. I stirred in my cooked mushrooms from the night before. I also placed in the bowl the butter flakes in flour that they talk about on the recipe. I used about a tablespoon of each, cutting the cold butter into very small pieces and tossing it in some flour. Then I mixed everything together and put it on top of the bottom crust that I had pressed into the skillet.
Then I placed the top crust on, crimped the edges and cut a hole in the middle.
Now it says to bake slowly. I wasn’t very sure what that meant so at first I try to bake it at 250°. That was doing nothing so after about 40 minutes I bumped the temperature up to 350°. After about a half hour things were starting to happen, the crust was losing its moist texture and was starting to look drier and partially cooked. I let it go a little longer until I saw the slightest bit of gold in color then proceeded to the next step.
You’re supposed to use port wine, which I didn’t have, so I used a very good dry red wine. I just heated it up with the spices and then strained the spices back out of it before pouring it into the pie. I heated about a cup of wine but the pie wouldn’t take the whole thing. I was able to get in about 2/3 or 3/4 of a cup before it seemed completely full of wine. (Don’t worry, I drank the rest of the cup and nothing was wasted ha ha). I even tipped the pie to all sides to make sure the wine spread throughout the meat. Then I brushed the top with the beaten egg and put it back in the oven.
It cooked for another 30-45 minutes before I saw the wine dissipate and the crust brown. The pie seemed very wet with wine and I was very concerned for a long time, but all of the sudden it transformed. Once the crust was brown and that wine stopped bubbling it turned out great.
I let it rest a few minutes, then cut into a pie that was completely flaky on top and bottom and had a simple, meaty and savory taste.
While the pie was cooking I made a simple pan gravy with the cooking liquid from the venison and onion and roasted some winter squash. This made for a great autumn harvest meal. I highly recommend trying it and I would make it again myself.