Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pot Luck and Quail Pie

A year or so ago, when my husband was ill for such a long time, many many friends brought us dinner. Casseroles and lasagna, shepherd’s pies, stuffed shells, salads and deserts. It waswonderfully helpful and tremendously appreciated.

Now it’s my turn, and I’m dropping the ball. I know five women who are facing health problems or the much happier circumstance of a new baby, and I really, really want to feed these lovely people.

But niggling things keep popping up to keep me from fulfilling my noble purpose, not the least of which is that I’ve forgotten how to cook the appropriate dishes. Used to be that every woman (and it was always women) had a repertoire of dishes she could whip up to take to the sick, the bereaved, or just any pot luck gathering. Sadly, since I’ve become a novelist, I spend my time writing about just such a woman, but I’ve lost my actual skills!

So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been practicing on my husband and myself. This is very useful, because it allows me not only to make sure I can cook something that won’t poison the recipient, but since it takes the two of us a week to eat up the huge dish I end up making, I can see how long it stays good in the fridge.

Thus far, I’ve done well with a Savannah quiche, a hot pot casserole, and a chili-cornbread shepherd’s pie. In my books, Alafair is continually making dishes to take to someone for some gathering or baby or funeral. In my upcoming book, Crying Blood, she makes a couple of quail pies to take to her mother-n-laws. I’d love to take that to one of my friends, but none of my menfolk have been quail-hunting lately.

In case yours have, here’s how she did it:

Quail Pie

Quail are delicious little birds that can be used in any recipe that calls for chicken. Keep in mind, though, that the bobwhite quail that Shaw and the boys shot on their hunting trip in 1915 are smaller than chickens, so it’ll take more of them. Since they have lived their lives in the wild, quail are also tougher than home-grown poultry, so often game birds are ‘hung’ for a few days to help tenderize the meat. But if the birds are young they can certainly be cooked fresh.
There are innumerable ways to make quail pie, both simple and complex. The easiest is to cut the quail into pieces and fry it in butter. Take the birds out of the skillet and mix the pan juices with a little flour to thicken. Remove the meat from the bones, arrange the quail in a baking dish and pour the pan gravy over all. If the quail are dry, add some bacon on top of the quail meat. Top with pie crust and bake for 20 minutes or so in a hot oven (400 degrees) until golden brown.

The quail pie that Alafair took to her in-laws’ house for Sunday dinner was more like a traditional pot pie. The quail were boiled in salted water until tender, then removed from the bones and returned to the broth while she sauteed an onion in butter in a skillet. When the onion began to brown, she added two or three tablespoons of flour and stirred until smooth, then added in the quail meat with its broth and cooked it over a low flame until the mixture thickened. She then added a couple of cups of cooked vegetables--peas, potatoes, carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes--whatever was on hand, and poured the whole thing into a deep baking dish. She then covered it with a pie crust or biscuit dough and baked as above.

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