Last night we had a pretty special chicken pot pie for supper. What made it special was that it was high in homemade and homegrown content. The crust was made from fresh-ground flour and butter churned from cream we skimmed from our raw milk. The gravy used our cream and butter and milk, as well as chicken broth from our own chicken, the one Chris slaughtered a month or so ago. That chicken also provided the meat. The carrots and peas and onions and celery were store-bought, but that will change soon enough.
As I was eating it, I was reminded that I really like chicken pot pie as a way of judging the quality of a chicken. It’s the same way we ate our first stewing hen from Joel Salatin, and I remember how intense the chicken flavor was, how I could really tell the difference between it and store-bought chicken. Last night’s pie was a similar experience.
And as I was eating it, I was reminded of the chicken pot pies I used to eat when Debbie and I lived in the Boston area just after we had married. We lived in an outlying town named Wilmington, and in the next town over (Reading) we stumbled across a place that sold homemade, bake-at-home pies for $5 apiece. These were 1.5 quart Pyrex dishes brimming with filling, topped with a pastry crust; you could get them with chicken and vegetables, or just chicken. The gravy was rich and creamy, the vegetables were nice big chunks, the chicken came in healthy strips. Just as with our homemade pot pie, it seemed like the ideal way to enjoy some good chicken, since the rest of the flavors don’t compete with it.
I’ve never been particularly excited about eating fish—except for the two years that Debbie and I lived in Boston. On the coast, the fish we would get as a matter of course was as fresh as can be, and suddenly I understood why one might think of fish as something other than bland fuel, something that needs to be wrapped in a tasty fried coating to make it interesting. The seafood dishes I ordered were generally straightforward and unadorned, grilled or broiled, so I could better taste the fish.
Since leaving Boston I lost interest in fish, because eating fresh fish where we lived was an expensive hobby. Except for catfish. During the ten years we lived in Austin, Texas, we ate a lot of meals at the Catfish Parlour, well known for never using frozen fish. And recently on a visit to Arkansas, our friends took us to a tiny place in the middle of nowhere that served us heaping platters of the freshest, tastiest catfish I’ve ever eaten. Someday I will take the time to find out if good, fresh river fish is served anywhere around here.
As with fish, I’ve never been particularly excited about ice cream—except for the two years that Debbie and I lived in Boston. Soon after we moved there I was in the Harvard bookstore, and at the checkout counter I noticed a little guidebook entitled “The 100 Best Ice Cream Parlors in Boston.” That caught my eye, since I was surprised to think that a city would have anything close to 100 ice cream parlors—but in Boston, apparently, the choices were so numerous that someone needed to narrow it down to the 100 best ones. Just as Seattle is a coffee city, Boston is an ice cream city. It is where the premium ice cream shop craze began, the place where they invented the idea of mixing junk into your ice cream on the spot using a chilled marble slab. During a severe snowstorm that shut down Boston for a week, folks got around town on cross-country skis—and one of the few businesses that were open for them were the ice cream shops.
I never became quite as devoted to ice cream as I was to fish, but I ate a fair amount of it, and almost always my flavor of choice was either vanilla or sweet cream, the better to appreciate the quality of the ice cream itself. And since I’m the one who does the grocery shopping these days, the rest of the family has to resort to toppings to gussy up the Breyer’s Natural Vanilla ice cream I almost always bring home now.
My apologies if you were expecting a punchline. These are just some thoughts that were spurred by a particularly tasty chicken pot pie.