I have been reading what little information there is about my family history, where the Wheeler family originated and how they came to Ireland. Using several reliable leads left by my grandfather plus the help of the internet, but, I must add without a long manual search of hand written, non-digitalized church and parish records, it appears that we Wheelers hail from Wheeler's Fold in the parish of St. Peter's in Wolverhampton, the earliest recording that I can find being of a Wheeler's Court in the same place in 1750.
There seems to be a general consensus among researchers that the Folds listed in Wolverhampton were for holding sheep used for the wool trade rather than for any other purpose. It seems that at this time in England sheep were not widely traded for eating - what a shame!
As a start to my research it appears that my Great, Great, Great, Great, Grand Father Wheeler was not in the wool-trade, nor was he a wheel wright as the name might suggest, but he was the owner of the Whitehorse Inn in Wolverhampton.
What a thrill to find this out - so as a celebration tonight, I made a delicious steak, kidney and ale pie and dreamed that I was serving it to the Earl of Enniskillen. He stayed there apparently and it is possible that he too was served a slice of this delicious dark treacle-like crusty goodness to warm him on his way back home to Ireland with his new recruits for the King's Army, one of which was the Inn Keeper's son, my Great Great Great Grandfather.
To make a hearty meal for 4, you will need:
2 lb (about 1 kg) stewing steak, in chunks
5 tblsps plain flour
4 tblsps vegetable oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, finely chopped
300g chestnut mushrooms, halved
5 lambs kidneys (see note below), white core removed
500ml bottle Guinness or other dark ale
a dash or two of Worcestershire Sauce
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees.
Take the stewing steak and place in a food bag with the flour and seasoning and coat the meat in flour. Heat the oil in a deep, oven proof casserole dish and brown the meat until slightly golden. You will have to do this in batches so that each meat piece is browned without the pan being overcrowded. Set the meat aside.
Add a little more oil to the pan and cook the onions for 7 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes. Add the remainder of the flour in the bag, give it a good stir and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then slowly add the Guinness or ale and stir gently until the sauce thickens. Add the meat back to the vegetables and, adding the Worcestershire Sauce, place in the oven for 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the white core from the kidneys and quickly fry these in a little butter for a few minutes just to colour them lightly. Place in a colander and drain until needed. A little blood will seep out.
20 minutes before the end of casserole cooking time, place the kidneys into the casserole dish with the rest of the meat and cook until the original 90 minutes has expired.
Let this cool completely, place in the fridge until needed.
*Notes on the kidney: I used Lamb's kidney here (hardly authentic in Medieval England) but I find that ox or pigs kidney has a much stronger and quite overpowering flavour on the end result. It also takes longer to cook. It is not to say that Ox/Pig is not good and if you like it then by all means use it, in fact most recipes call for ox's kidney as it is the most authentic - it should be added to the casserole dish at the same time as the browned steak pieces.
This can now stay in the fridge over nightso that the fat can rise to the top and can be spooned off easily. My steak pieces this evening were virtually fat free and so did not require this.
About 1 hour before serving your pie, pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees.
And make the pastry:
450g plain flour
200g suet - I used Atora but a good butcher should have some also
sea salt and freshly milled black pepper, several pinches
Sieve the flour into a large bowl and add the suet, salt and pepper. Mix well and slowly add a generous dash of water. Mix well with a knife. Using your hands bring the dough together into a clean ball of spongy dough, adding more water as you require. Bear in mind that that the more water you add, the harder the crust will be, so try to achieve a good pliable dough without adding too much water. I added a little too much this evening and the top was a little crunchy - nice but it perhaps could have been a little less so.
Now split the dough into two, and on a floured surface, roll out the base of your pie. I usually make the base of the pie thinner than the top, but neither should be as thin as you would roll out shortcrust pastry - so perhaps about 1cm thick on bottom and maybe 2cm on top
I used a fluted, loose bottomed flan tin this evening rather than an official pie dish and it worked fine.
Butter the dish well and line the bottom with the pastry, pressing it well into the dish, using any excess to patch up thin parts.
Take the cold meat filling out of the fridge and gently spoon off any fat that may have collected on top.
Spoon it into the pie base. Brush a line of water around the edges of the bottom of the pie and add a slightly thicker rolled out top.
Pinch the sides to seal the pie and cut a little air-hole in the top.
Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes at 220 degrees until you pie is golden.
Serve with ale and mash and my favourite, HP sauce of course!
A fitting supper for the long road ahead.