It was the very best of pies: it was the very worst of pies.Veal and ham pie, best described as a long raised meat pie with a row of hard boiled eggs running through the middle, is part and parcel of my faded memories of summer picnics in the England of my childhood. The true fascination of this confection, to a boy, was the appearance of a perfect section of a hard boiled egg, chrome yellow heart with a pure white halo, in the centre of each slice. Such a slice was the ideal slice but, owing to the contrary nature of eggs, this golden orb waxes and wanes as the knife proceeds along its length. Hating egg white, as I always have, the mystery of how an egg could successfully be inserted, undamaged, into an already cooked pie was of less interest to me than the possibility of being the unfortunate recipient of a yolkless slice. A slice studded with a perfect oval of solid egg white, like the boiled eye of a very big fish, was my nemesis, my personal short straw. In that era the utterance of the phrase “I don’t like that”, particularly by a child, fell on deaf ears and was thus little used. Being sick at a picnic was not encouraged as one was there to enjoy oneself and not to be sick. No Geneva Convention covered such behaviour, so when an abysmal moment, such as the egg white horror, was upon me there was nothing for it but to swallow and call upon those inner resources, thankfully gifted to pupils of boarding schools, that could efficiently subdue the retching impulse. At those moments the jelly around the pie, which had previously seemed quite benign, became very much more threatening. I think I always expected too much of veal, ham and egg pie. My father, on the other hand, although happy with the pie, found the same problem with my good self.
Meanwhile, in Lyon, pie makers had not troubled themselves with the mystery of egg insertion. Foie gras had been their choice of stuffing which they surrounded with duck and truffles. This sensible combination of fine ingredients fitted neatly into a golden crust, the top surface of which was pierced with a row of small holes, through which the intense stock, created in cooking the duck, was poured and which would set into a toothsome jelly. Inexplicably, I very much enjoy quails’ eggs in jelly, the egg white of which doesn’t offend me in the least. No question but that I had gone to far better place.