gardening · recipes


Backyard mushrooms

Without prior notice and seemingly from nowhere, a small community of field mushrooms made their recent appearance near the mailbox. When spied by the offspring, topics of discussion ranging from magical creatures (the youngest) to poisonous death (male teen) were triggered. The eldest, who has wisdom (and botanical knowledge) beyond her years, cancelled out both with evidence-based biological explanation and species definition. As the merits of all theories were staunchly argued, my thoughts were galloping in an entirely different direction, one that was leading directly to a beef and mushroom pie.

I’ve never yet met a child who will voluntarily eat a mushroom, and if you know of one this rare phenomenon should be donated to science for DNA cloning, then all further issue would be appreciative of their mother’s cooking. I was one from the genetic masses and could never bear the smell or the taste of the fleshy fungus, yet the mention of a day out ‘mushrooming’ would fill me with excitement. Running along with a bucket or basket and being first to spot a patch was pure delight. Flipping the caps over and waiting for adult confirmation of edibility before cutting and collecting was all part of the process. Sunny days, with a chill in the air, meant coats and red cheeks. Boots of course, as the recent rains responsible for coaxing up those crops had left the paddocks moist and spongy. Happy and weary at the end of it all, but not remotely interested in the catch that some poor individual (my mum) had to clean and slice later that night.

Now I am that cleaning and slicing individual. An individual with an adult palate who adores mushrooms in pies.

A close inspection of your garden or neighbourhood may reveal similar treasures and if they do, here is a wonderful place to stow them:

beef and mushroom pie

2 tbsp olive oil
1kg blade or chuck steak trimmed of fat and cut into 4cm cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
250 ml beef stock
400g can crushed tomatoes
250g mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thickly
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry
1 lightly beaten egg to glaze

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pan over medium to high heat. Brown meat in batches. Transfer cooked meat to a plate and set aside.
  2. Add remaining oil to pan over medium heat and add onion, stirring until softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle flour over and cook for a further minute.
  3. Add the stock and mix in any residue from the base of the pan. Return beef to pan and add tomatoes. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.
  4. Stir in the mushrooms and simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes until beef is tender and sauce has thickened.
  5. Transfer mixture to ovenproof pie dish(es) and leave to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Cover the pie(s) with pastry sheets and trim and press edges together. Brush with beaten egg and cut slits in the top to allow steam (and some gravy to escape).
  7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden. (Depending on the size of your pie dish of course, this recipe will produce up to two family pies)

field mushrooms

Postscript: and should your garden or your botanical confidence be lacking, it’s a quick, even magical, trip to the local supermarket….


Miss Drake

Miss Drake's Home Cookery

How wonderful it was for newly married women of the 1950’s (and decades prior) to have the wisdom of Miss Lucy Drake to see them through any cookery challenge that may have presented. Armed with her Diploma of Domestic Economy and a Trained Teacher of Domestic Arts, (awarded in Melbourne no less), this accomplished domestic champion was qualified to see these lasses through any boiled fowl in egg sauce, diplomatic pudding or jellied rabbit situation that may have arisen, without even having to refresh the lipstick. As it happened, my mother was one of those fortunate brides, as evidenced by our well-worn copy of The Original and Only Miss Drake’s Home Cookery, ever at the ready in the kitchen of my upbringing.

I guess then, it was no accident that Miss Drake had a hand in my early cookery development. With Miss D’s guiding hand, I learned the art of the Lemon Meringue Pie, so often in fact that the book would fall open to the spattered page. So for old time’s sake, this millennium family was treated to one this evening. Here is how Miss Drake directs one:

”LEMON TART. This quantity for big sandwich tin; half this for small tin. I lb. plain or good short crust (page 120). Interior for Tart.—2 lemons, 2 eggs, 5 tablespoons sugar, 5 tablespoons cold water, 2 dessertspoons butter, 1 dessertspoon arrowroot blended with 2 dessertspoons cold water. Reserve the whites of eggs to whip stiffly for the top; then fold 3 dessertspoons castor sugar into stiff whites, 1 cherry and little angelica. If eggs and butter are dear, half this quantity of interior is sufficient. Method— 1. Light oven. Make short crust. 2. Shape tart. Whilst it is cooking, get ingredients for interior. Put water, egg yolks, sugar, butter, blended cornflour, grated lemon rind and juice all into a small saucepan. Stir over fire till it boils and thickens. When tart is cold put in the mixture. Whip whites stiffly, fold the castor sugar in. Decorate the top like icebergs. Return to oven just to tint. Decorate with cherry and angelica.”

Miss Drake's Lemon Meringue Pie

For me, following Miss Drake’s directions was an indulgent exercise in nostalgia, but you may not find the vintage terminology as endearing. Therefore, here is a Lemon Meringue Pie in modern terms (from another domestic matriarch, Margaret Fulton), that you may be more comfortable with.

Shortcrust Pastry (frozen sheet)
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tbsp Plain flour
grated rind and juice of two lemons
4 tbsp water
3 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
1/4 cup caster sugar

  1. Line your pie dish with shortcrust pastry sheet and pinch the edges for decoration. Weight down with rice or dried beans and bake for 15 mins at 180 degrees celsius. Remove weight and bake for a further 5-10 minutes or until golden.
  2. Make filling by mixing the egg yolks, sugar , flour and lemon rind in a heavy based saucepan and gradually stir in the lemon juice and water.
  3. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the mixture is smooth and thick. Cool, then pour into cooled pastry shell.
  4. To make meringue, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until thick. Gradually add the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until the mixture is thick and glossy and the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Spread over the filling in the pie shell, sealing it completely with the meringue.
  6. Bake in a 180 degrees celsius oven for 8-10 minutes or until meringue is golden. Serve cold.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Postscript: I would love to be able to tell you our old ”Miss Drake”‘ lives on in my kitchen, but alas not. All is not lost however, as I have recently discovered that some wonderful people at Swinburne University, have archived this book within their image bank and have made the entire publication available as a downloadable PDF – so Miss Drake can assist you too, with your next Boiled Jam Roly.



chicken and leek pie

Apart from the usual positives of sharing a roast dinner with the neighbours, another perk came in the form of a new idea. What usually becomes of the remains of a roasted chicken in this house, is sandwiches and dog scraps (in that order). Never has a scrumptious chicken, leek and mushroom pie ever crossed my mind as the finale for these birds.

Fortunately, I have a kitchen savvy pal living right opposite, who was not only quick to point this out, but even speedier to extract the leavings and seal them in an airtight, assuring me they were perfect for such a purpose. As we cleared and reset for dessert, she had rattled off her method, which as I scraped and stacked, I quickly committed to memory. The following night, the family received such pie – a far cry from dog scraps.

If you can keep this plan in mind after your next chicken roast, I am able to attest that the end result is going to be: happy families and disappointed dogs.

1 leek
200g button mushrooms
75g butter
2 tbspn flour
500ml chicken stock
2 big handfuls of shredded cooked chicken
2 sheets puff pastry
milk to brush

  1. Slice leek and mushrooms thinly.
  2. Melt butter in a large frying pan and cook leek and mushrooms until soft.
  3. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. You will have a thick mass.
  4. Gradually add stock, stir and cooking until you have a consistency that you like for your pie filling.
  5. Add the chicken and stir until heated through. At this point season, but be very careful with the salt as sometimes the stock contains enough. Set to one side.
  6. Line the base of your pie dish with one sheet of the pastry and prong it all over with a fork to prevent it rising. Bake in a 180 degree oven until par-cooked (about 10 minutes).
  7. Push down any risen puffed bits on the base and add the pie filling.
  8. Cover with remaining sheet of puff pastry and seal by pinching the edges together all the way around. Lightly score the top of the pastry with a sharp knife and brush with milk. Put the pie back into the oven for a further 20 minutes or until well browned. Serve.

chicken and leek pie filling

Postscript: Don’t forget, if you have a spare moment, post chicken pie, join me over here at the new Plain and Simple Facebook page.