Mmm… meat pies are gloriously good
Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-uh-tish) in northwestern Louisiana is famous for two things: “Steel Magnolias,” which was filmed there in 1988, and spicy meat pies that predate the Civil War. We were in Natchitoches in July and stopped by to take some meat pies home. They are good!
The most famous pies are found at Lasyone’s, which is located on Second Street. These meat pies were originally out-the-backdoor or street food sold by the few who knew how to make them. In the tradition of street food in Louisiana, the pies were sold with their own street cry: “Lotta, hotta meat pies!” They are not easy to make and local recipes seem to be vague and faulty: too much flour in
the filling, too much lard in the pastry. The best way to make them is to bake them. Not only are they less caloric, but they will also not fall apart in the oil when you try to fry them.
I found that there is a meat pie festival every year in Natchitoches the third weekend of September. This historic town is along the banks of the Red River and was founded in the early 1700s in French Louisiana. The settlement was established in part to develop trade with the colony of New Spain at Tejas (east Texas). Though nominally French, Natchitoches was not easily connected to the rest of Louisiana, and the foodways of the Spanish had great influence in the region. The now-famous Natchitoches meat pie is one of the results of that cultural exchange. Early pies would have been stuffed with bison, deer, and other available game. Now that crawfish is available you will find many pies stuffed with them especially in the spring.
Give them a try or you can buy them frozen at some grocery stores. Serve them hot with spicy mustard and you will have a real taste of Louisiana.
From A Love Affair with Southern Cooking by Jean Anderson:
NATCHITOCHES MEAT PIES
Makes 23 appetizers
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup firmly packed lard or vegetable shortening
3 tablespoons cold milk beaten with 1 large egg
¼ pound ground beef chuck
¼ pound ground pork
2 medium scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped (include some green tops)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon ground hot red pepper (cayenne)
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
¼ cup water
For the pastry: Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Add the lard and using a pastry blender, cut in until the texture of coarse meal. Quickly fork in the milk-egg mixture and as soon as the pastry holds together, shape into a ball. Place on a large sheet of plastic food wrap, flatten, then wrap and refrigerate until ready to proceed.
For the filling: Cook the beef, pork, scallions, salt, black and red pepper, and Allspice in a medium-size heavy skillet over moderate heat, breaking up the clumps of meat, for about five minutes or until no traces of pink remain. Sprinkle in the flour, then, stirring all the while, add the water. Cook, stirring now and then, for about five minutes or until lightly thickened and no raw floury taste remains. Cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and roll as thin as piecrust on a lightly floured pastry cloth. Cut into rounds with a 2 ¾ -to 3-inch biscuit cutter, then drop 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons of the filling onto the lower half of each round, leaving a margin of at least ¼ inch. Re-roll the scraps and cut additional circles. Moisten the edges of the pastry circles all around, fold in half to enclose the filling, and crimp the edges firmly with the tines of a fork to seal. Also prick the top of each round with the form to allow steam to escape.
Arrange the rounds about two inches apart on an un-greased large baking sheet, slide onto the middle oven shelf, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the edges are brown.
Serve hot with cocktails.