ISLAND FLAVORS Foods from our pasts can comfort troubling days

With the ongoing terrorist activities in our world, many of us are craving the comfort foods of our past. For me, nothing makes my stomach purr more than a good, old-fashioned chicken potpie. Mom made chicken potpie often and, each time, I fell in love with it all over again – with its crispy crust and warm center filled with creamy chicken and tender vegetables.
My real true love with chicken potpie began when I read “The Country Kitchen” by Della T. Lutes. Written in the late 1800s, this is one of the most wonderful books about early American life, and I highly recommend it, even if you are not into cooking. Della, the author, as a child, recounts her mother’s extraordinary chicken potpie. “In the first place, she selected two or more husky young roosters, corn-fed and ripe with oats from the field and grasshoppers from the meadow, the flesh moistened and seasoned with a spot of buttermilk from the churn.”
“In my mother’s chicken pie were no alien or distracting elements such as carrots, onions, or peas. Hers was a chicken pie!” When these wonderful pies were transported to festival and fairs, they were kept warm on a piece of hot soapstone.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes for potpies.
(Adapted from Della Lutes)
The original recipe calls only for chicken, but you can certainly add your favorite vegetables. Dice them; then poach or sauté them until tender before adding to the chicken and gravy.
Serves 4 to 6
1 large chicken, divided
Salt and pepper to season
Boiling water to cover
Chicken Gravy
3 cups chicken broth, reserved
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups heavy cream, warmed
1 tablespoon butter
1 recipe Biscuit Dough (for extra flavor, make with sour cream instead of milk)
Place the chicken parts in a large kettle. Season with salt and pepper and cover with boiling water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, but not falling off the bone, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid and set aside to cool. Remove skin when cool.
Keep warm 3 cups reserved chicken broth (save remainder for another use). In a saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat, then stir in place 3 tablespoons flour. Gradually whisk in approximately 3 cups warm chicken broth. Simmer the gravy until it is thickened, then stir in the cream and butter. Season to taste with pepper and salt.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Distribute the chicken pieces in the bottom of a round casserole dish and cover with the gravy. Roll out the biscuit dough (about 1/4-inch thick) to cover the casserole dish, and top the chicken and gravy with the dough. Crimp the edges to seal. Slice a vent in the center of the dough so steam can escape.
Bake approximately 40 minutes, until the chicken is hot and bubbling, and the biscuit topping is golden. Serve warm.
Recommended wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

This pie is equally delicious made with chicken or lamb in place of the smoked salmon.
Serves 4
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3/4-cup chicken broth, preferably homemade
3/4-cup half & half
1/2-teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4-teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste
8 ounces smoked salmon, divided into bite-size pieces
1 cup cooked peas
1 cup chopped cooked carrot
4 medium new potatoes, chopped and cooked
1 sheet prepared puff pastry (available in the frozen food section)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, blend in the flour, then gradually stir in the chicken broth and cream. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Season with thyme, white pepper and salt. Simmer for five minutes.
Stir in the smoked salmon, peas, carrots and potatoes. Turn the mixture into a one-and-one-half quart deep baking dish, or 4 individual deep ramekins. Cut the puff pastry to fit the top of the casserole, allowing an extra 1/2-inch to drape over the edges of the casserole dish. With a sharp knife, cut a 1/2-inch round steam hole in the center of the pastry. Then, without slicing clear through the pastry, make decorative spirals running from the center hole out to the edge of the pastry.
Brush the rim of the casserole with cream and set the pastry over the filling, pressing slightly along the rim to secure the pastry. Brush the pastry lightly with cream. Place in the preheated oven and bake approximately 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.
Recommended wines: Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

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