Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

I spotted this lonely cloud on Facebook on Sunday and ever since it’s been wet, wet, wet, dry, wet. Perhaps I should have left the cloud where it was.

Meanwhile I’m gathering up steam in my kitchen preparing a wet weather picnic to share in the shelter of the Old Kitchen at Chawton House, Chawton village, Hampshire. The Great House, as it was known in the 18th century, belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward.

A picnic in the grounds, if it had been a warm June evening would have been utterly charming as part of the preprandial activities of the Hampshire Writers Society Gala Evening. But what good fortune we had instead by sharing a meal in the kitchen where Jane, who now feeds our imaginations, perhaps once cooked. Literary events are noisy affairs . . . readers and writers are never short of words . . . no exception here. The buzz (on top of strawberries and cream and fizz) was all about a new book by Lindsay Ashford on the mysterious death of Jane Austen . . . Did she die of arsenic poisoning? Good job we took our own food although we did tuck into the house strawberries and cream, thankfully nobody died.

When James Ramsden’s recipe for some traditional picnic fare turned up earlier this month: an homage to Gala Pie come Scotch Egg, I decided to give it a try. My picnic at Chawton House version went something like this:

350g Jus Rol puff pastry, cut in half, 10 organic pork and leek sausages, skinned, 3 organic hen’s eggs, egg for pastry coating.

Pre heat oven 180C. Cut the pastry sheet in half. Hard boil eggs, about 5 minutes should do it, shell when cold. Remove sausage skins, easily done with a pair of sharp scissors. Spread half the sausage meat over the pastry.

Place shelled eggs and cover with remaining sausage meat. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little milk or egg yolk and cover with the other pastry sheet and close the edges together to form the pie. Cut three openings in the pastry. Brush with egg yolk. Place on baking tray or baking sheet and into the oven.

Mine was cooked in about 40 minutes; all golden brown and sausage meat sizzling through the pastry. Leave to rest about five minutes on a cooling rack and serve. For a picnic, wrap in greaseproof paper and foil and it might just stay warm enough by the time you get to the picnic.

Using hen’s eggs means that when you cut through the pie your piece of egg in the middle could be all yolk or all white, or nothing in between, so there’s an element of mystery, surprise and good or bad luck.

A suitable start to the event, eaten with a first crop of broad beans from the veg patch served up in a potato salad; organic potatoes from the veg box.

Every cloud has a silver lining, so I can forget about superstition and paranoia, for today at least and enjoy the feast.