There’s two things that I’ve been thinking about for the past little while. The Odyssey and winter cold. The reason for the latter should be pretty obvious at this point. But the reason for the former — not so much.
For the past little while, I’ve been teaching The Odyssey in one of my classes. We’ve gone through the crazy islands. We’ve talked about gender dynamics, gift economies, and the importance of hospitality in a culture that predates hotels by several millenia. And on that last point — on hospitality — I’ve told my students that the dude to look out for is Eumaeus.
Eumaeus, in The Odyssey, is Odysseus’s loyal swineherd. He’s the guy Odysseus hired to take care of the pigs before he left to fight at Troy. And he’s one of the few people, on Odysseus’s return, who’s ready to treat a stranger the way a stranger is supposed to be treated.
Eumaeus is just about destitute and lives in a shack. He doesn’t know the disguised Odysseus at all on his return to Ithaca. But the first thing he does is slaughter a pig to feed this stranger in a way that befits a guest. Eumaeus
strode out to the pens, crammed with droves of pigs,
picked out two, bundled them in and slaughtered them both,
singed them, sliced them down, skewered them through
and roasting all to a turn, set them before Odysseus,
sizzling hot on the spits.*
Eumaeus is kind of a hero of hospitality, especially when we contrast him with the reception Odysseus gets from the Laestrygonians (cannibals), from Polyphemus (cannibal), from Circe (evil witch), or at his own Ithacan palace (filled with ingrate suitors for his wife’s hand in marriage).
And the thing about Eumaeus is — he kind of makes me hungry.
This is where winter comes back. And this is where we get to the pork pot pie. I — alas! — do not have a whole pig to spit and roast. I checked, and I currently possess no kind of pork roast at all. But what I do have is ground pork. And what I do have is a whole mess of winter vegetables that a) are vastly enhanced by the addition of a little bit of pig, and b) are built for the kind of cassarole style cooking that is epitomized by the pot pie.
So you may consider this pork pot pie the wintertime tribute to Eumaeus the swineherd’s feast. It is inspired by. It does not reproduce.
It is not (unfortunately) what he served to the returned Odysseus. But it does, I think, make a good homage to the man. It is hearty; it is pork-based; it is everyday — not fancy — fare; and though I did not make it for guests this week myself, it would make a great warm welcome for whatever traveler happens to pass through your life, be they a stranger or a friend.
Biscuit-Topped Pork Pot Pie
1 batch of Cheesy Biscuit Dough
1 lb Ground Pork
1 Onion, diced
4 Carrots, diced
3 Potatoes, cubed
2 Turnips, cubed
1 pint Sliced White Mushrooms
2 cups Chicken Stock
1/4 cup AP White Flour (scant)
2 tsp Dried Sage
2 tsp Dried Rosemary
1 tsp Dried Thyme
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
When the pork starts browning, add the root vegetables, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little more salt, and cook for about five more minutes. Then add the chicken stock and cook for ten minutes more.
When the root vegetables look like they are softening, sift the flour over the top and mix it in. As the whole thing cooks, the flour should thicken the liquid. You could use a beurre manié, but it seems to me that there will be butter enough in the biscuit.
Season with salt and copious fresh ground pepper, then remove the filling from the heat and set it aside.
When the filling is done, preheat your oven to 375F. Use this recipe for cheesy biscuits to make a biscuit batter. Fill the 3-quart casserole with the pork pot pie filling and then, either with your fingers or with a spoon, take blobs of the dough and place them all over the top. There can be a little space between the blobs, but when you’re done, the whole thing should be pretty well covered.
Bake the pork pot pie for 40 minutes at 375F. Then, to brown the top, raise the oven temperature to 500F and bake it for 5-10 minutes more.
Serve hot from the oven and enjoy!
* Excerpted from book XIV of the most excellent Robert Fagles translation.