War fare to comfort the troops

Diana Lampe
Homity vegetable pie was originally made during World War II by the British.
Homity vegetable pie was originally made during World War II by the British. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

This week's recipes are for country fare, old-fashioned, but with their charm. Homity pie is a British vegetable pie that was originally made during World War II by the Women's Land Army, which worked on the farms to produce food.

Later, in the 1960s, individual homity pies became one of the most popular dishes sold at the Cranks chain of wholefood vegetarian restaurants in England and appeared in a book of Cranks' recipes in 1982. Their version has a filling of onions, potatoes and cheese. This is comforting food, and works best with tomato relish - I'll have a recipe for relish as a Christmas gift suggestion next week. My children and grandchildren love these little pies.

Bara brith, or speckled bread, is a Welsh fruit loaf that is handy to keep in the cake tin. The original recipe is made with yeast, but this quick version with self-raising flour is easy and keeps well. A similar bread, barm brack, is from Ireland.

Bara brith, or speckled bread, is a Welsh fruit loaf that is handy to keep in the cake tin.
Bara brith, or speckled bread, is a Welsh fruit loaf that is handy to keep in the cake tin. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

I must have made bara brith 100 times in the past 40 years and it is now a firm family favourite. It will sustain you at any time of the day and is perfect with a cup of tea. I generally make it with a mix of raisins, sultanas and currants and sometimes include dried apricots or prunes. You can include any dried fruit or candied peel you happen to have in the pantry.

Homity pies

Serves 6

Perfect with a cuppa ... Bara Brith (speckled loaf).
Perfect with a cuppa ... Bara Brith (speckled loaf). Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Homity pie can be made as individual pies or as one large pie baked in a 23cm pie dish. You can use other vegetables such as leek, cauliflower, swede or silver beet. You could also add cooked green lentils for extra protein.

Shortcrust pastry

125g plain flour

125g wholemeal plain flour


1 tsp ground mustard powder

½ tsp sea salt

125g cold butter, cubed

chilled water


500g potatoes, cubed

500g onions, chopped

2 tbsp vegetable oil or butter

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup frozen peas and/or 1 carrot, chopped

2-3 tbsp chopped curly-leaf parsley

a few sprigs of thyme

1 tbsp milk

sea salt and freshly milled pepper

125g cheddar cheese, grated (divided)

You will need six x 10 centimetre tart tins or foil tart cases for baking individual pies. For the pastry, place the flour, mustard (if using), salt and butter in the food processor. Process until the mixture is like breadcrumbs, then transfer to a bowl. Alternatively this step can be done by rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients with the fingertips.

Tip iced water, a little at a time, into the mixture and mix with your hands or a fork until the pastry comes together. Do not overwork the dough as this can make it tough. Divide into six balls, wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the kitchen bench and rolling pin with flour. Roll out the balls of pastry into a circular shape, a little larger than the pie dishes. Line the dishes with the pastry and press it into the corners. Trim away the excess and prick holes in the bases with a fork. (Blind-baking is not essential, but will ensure the pies have a crisp base.) Place foil in the pastry cases and fill with dried beans and chill for 20 minutes if you can. Bake the pastry shells for 15 minutes at 180C. Remove the foil and beans.

For the filling, gently fry the onions with a pinch of salt in oil or butter until soft and turning golden. Add the garlic and cook for a minute.

Cook the potatoes and carrot (if using) in salted boiling water until tender. If using the peas, cook for one minute in boiling water or microwave them. Strain the vegetables and combine with the fried onion and garlic, parsley, thyme, milk, pepper and half the cheese. Pile into the pastry cases and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. The pies can be frozen at this stage.

Heat the oven to 200C regular or 180C fan. Bake the pies for 20 minutes until golden. Garnish with a slice of tomato and sprig of parsley as they did at Cranks.

Bara brith - speckled bread

500g mixed dried fruit

300ml hot black tea

½ packed cup brown sugar

2 cups self-raising flour, sifted

½ tsp mixed spice (optional)

1 free-range egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp honey to glaze

Rinse the fruit first with cold water, then place in a bowl with the tea and brown sugar and soak overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 regular or 160C fan. Grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Add the flour, spice (if using) and egg to the soaked fruit and mix well together. Tip into the tin and bake for about one hour or until firm and brown. Cover with foil towards the end if it is becoming too brown. Sit for 10 minutes then turn out on a rack to cool. While warm, brush the top of the bread with honey to glaze. Store in an airtight container and leave for a day or two to mature before cutting.

To serve, cut into thin slices and spread with butter. It is also delicious with cheddar cheese.

>> Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, dlampe@bigpond.net.au