Shepherd's Pie by Sophie Develyn



1 tbsp oil

1 large onion

4 cloves garlic

2-3 medium carrots

1 turnip, elderly

500g pack lamb mince

large splash Worcester sauce

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

veg stock, thick – roasted and boiled down heads and skins

900g potatoes

85g butter

3 tbsp milk


Method:

Chop the onion, crush the garlic. Use your mother's heavy bottomed saucepan. Light the oven carefully, using a match since the clicker broke, holding it with your hand poised to spring back from the big, blue, bouncy flame. Tie a clean, pressed, white pinny in a neat bow at the small of your back. Fix your hair, smooth against your head.


Now slick the pan with cheap oil. Cheap is best for frying. The expensive one is almost gone and there hasn't been enough money in the housekeeping to replace it. Tip the onions in and listen for the whispering. Stir. Place the empty plastic oil bottle back against the tile. It's best to keep your workspace neat, even when supplies are low, when there is so much in the house to be kept by the housekeeping.


Peel and dice your root vegetables, get them in with the garlic and onions and mix it all together. Your husband doesn't like turnips, the last time you put turnips in something he almost put his fist through the wall, but it's good to add something for him to disagree with. Open the spice cupboard, take a level teaspoon of each of the first four spices and dust them over the veggies as they cook. Add the meat; break it apart with your wooden spoon. When you're standing at the hob, turn back regularly to check on the baby. If the baby has his hand on a cupboard door, guide it away. If the baby is heading for the garden, to stick his toes in the mower, pick him up and bob

in place as though sailing on the sea. If the baby wants to talk to you, you have time to speak with him here. Later you will not have time, so do this now if you need to.


Add the tins, swill the tins, add the swill. Then add the Worcester sauce and good stock. Even this much water is still good for the pie; you'd be surprised how much water is in most things. You'll have noticed that when you added the meat, a lot of water had to come out before it could begin to fry. Remember to look back regularly at the baby. He is full of water, as he should be.


Step out to the garden. If it is a Sunday, your husband will be there, so do this on a Monday. Go to the shady ground under the trees at the far corner, where the grass is still patchy no matter how much Miracle-Gro he scatters there. Snip the herbs that look like black rosemary, so your scissors touch the earth at their roots. Peel the leaves away from their stalks and set these aside.


Using the last of the good oil in a pestle and mortar, grind up the leaves. Take one of your husband's hairs (you will find these on the lapels of his suit jackets, in his comb, perhaps from his pillow) and grind it into the paste. The mixture should turn dark purple, like the skin of an aubergine. Make sure when you do this you are facing the baby. It is important to keep the baby in your sights. If he should accidentally eat any paste, you will not have long to prepare the emergency antidote (p. 127). If he is restless, the smell of the paste should at least calm him. If it does not, give him an uncooked carrot to play with. Babies love playing with root vegetables.


Use your fingers to smooth the paste into your pie filling. Be sure to wash your hands afterwards, twice. Then take the stalks you put aside earlier, gather them in a bundle and light them on the gas flame under your mother's heavy bottomed pan. Inhale plenty of this, be sure the baby does too. Let the smoke fill the kitchen. Repeat your intention for the pie out loud into the smoke, seven times. You (and the baby) may enter a trance at this moment, which will only last a short time, but will enable you to communicate directly with the Undying One, to guide your hands and bless your endeavor. Bleeding from the ears or eyes is quite normal; you may wish to put down a towel before you begin. When you regain earthly consciousness, open all the windows and doors and allow the smoke to dissipate before your husband gets home.


Make the mash topping by peeling and chopping the potatoes into sizeable chunks, then bring them to boil in a pan of cold salted water. Boil for about fifteen minutes, then drain. They should be fluffy and easily mashable with a potato masher. Heat butter and milk in a small pan and prick your forefinger or thumb. Let two drops of blood fall into the mixture, one for you, one for the baby, then add to the mash. Stir well. One option is to add nutmeg if you are looking for a more festive dish.


When you have spread the mash over the pie filling and raked it into neat furrows with a fork, pop it into a preheated oven. You have time now to wash your dishes, to bathe the baby and yourself. The fumes from your bundle will be long gone. When your husband gets home, he will be greeted by a house smelling of long winter evenings, warmth, family and comfort, talcum powder and onions. It is essential that he should smell this when he sees you and when he sees you, you should look perfect; as any good chef knows, the first bite is with the eye.


 

Sophie Develyn is a writer based in Bristol, UK, where she lives with four housemates and one cat. She is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing, sometimes she makes and sells dumplings at food markets. Sophie is into cold water swimming and hot cups of tea.




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