white bean, mushroom, and spinach pie
This is a very Dickensian time of year. I want to read Dickens, watch adaptations of his novels (good or bad), eat Dickensian food (like this pie!) drink hot gin punches. In short, I love Charles Dickens – I always have. I don’t care what anybody says about him. I don’t care if people think he’s nothing but an overly sentimental Victorian fuddyduddy. I’m not blind to his faults, I will admit that he can be a little ham-fisted with the sentiment at times. But he’s also darkly, bitingly funny, political, warmly human, and even light-heartedly absurd. His books contain everything a novel should – a broad, carefully calculated over-arching plot that feels complicated yet effortless; an expansive cast of characters so diverse, eccentric and detailed that they feel alive; and a powerful mix of humor and pathos, sweetness and brutality. What’s my favorite Dickens novel? I hear you ask. And without a second’s hesitation I will tell you, Our Mutual Friend. It’s a dark, dirty novel, swirling with life and death, like the river it describes. It’s about
the river, and the bodies found there, and the people that make their living there, and those that try to escape its inky pull. Amongst the eccentric, extensive cast of characters are some of the most appealing Dickens (or anyone else) has ever created. There’s Eugene Wrayburn, witty, idle, disappointed, disappointing – the culmination of Dickens’ career-long treatment of the theme of a cruelly seductive wealthy man who ruins a poor young woman. There’s Wrayburn’s friendship with Mortimer Lightwood, a real
friendship, generously observed. And Wrayburn’s love for Lizzie Hexam, who is far more than a poor but pretty face. And Lizzie’s friendship with Jenny Wren, one of the oddest characters in literature. She’s the twisted and crippled embodiment of the Victorian ideal of a child-woman – an ideal that Dickens helped to perpetrate. He’s created this bizarre monstrous little creature that stands as a criticism of his own work. She’s a perpetual child, physically, frail and beautiful, but her words are as sharp as needles, and she becomes a kind of chorus or surrogate for Lizzie, able to say the things Lizzie’s politeness will not allow her to express. She’s remarkable, I tell you! And of course this is only a small handful of an enormous cast of characters, but I can’t go on and on about it here.
Do you like Dickens? What’s your favorite Dickens novel?
Instead, I’ll go on and on about this pie. I love a double-crusted pie in the wintertime, one with a tall crispy crust that holds in any mashed potatoes you might pile on top. In some ways this is my ur-winter pie. I love the combination of roasted mushrooms and nuts, and smoky cheese, and savory spinach. The beans add substance and flavor. I love the combination of sage and rosemary with a bit of nutmeg. This pie has all those things! In this case the nuts are in the crust, which is light and crispy, and the filling is dense and satisfying.
Here’s the Dickensian Decemberists with The Chimbley Sweep.