As I mentioned a few months ago, I belong to an amazing book club. We meet about once a month to talk about a book (obv), and to eat and drink and discuss whatever comes out of our discussion. We just had our meeting for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is kind of a convoluted name for a really delightful book. It takes place in the years immediately following WWII, all told in letters between Juliet, a tremendous writer of the time, and a whole cast of characters including her editor, best friend, a doting potential gentleman, and a number of the residents of Guernsey, one of the Channel islands between England and France. It’s a place I’d never heard of before taking place during a time I’d never thought of before, and it’s a real treat of a book. Funny and sad and quick and clever, with a story so fascinating and told in such a unique style, it’s a gem that I definitely recommend.
That said, I knew from the moment that Elena announced the title of the book that a potato peel pie was in my future. I think it’s safe to say that I’m the most… culinarily inclined of the group, which is to say that I definitely spend the most time in the kitchen. And so I knew that the group would look to me to try my hand at the titular recipe from the book… mind you, it’s described as a pie made with mashed potato and beet filling, and a crust made from potato peels.
That wouldn’t do at all.
So I opted instead to take the spirit of the pie, which is to say that I would make a mashed potato pie without any flour. For deliciousness and crustiness, I added bacon to the crust before baking, and I swapped out the beet for diced apple and shallot. Oh, and I also added a good deal of European-style butter (authenticity!) and some English cheddar (double authenticity!). Partly for authenticity, yes, but mostly because I knew that both things would take the mashed potato filling from kind of good to irresistible. And let’s just say that Dan had three slices, and there was only one slice left when I got home. So I guess I did something right.
- 90 min
- 3 lbs baby russet potatoes, scrubbed (or red bliss)
- 1 small sweet apple, cored
- 1/2 lb bacon, cut into a large dice
- 1/2 lb (8 oz) european-style unsalted butter (Plugra is excellent), diced
- 1/2 lb (8 oz) english-style cheddar, shredded
- 1 medium shallot, finely diced
Preheat the oven to 375.
Peel the potatoes and the apple, reserving the peels. Transfer all peels into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the bacon and pulse until everything is finely broken down. Transfer to a 10-inch pie plate and season with freshly cracked pepper. Press this mixture into the whole plate, forming the shape of a pie crust. Transfer to the oven and bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Pour off any excess bacon fat (reserve) and blot the crust with a paper towel to absorb any remaining surface fat. Set the crust aside.
Raise the oven temp to 425.
Dice the potatoes and boil them in salted boiling water until softened, about 8 minutes. Drain, then pass through a ricer or food mill. Add the diced butter and mix until butter is melted completely. Add half the shredded cheddar and stir until just melted. Set aside.
In a small skillet, heat about 1 tbsp of the reserved bacon fat. Dice the apple. Add the diced apple and shallot to the bacon fat and season with pepper. Saute until softened, about 6 minutes. Transfer into the potato mixture and stir to incorporate. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper as necessary.
Transfer the potato mixture into the “crust.” Top with the remaining cheddar, then transfer to the oven. Bake at 425 for 35 minutes, or until cheese is nicely browned.
Vegetarians and vegans aside, if you put ludicrous amounts of bacon and butter and cheese into something, it’s probably going to please a party of people. And it did. As I mentioned up at the top, it went like hotcakes. Even though the crust was a weird, earthy flavor thanks to the potato peel, and the filling was a little heavy with cheesy goodness, the pie was still delicious.
Now I know that during the German occupation of the channel islands during the war there was no butter, not cheese, and certainly no bacon (although the first meeting of the Society in the title was a secret pig-roast), I still feel like I represented the book well. I made it frankly more delicious, but in the precarious balance between delicious and authentic, I’m sure that most people would let that teeter-totter tip ever so slightly in favor of the delicious, anytime.