I grew up in rural Colorado. Really rural, like at the end of a dirt road in a ghost town. The 9,200 elevation meant we had some mean winters; we were often snowed in or the temperatures were so prohibitively cold that we had to spend a few weeks indoors with a lot of time on our hands. This was the 70’s and we had three (maybe four) channels on the television, no VCR, no video games; we spent these days using our imaginations, playing board games, doing crafts and reading lots of books. We also experimented in the kitchen where our concoctions were generally inedible. Through these experiments, we learned a lot about cooking: which spices go together and how much to use, the importance of leavening agents and high-altitude adjustments, and how to sooth a burn.
It was during one of these blizzards that I created a legendary pot pie that lives through infamy and is still talked about across the US. We were teenagers and had progressed in our cooking abilities; we felt comfortable making pie crusts, roasting meats, canning fruits. As a blizzard started up, I decided a good, hearty meal was in order – quickly, before the inevitable power outage hit. The nearest grocery store was an hour away. If I had a car and was old enough to drive, I could have bought proper ingredients. As it turns out, I did not and my parents were still at work. So, I did what any other enterprising cook does: I surveyed the contents of the refrigerator, freezer and pantry and let the muse inspire.
A pot pie! Perfect! Ingredients for a pie crust? Check! Bouillon cubes to make a stock and then thicken it for gravy? Check! Onions, celery, carrots, potatoes and some frozen peas? Check! These days, I would have been satisfied with these ingredients, but my father is a serious carnivore and every meal must have meat. That was a problem. The only meat we had was frozen solid in the deep freeze and I did not have enough time to defrost and cook it. I kept digging in the refrigerator and found it! The secret ingredient! I set to work, making a monster-sized pot pie in a 12×9 roasting pan.
The house filled with the aroma of the pot pie, we had a roaring fire in the wood stove and (miraculously) the lights stayed on. My brother’s best friend, Tony, was visiting for a few days and we played epic games of Risk. When my parents came home after fighting their way through the blizzard, they were treated to the warmth and scent of a good meal. We all sat down for dinner, including my grandfather, who lived with us, and admired the pot pie that was cooked to perfection.
Plates were passed and heaped with this delightful meal. Glasses were filled with milk. And the compliments flowed for the first few bites. Within a minute, the chewing slowed, puzzled faces and then picking through the contents of the pie. “Is this what I think it is,” my mother asked? I nodded, thinking it really didn’t taste that bad did it? I was being frugal, after all! My sister scrunched up her face in disgust and put her fork down, as did everyone else except my grandfather, who had no taste-buds left after smoking two packs a day for sixty years. “You put the leftover fried liver in here?” my father asked. I gulped and nodded. “Liver pot pie,” he exclaimed! “Now I’ve heard of everything!” Everyone laughed and egged me on and on and on.
We had a steadfast rule in our house: eat everything on your plate … or else. The rule was relaxed that night as everyone carefully picked out the soggy liver and enjoyed the crust and a few salvaged vegetables. I never lived it down and I never made liver pot pie again.
Tony came to my brother’s memorial service recently. We had not seen him in many years and it was a wonderful reunion. As we sat around the one tavern in town, eating nachos and drinking Coors in my brother’s memory, the liver pot pie story came up. Ever the gentleman, Tony said it really wasn’t that bad and he remembered the crust was really good. After uproarious laughter, the table of thirty people fell silent and someone said, “That’s gross.”
We are spending a lot of time at home right now and are eating through our cupboards and freezers; we are trying to minimize our trips to the store and many shelves are emptying. We’ve got to be creative in our cooking! But, take my advice: don’t add fried liver to a pot pie. Trust me on this one!
Pepper Pasqua, March 2020