Horses and kidneys

While I was in Edmonton last week, a couple of people mentioned a book that had been recently launched – Ride The Rising Wind: One woman’s journey Across Canada by Barbara Kingscote – about a woman who rode across Canada on a horse.

This made me think of a gorgeous poem, Jack, by my heroine Maxine Kumin; it’s the title poem from her most recent poetry collection. I was lucky enough to see and hear her at the AWP conference in Vancouver in 2005, where she was the gracious and feisty subject of a tribute by five other poets. Her reading of this poem had us weeping in the aisles. I had forgotten that it starts with a meal of corn on the cob, so topical in these days of seasonal plenty.

Last night we had steak and kidney pie, which was the ritual dish my mother used to make for all large family gatherings. Kidneys can be a stinky thing to handle but surgical gloves help, as does soaking the kidneys for an hour or two in slightly salted water. I don’t think she added mushrooms to hers but I do to mine; otherwise I think this is the gist of her recipe.

Steak ‘n Kidney Pie like my mama used to make
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 kg stewing beef, in 1 inch chunks
1/4 kg beef kidneys, trimmed and soaked for 1-2 hours in salted water (or well rinsed)
1 onion, chopped
2 cups fresh mushrooms, scrubbed and sliced or quartered
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1/2 cup dry sherry or red wine
1/2 cup beef broth

  • Mix seasonings in flour and use this to dredge beef and kidneys. Fry the meat in batches in hot fat (bacon fat, according to my mother) until brown on all sides. Remove meat to a casserole. Cook the onions in the same frying pan; cook till transparent and add to casserole, scraping the brown bits into the mixture. Next brown the mushrooms and add them to the meat. Then combine the garlic, potatoes and carrots and stir into the pan for about 5 minutes, until hot and partially cooked. Mix into meat mixture. Stir in sherry and broth; add bay leaf. Cover casserole and cook in 350 oven – or on low heat on the stovetop – for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally. Remove and cool; keep overnight if you like or freeze until you need it.
  • When ready to serve, cover the mixture with puff pastry, propping up the pastry with a ceramic pie bird if you have one, and cook in a preheated 375 oven for 1/2 hour, until pastry is puffed and brown and meat is bubbling. You can divide into smaller casserole dishes so you have individual servings if you prefer; adjust cooking times accordingly.

Perhaps the poet Unknown was thinking about steak ‘n kid when (s)he penned this verse in 1880:

I surely never hope to view
A steak as luscious as a stew.
The latter is the tasty goal
Of elements in perfect whole,
A mad assemblage of legumes
Exuding warm ambrosial fumes,
Each seasoning of proper length,
Proving in Union there’s strength.
A steak is grander, it is true,
Yet needs no special skill to brew.
It is an art a stew to make,
But anyone can broil a steak.

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