The worst pies in London & other stories

Being an article with little to do with crusts or fillings, and everything to do with an actress, a food writer, a big fish and a cocktail.

When I started writing this was as a historical analysis of the pie industry in Victorian England, it was going to look at the dubious quality and provenance of meat, the development of pastry, and the poverty endemic in 1800’s England.

The reality is that it has turned into something completely different. It has, via a Sweeney Todd shaped mental leap, somehow morphed into a shameless attempt to justify devoting a few hundred words of a food blog to an article about Helena Bonham Carter, for no other reason than the fact that I am and have been for as long as I can remember just a little bit in love with her.

You might think that, putting Mrs Lovett1 and her pies filled with the citizens of London aside, it would be difficult to justify a Helena themed article on P&G, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

I could easily work in all sorts of interesting things, perhaps observations on the eccentricities of Tim Burton and his liking for plain simple pasta dishes, but this isn’t about Tim. So instead how about a list of food related films that you didn’t realise actually were, maybe a call to arms to protect endangered fish, an eponymous recipe, and even a look at a well known food writers difficult childhood.

The lovely Miss Bonham Carter

The fascinating and slightly unusual (which is far better than boring) actress has appeared in more than seventy films over the last thirty years, spent almost a decade and a half in a relationship with the equally fascinating and unusual Tim Burton, sat on a holocaust commision and raised awareness of the plight of tuna.

My favourite quote about Helena comes from Paul Bettany, her co-star in the 2002 film The Heart of Me.

Barking mad, keen as mustard and funny as f***

Paul Bettany

None of which is really relevant to P&G at all, but the fact that Miss Bonham Carter really does love to eat, and has a strong liking for things like “sin-filled, truffle-flavored cream cheese” really is.

I did diet when I was younger but now I just eat. I don’t overeat though. I’m rounder, but I think it does help the face.

Helena Bonham Carter

I also find myself relating to her attitude towards and usage of cookery books. I have a mountain of food related books that I fully intend to cook things from and very rarely get around to, I think that the intention is probably the most important thing.

I buy lots of cookery books, and I mean a lot. I’ll often go to sleep with one but I won’t necessarily cook from it. I always plan to though – it’s a comfort thing.

Helena Bonham Carter

Also, I have managed to find a bit of a (tenuous) food related trend in the list of collaborative works between Bonham Carter and Burton, although it probably is neither intentional or even realised by either of the protagonists. Let’s look at the evidence…

Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and of course having her tarts stolen in Alice in Wonderland.

Oh, Helena also apparently speaks fluent French, which isn’t really food related, but does often make ordering nice things much easier. Yes, I am getting more and more tenuous here, so moving on…

Grilled bread

Still from ToastI may have touched on my thoughts about Nigel Slater on P&G before. I’m still not entirely sure what I think of him, finding him alternately endearing and a bit annoying. There are a couple of things that I am absolutely certain of, that the man is very passionate about food, that his recipe for Coq au Vin is beyond criticism, and that his book of memoirs Toast is bloody excellent.

These kind of books are never normally my thing at all, but Toast really is both fascinating and brilliantly written. It was adapted as a film in 2010, with Helena cast in the role of Mrs Potter, and while it isn’t nearly as good as the book, it is a pretty decent film. Although not everyone loved it, Slater’s stepsisters had definite and very public issues with the dramatisation, which strangely they hadn’t raised several years before when the book was released2

The actress and the fish

Helena and tunaIf you care about eating sustainable seafood, or you spend a lot of time messing about in boats on the water, then you may have heard of the Blue Marine Foundation, otherwise you may not have done. They are a UK based charity with a vision to actively protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020 “delivered through a network of marine reserves and private sector led solutions in the sea”.

Their campaign to encourage the UK government to create marine reserves around three overseas territories, which would safeguard more than 1.75 million km² of ocean, is backed by more than 100 celebrities, scientists and environmental leaders.

Helena Bonham Carter is amongst those backing the campaign, and went as far as stripping off for a photoshoot with a bigeye tuna to raise media awareness, despite not being a big fan of the scaly beasts. In her own words:

We all have a responsibility to try and return our world to the next generation in the state we inherited it in, not worse. It would be a sad thing if in our dotage we’d be describing a tuna fish to our grandchildren like we do a dodo today.

I am a big supporter of protecting the marine environment. I’m actually very phobic about fish so when Greta [Scacchi] asked me to be photographed naked with a 27kg tuna I was more worried about touching it than getting my kit off.

Helena Bonham Carter

Incidentally the campaign is working and Helena cuddling a big scary fish is not in vain. In March 2015, the UK government announced the creation of the world’s largest marine reserve around Pitcairn in the Pacific.

An eponymous cocktail

This is absolutely not my recipe, but one that I find worryingly easy to drink. It was created by Meaghan Dorman for the New York Times a few years ago.

The ingredients are all pretty easy to track down, the only thing you might not be familiar with is the Cocchi Americano, a fortified wine similar to the original Kina Lillet, which you can use to replace that ingredient in any older cocktail which calls for it. It’s a great ingredient and you can find it online or in shops on both sides of the pond without too much effort.


  • Apricot liqueur¾ oz
  • Cocchi Apertivo Americano1 oz
  • Plymouth gin1 ½ oz
  • AbsintheTo rinse
  1. Swirl a little absinthe in a glass, then pour it out to leave just a thin film.

  2. In a mixing glass, combine the apricot liqueur, Cocchi Americano, and gin, stir with plenty of ice and strain into the absinthe coated serving glass.

  3. Spritz the drink with a little lemon peel oil (squeeze some zest over the glass) and garnish with a lemon twist.

and just one more completely random little aside…

Helena was considered for the role of Sara in Labyrinth, but ultimately lost the role to Jennifer Connelly. A shame, it may have made one of my favourite films ever even better. Few people could ever compete with Mr Bowie in the strangeness stakes, but Helena…..

  1. Character from Sweeney Todd, 2007
  2. Source: Daily Mail 9 Jan 2011

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