Secret Recipe: Plant-Based Wild Hunt Pie With Chestnut Bechemel — The Wondersmith (2024)

It's been my mission lately to create plant-based centerpiece dishes for special occasion feasts. This is my latest creation: a golden, decorative flaky pastry pie covered in designs and topped with pastry birds holding their own surprise: baked stuffed apples for dessert! Everything is entirely plant-based, from the seasonal veggies in the filling to the chestnut béchamel sauce they are cloaked in. Even that gorgeously glossy surface is obtained without eggs; instead, I got crafty with some of the pie's ingredients. This is a recipe for a long but lovely day in the kitchen creating a masterpiece to share. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Have you ever noticed that the space between the Winter Solstice and New Years Eve feels a bit…strange? I often lose track of time during these days of liminality. Our ancestors felt so too. They chronicled the passing of time through the sun’s movement (representing the solstices and equinoxes) and the moon’s cycles (which represented each month.) These cycles didn’t line up perfectly, however; there are about 12 extra days at the end of the year that need to be accounted for. These were tacked on to the days after the Solstice and became the original “12 days of Christmas” long before Christianity made its way into the far north regions of Europe. Instead, there was The Wild Hunt.While those extra 12 days are passed us now, I still feel like the energy of this ancient mythology can be felt on the cold winter evenings to come.

As this wonderful article so eloquently explains:

“This is the original flavor of the Wild Hunt: a chase, yes, but also an opportunity for the wild to come into our homes and renew the vibrancy of otherwise domesticated places. It is interesting to note that what was once desirable – an annual return to wildness – later became dangerous and scary. It may indeed be so: wildness isn’t always gentle and safe. But to our ancient ancestors, there was an expressed acknowledgement that, in spite of this, wildness was a necessity.”

Can you feel that wild wind blowing? Does the fog of liminality descend over you in this time between as well? I often spend this time thinking about the wild. More specifically, I think about the encounters I have had with animals that have felt profound and magical and made my heart beat with the joy of being part of the wilderness. I love that feeling of melting into the woods until I can notice the white outline of a snowshoe hare blending into a snowbank nearby or the call patterns of black-capped chickadees in the brambles behind me. To me, wilderness still feels like a beautiful thing, and I am not afraid of the wild.

Game pies used to be a way to celebrate and showcase the hunting parties that formed in Western Europe. Sculptural pies filled with wild game were a sign of nobility, since only landowners had land to hunt upon. Today, elaborate game pies seem to have mostly faded into oblivion, at least here in North America. To me, they sound like a dream: a rich dough that can be sculpted like clay into detailed masterpieces, then shared with the people I love? Yes, please! But rather than carrying on the tradition of firmly packed game meat representing the conquering of the wild, I decided to adapt the concept a bit to match my own reverence for the wild winds of wilderness that blow this time of year. A flavorful plant-based filling full of the depth of the forest fills my own pie, which is decorated with some of the animals that are particularly meaningful to me.

With the grandeur of an ancient pastry dough recipe molded into dancing rabbits and perching birds, the filling has more humble inspiration: pot pie, the ultimate comfort food this side of the Atlantic, a hearty dinner of mixed vegetables and meat in a creamy white sauce encased in a simple no-frills crust. I wanted to capture the familiarity of this widespread favorite, but adapt it to be entirely plant-based and dress it up for a special occasion. My aim is not to show off my social status but rather to provide a point of connection. It is to give other home cooks a canvas for creative expression and something extra special to take center stage, functioning both as nourishment and a conversation starter. And, as always, it is to honor the wild landscape that I love so dearly, through both the flavors within and the decoration without.

My centerpiece pie is packed full of flavorful roasted veggies dusted in a spice blend I made from foraged ingredients. Those vegetables are then stirred into a silky white sauce with the faint sweetness of chestnuts. Wrap that in a pastry elaborately decorated with nature motifs and it’s a really special dish indeed. And since there is no meat in this pie, you don’t need to worry about reaching the proper temperature or risk under-cooking the middle. As soon as the pastry is lovely and golden, the pie is finished baking.

What a peaceful way to spend a winter afternoon. Crack a window just enough to let those wild winds whistle in. Get lost in the tactile pleasure of warm dough, the fragrance of wild herbs and spices, the chance to dive into that peaceful concentration that comes from creative processes...mmm. Lovely. This is not a project to be rushed. Set aside plenty of time and allow yourself to enjoy the process. This pie is an opportunity to express your own creativity.

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Magic Always,
Miss Wondersmith

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Secret Recipe: Plant-Based Wild Hunt Pie With Chestnut Bechemel  — The Wondersmith (2024)
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