A lamb, squash, broccoli, and root vegetable shepherd’s pie inspired by The Shepherd’s Crown a Tiffany Aching novel by Terry Pratchett.
Someone first recommended A Hat Full of Sky, the second novel in Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series (the YA spinoff of his long-running Discworld series), when I was a preteen myself. Even though I am aging faster than she is (she now seventeen and I twenty-five), I have grown up with Tiffany.
This was not only Terry Pratchett’s last Tiffany Aching book, but the final book in the Discworld series written before his death earlier this year. The witches of the Disc are some of my favorite characters in literature, and with that in mind I wanted to pay tribute to this most excellent author who has affected me so profoundly.
Tiffany Aching is the daughter of a long line of shepherds, an excellent cheese maker, and (above all) a witch. Her stories always come to me exactly when I seem to need them most; inspiring me to pursue my passions, dealing with boy troubles, and learning not to listen other people’s negativity. In this latest installment, I feared that I might have finally outgrown Tiffany’s struggles. Instead I found Tiffany Aching working long hours as a full fledged witch, her friends and family concerned that she’s working too hard, and everyone wondering when she’s going to settle down, focus less on her work, and more on starting a family. With the exception of the elves invading their world and wreaking havoc, this could be a scene from my own life.
Notes From The Piebrary:
Somewhere around puberty, most girls come to grips with the fact that they are not the princess they have been told they are. If you’re lucky, the alternative is that you get a Hogwarts letter or find yourself the object of a sparkly, rich vampire’s affection. But I think the hard truth is this: one day you wake up with business to take care of. You have to leave home. It is not an epic quest, you are simply away, missing your family while they miss you. You roll up your sleeves, you work hard. There is a lot of sweat, very little magic, and even less gratitude. But you gain useful skills, learn to stand on your own two feet (in a good pair of boots), and, most importantly, become sure of who you are. Fat girls, skinny girls, rich girls, poor girls, pretty girls, ugly girls, mean girls, pleasant girls, girls who say “um,” sluts, and spinsters, it doesn’t matter; on the Disc if you have determination, a stern sense of compassion, and an uncanny knack for one thing or another, you are a witch. Even then, two out of three will serve you fine.
Parsing This Pie:
When you’ve been out all day going ’round the houses or just generally dealing with the crying and the complaining and (sometimes literal) shit of being a witch, you want a solid home-cooked meal and a place to lay your head once the pointy hat has been removed. I wanted this dish to be hearty and practical; perfect witch fuel.
Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A, which promotes good eyesight, especially in low light, and therefore essential for any witch planning on flying at night. (I also love colored carrots because they’re aesthetically pleasing.) I chose a sweet little acorn squash to add some seasonal substance, and Romanesco broccoli because it kind of looks like pointy little green witch hats. Many recipes call for beef, but I felt it was only apropos to use lamb. The Achings are shepherds, and while the books spare the reader any potentially gruesome practicalities, you know that animals get eaten on a working farm. The chili powder I added just a dash of, for heat. Really it was almost symbolic; the witches have this fire in them, something that drives them and keeps them going, but also makes them defiant. When I mashed the potatoes for the top of the pie I left the skin on to ensure that all that vitamin C in the skin made its way in. Over the top of the potatoes I sprinkled a hard sheep’s milk cheese, in honor of the Aching family, their sheep, and Tiffany’s skill as a cheese maker.
-2 tbs butter (and change)
-3 big cloves of garlic, chopped
-1 yellow onion, minced
-1 1/2 cup carrots, rounds
-1/2 an acorn squash, cubed
-1 lb lamb chuck, cubed
-1 1/2 cup Romanesco broccoli, cut into small florets
-about 1 cup of vegetable stock
-Salt, pepper, chili powder
-4 cups mashed potatoes
-1/4 lb hard sheep’s milk cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also helps to put a big pot of water on to boil for potatoes quite early.
In a large, high-sided skillet, melt about two tablespoons of butter. Brown the garlic and onions. Add the carrots and acorn squash, as well as a bit more butter if necessary (you want the butter to coat things and help them brown without getting crispy or uneven), and cook for about 5 minutes. I push all of the vegetables to one side of my giant cast iron and use the other half as a blank surface to seal the lamb. Whenever I make a savory pie I always buy my meat from a local butcher (in my case Fleisher’s in Park Slope), they can help you get the cut you need and in this case let me know that the chuck was made from leg rather than neck, and that as a result it wouldn’t take as long to cook. After the meat is sealed, quickly add the broccoli and disperse the veggie stock throughout. Add salt, pepper, and a dash of chili powder to taste. Cover, and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and spread along the bottom of a casserole dish to cool while you make the mashed potatoes.
You’re going to need about 4 cups of mashed potatoes, it’s probably about 2-3 large-ish potatoes. I cut them into rounds or small bits before hand (helps them cook faster and makes them easier to mince). Boil them until soft and then just do what feels natural with a fork or potato masher. Spread the mash over the veggies, top with grated cheese, and pop in the oven for about 35-40 minutes!
Enjoy after a long day of hard work, use this pie to warm yourself up after a long broom journey.