First a small digression on Strangers. Or muse, if you will.
We're all feeling a bit jittery about the darker side of where 2016's politics has dragged us. I don't know if it should make me feel better or worse to know that nothing changes much, but one of Norwich's lovelier small medieval museums (full of food, textile and domestic history) is called Stranger's Hall. The name Strangers in Norwich dates back to the 16th century North European weavers who were invited over as persecuted refugees by an England which needed their wealth-creating skills, but still managed to make sure they were jolly well aware of their difference by calling them Strangers and sometimes giving them a very hard time. Those Strangers, bringing their canaries over here, eventually, as families and individuals, vanished into mainstream Norwich society whilst helping make the beautiful City the place it is today, still full of reference to those Strangers. Thus proving again that, wherever we live we'll never be free of immigrants because scratch the surface and, of course, we're all those immigrants. Us. Welcome Stranger.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO PIES. P.I.E.
For long years I've been sitting in a particular traffic queue waiting for the lights to change, staring at Strangers Hall, one of Norwich's oldest buildings, and wondering why ever they had a little reproduction of a graphic saying PIE in the window. Why, why, why? Why not of course, but why? Apart from being an actual sign, it must be a sign. Was Stranger's Hall calling to me? Was Norwich trying to lure the piemaker after my own escape (back) to the country? The last few years of my city-living Norwich life had been on St Benedict's, in a 16th century house on a medieval street, a couple of dozen buildings away up the road so I was almost home.
And so it came about that, when we were doing a pie photoshoot, one rainy Friday, I remembered my siren PIE and we all trooped off to Strangers Hall to ask why. Why PIE? Why?
Actually, one of the first things you see in this fascinating building is a big table, groaning with large ornate pies, as part of a banquet from its Medieval and Tudor times. We felt quite at home, our pork pies have deliberate ingredient references to those times, especially at Christmas, when we include fruit such as figs and prunes and warming spices like cinnamon. But then the bombshell fell from the lips of the museum curator, who'd kindly invited us strangers in.
It wasn't PIE. Sorry? Not pie?
For all those years I'd been staring fondly at the picture of the little red, black and gold crest and it wasn't saying PIE to me. It was saying PJE. Or more specifically, Joseph and Emma Paine.
What a thing. Joseph Paine was a hosier, he became wealthy on textiles (presumably with a bit of help from those refugee weavers), and lived in Strangers Hall, with Emma, from 1612 to 1628, popping his insignia over the fireplaces as he became wealthier, schmoozing his King with sacks of gold and becoming Mayor Paine. And cheekily making that insignia look a lot like PIE to catch out the innocent pie maker, centuries later. What a joker.
Anyway, I do strongly recommend spending a few fascinating hours in Stranger's Hall in Norwich, with its beautiful collections, food history, and garden and thank them very much for their friendly welcome, making a pie maker a little better informed and allowing us to take lovely pie photos there.
Or of course, from us online.
Photos by Jay Ner.