I was going to call my second novel Stargazy Skies, a play on Stargazy pie because I mention the pie in my novel and there are a lot of star gazing references. I still think it’s a great title (my editor suggested it) but when I started asking people if they knew what a Stargazy pie was, most of them looked at me blankly. I then realised that to understand the title they would have to have read the book – and if they didn’t know what Stargazy pie was, they might not understand the title – and not buy the book. Bit of a catch 22. For the uninitiated, Stargazy pie is made from pilchards and potatoes, encased in a pie crust. It supposedly originated when a fisherman called Tom Bowcock braved the Cornish winter storms to bring back a huge catch of pilchards, which were made into a big pie to save the inhabitants of Mousehole from starving. The Stargazy name comes from the pilchards having their heads sticking out of the pie “gazing at the sky” so that the oily goodness seeped back into the potato. And if that doesn’t turn your stomach I don’t know what would, but I guess if you are hungry enough…
Cream or jam first! Decisions, decisions!
Would a picture of a Stargazy pie have made a good book cover with a backdrop of Cornwall? To find out, I bought all of the ingredients to make a Stargazy pie and to take photos of it, but my daughter said, ‘I don’t know why you’re bothering – no-one will eat it.’ She was right – it all went in the bin. I have yet to see a Stargazy pie being served in Cornwall. I even visited The Ship Inn in Mousehole where the recipe is said to have originated, but the young lad behind the bar seemed pretty vague on any particulars – and he had never seen a Stargazy pie either! I found lots of these pesky things
- The wonderful seagulls of St Ives
which I would quite like to have put in a pie just to keep them quiet and drank a fair bit of cider
Can’t beat a good half of Thatchers
I did read that there was a chef who made a modern-day version with chicken and prawns and have to confess that sounds infinitely better. Mousehole still celebrate the tradition at Christmas time when revellers can help themselves to this annual dish in return for a donation to charity: http://bit.ly/2CFsKGu
Here’s an excerpt from The Magic of Stars, when Marco and Sapphire check out the Stargazy pie and are less than entralled with it:
Marco grinned at Sapphire as they shouldered their way through the noisy crowd of people. He ordered a beer brought in from the local brewery for himself, and an apple juice for Sapphire, and they fought their way back through the throng of people to find a tiny corner of space to stand together.
‘If this beer is any good I’m going to serve it in the hotel – and that St Martin’s wine we have at the cottage. Stargazy pie too, maybe. Got to keep in with the locals.’
‘I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I think I’m traumatised.’ Sapphire pointed to the huge pie that was sitting in a food warmer next to a pile of mashed potato. Fish heads, complete with baleful eyes, poked out of the top of the pastry crust, staring up to the sky.
‘Well, I guess we now know why it’s called Stargazy pie,’ Marco grinned. ‘But the lovely name doesn’t make it look any more palatable.’ He took a closer look at the pie. ‘Hmm, think it might even be up there with haggis and samphire on the list of excluded foods, unless I manage to find that chef – the one the old man mentioned.’
‘Don’t know what happened to him, but I’m glad we have bread and cheese back at the cottage as I really don’t think I can stomach even one mouthful of that.’ Sapphire couldn’t take her eyes of the fish heads and didn’t think she’d ever seen a meal look so unappetising.
‘Certainly sounds a lot better made with prawns and chicken,’ Marco agreed. ‘I’ll find out the chef’s name for my new hotel.’
Sapphire enjoyed talking about Marco’s plans as it made her feel part of his life, and that was what she wanted. She sipped at her drink, contentedly watching the band and the locals, and wondered if it was worth doing battle at the bar again for some crisps.
A man playing a Spanish guitar started up a sweet confection of chords and a singer joined him, picking out a soulful tune. It all looked very impromptu and haphazard, which added to the charm of the evening. A couple of people started dancing, cheek to cheek, and then another two drifted onto a space in front of the singer that doubled up as a makeshift dance floor. They moved in unison, inching around the floor in a circle, the woman’s head nestling into the hollow of her partner’s collarbone.
Marco picked up Sapphire’s hand and she looked up, ready to smile at his sentiment, but, unexpectedly, he pulled her to her feet. ‘I haven’t danced with you, yet. Can’t be considered a proper relationship until we dance together.’
‘Really, why’s that?’ Sapphire eyed the tiny space, wondering if they would even fit in there.
‘What if we don’t synchronise? It will be the end for us. Being able to dance together is more important than sex.’
‘You’re joking, right?’
‘I never joke about dancing.’ He drew her over to the tiny dance floor and pulled her in to him. ‘I should have mentioned that when I went to Cambridge University, I learned ballroom dancing. I kid you not – as you English would say. Follow my feet, and you’ll be fine; we are basically just shuffling around, here.’
Sapphire put her hand on Marco’s shoulder and he placed his arm around her waist. Their free hands met and she was terrified that he would start to prance around the floor, like something out of Strictly, doing proper ballroom stuff, but he just tightened his grip on her waist and took the lead.
He pressed up to her body; there was barely a gap between them and it felt strangely erotic. Marco brought his hand up to her shoulder and she leaned in to him as he stroked the back of her neck with his thumb. The singer crooned an Ed Sheeran song about being perfect and Marco started to hum under his breath. It resonated through his chest and Sapphire relaxed into the rhythm of their slow dance. It was as if it was just the two of them; no-one else mattered as they moved, wrapped up in each other. Sapphire felt that she was melting with longing for Marco, the sweet ache that always seemed to be there for him pulsing through her veins. She had found the man of her dreams, unlikely as it was. His heart beat next to hers and she pressed her breasts into his chest, her thigh into his thigh, feeling the strength of his muscles as they moved in unison around the dance floor.
Marco groaned as Sapphire pressed her pelvis into the erection she could most definitely feel. ‘This is interesting,’ she whispered into his ear.
‘This is difficult,’ he murmured into her hair. ‘I don’t think I want them to put the lights on any time soon,’ His eyes were smouldering with heat when he finally pulled away to gaze down at her.
‘Did we pass the test?’ Sapphire’s voice was unsteady as she came back down to earth, out of the trance that Marco’s humming and manly warmth had put her in.
‘I’m not sure. I think we need to get back to the cottage quickly to check out the sex again. We need a proper comparison.’ Although his eyes danced, his tone was urgent, his voice unmistakably throaty as he ushered her off the dance floor, hunger burning in his eyes.