St Patrick Center Success Story: Jane & Queen’s Cuisine
England vs. Australia may sound like a cricket match, but it’s merely the latest Fight Club Sandwich installment: battle meat pie.
The two nations may share one language and a similar gene pool, but culturally they’re as far apart as they are geographically. One is planning a royal wedding; the other is home to spiders the size of your hand. Both are islands, but one is nearly 60 times the size of the other. OK, technically England isn’t an island; Great Britain is. Still, Australia is really freaking big; England, not so much.
In the red corner we have the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie from Queen’s Cuisine (qconline.us; 618-205-6188), available online or at local farmers’ markets.
Tasting a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie requires a bit of planning. They must be ordered by phone or via the Queen’s Cuisine website, then delivered or picked up at a local farmers’ market such as Tower Grove or Maplewood.
This pie is dense and hefty enough to make a light lunch. The outer crust, with its soft flakiness, covers a shape the size of two stacked hockey pucks and has a crimped top. Inside, the meat is finely chopped and densely packed, a bit like a very firm pâté. A plastic fork won’t make a dent in this pie, which, if you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, means it’d make for great bag lunches.
Traditionally the meat filling contains a gelatin layer, but Jane Muscroft of Queen’s Cuisine offers a plain version, friendlier to American palates wary of unflavored gelatin (and/or American sensibilities that get all Wayne’s World whenever the topic of aspic arises). Carnivores should fear not the animal hoof: If you eat marshmallows, you’re eating gelatin anyway. The gelatin version of the pie softens some of the density of the meat and defends against dryness.
The pie tastes best at room temperature with several dollops of chutney or ketchup. At $7.50 a pop, plus the cost of the condiments, they’re not exactly cheap, but the amount of labor involved in producing each pie, from chopping the meat to hand-forming the pastry, is significant.
In the blue corner, we have the Australian Meat Pies from south city’s Silver Ballroom (4701 Morgan Ford Road; 314-832-9223): Mere minutes after you place your order, the Australian meat pies arrive at your table hot and steaming, in a paper basket. Each day the kitchen serves up four varieties: pork, beef, vegetarian and a seasonal surprise.
A Silver Ballroom meat pie, fresh from the kitchen.
?In the past, the seasonal surprise has featured a chili-mac filling, and there are rumors of an andouille/red-beans-and-rice version for Mardi Gras. The pork pie contains stew meat-size hunks of pork, while the beef-and-cheese contains ground meat. Both pies came with plenty of juicy gravy, with the pork version tasting quite peppery. (Yes, we did mention there’s a vegetarian pie. And no, we aren’t evaluating it in this space. What part of “Battle Meat Pie” do you not understand?)
The top piecrust is reminiscent of puff pastry, while the bottom is far more substantial, thus managing to avoid sogginess — crucial when you’re talking this much gravy. The bottom crust is so substantial, in fact, that the pie holds its shape without a pan.
At $5 apiece, the pies make a great bar snack, but it would be easy to put away two or even three of them in a (hungry) sitting.
It’s a draw. Both piemakers produce tasty products. But, much like their heritage, these meat pies couldn’t be more different. With the Melton Mowbray, you can sip tea at the farmers’ market and spend $5 for a dozen eggs. With the Australian pies, you can have a smoke and a beer and drop a few coins into the Playboy pinball game.
Which you prefer depends on you — or your mood.
Somewhere along the line, Americans got the idea that “high tea” meant “fancy,” as in “high class.” In fact, a high tea is simply a light meal with a meat dish or two, often eaten by laborers. The stereotypical tea with scones, clotted cream and jam is properly known as “cream tea.” Add some dainty sandwiches and other pastries and it’s called “afternoon tea.”
Any anglophile knows the difference. Having been born and raised in Melton Mowbray, England, Jane Muscroft of Queen’s Cuisine (qconline.us; 618-205-6188) certainly does. When clients ask her to cater a “high tea,” though, Muscroft doesn’t try to correct them. “When in Rome…,” she says with a shrug.
Giving people what they want is a core value for Muscroft. Although she sells scones, shortbreads and a range of British pastries at the Tower Grove, Maplewood, and downtown farmers’ markets, the 43-year-old chef has a growing clientele who place special orders. On a recent day, she was in the process of filling a customer’s order for a batch of sausage rolls made with spelt flour and local sausage.
Muscroft also has a significant number of gluten-free clients. “At the downtown farmer’s market in the summer, I had more gluten-free customers than gluten customers,” she says. (Through her Queen’s Cuisine website, she offers vegan and lactose-free pastries as well.)
Muscroft’s husband, whose job with Nestle-Purina brought them to America, works on dog food-manufacturing equipment. “He’s all about mass production,” Muscroft laughs. She, meanwhile, works in very small batches, never more than two dozen of any pastry, and as few as six of any single type of scone.
Even without special orders, Muscroft likes to vary her pastries seasonally: mincemeat tarts and gingerbread at Christmas, chocolate-dipped shortbread hearts for Valentine’s Day. To celebrate the royal wedding in April, she’s planning a cream tea.
Muscroft has also developed more complex varieties of the traditional English scone to appeal to American palates. Her American scones may contain fresh fruit, local ingredients and spices, while her English versions are simpler.
After attending catering college in England, Muscroft worked as a hotel chef, then as what the English call a “dinner lady,” making school lunches. When she moved to America in 2000, however, her visa did not allow her to work for the first three years. Instead, she concentrated on rearing two daughters, then ages six and seven. Since moving to the St. Louis area in 2005, she has methodically worked at growing her business.
At first Muscroft “catered the odd tea,” as she puts it. Then she contacted Dierbergs about working at their cooking school. “I wasn’t expecting them to say I could be the demonstrator,” she says. “I was expecting to work prep!” Her background, though, was a good fit for Dierbergs, opening up a new frontier of recipes that focused on teas. Today she teaches at all five of the grocery chain’s cooking schools.
In 2007 Muscroft officially established Queen’s Cuisine, LLC, and in November of last year added a shopping-cart feature to her website, permitting clients to place orders online. For a while, Muscroft, who lives in Glen Carbon, did her commercial baking out of a tea room in Illinois, but the headaches of cooking in one state and vending in another prompted a quest for Missouri ovens.
A friend at the farmers’ market mentioned St. Patrick Center on 12th Street downtown, which rents out its commercial kitchen by the hour as a way to help its own indigent clients and nurture local small businesses.
Muscroft has been baking in the new kitchen, which offers flexible availability and more space, since last September. But as a so-called incubator kitchen, it allows her a four-year run at the most. For now she does her shopping on Tuesday and Thursday, bakes on Wednesday and Friday and vends at the markets on Saturday. Her connection to St. Patrick has also led to a kiosk at the downtown Federal Building, where she’s the top seller.
Through Dierbergs, Muscroft’s students learn her scone recipe and cooking techniques. At home, those same students can serve up a high tea, a cream tea, a low tea, an afternoon tea, a light tea, a full tea, a meat tea, even elevenses. And Muscroft won’t correct them.
Did your family cook when you were a child? Oh yes. My mum cooked dinner every night: an entrée and a hot dessert like pie, a sponge or English custard. My dad still has an allotment, so we always had our own fresh produce as well.
How old were you when you started cooking? Quite young. We were allowed to make Yorkshire pudding of a Sunday as soon as we were old enough to stir. Tea as well, once we were old enough.
First cooking job? I worked as a hotel chef while still in catering school. It started as a work-study, and I just continued on. My first-ever job at fourteen was as a server at a small, family-owned café. I was allowed to ice the baked goods if I was very, very careful.
Did you attend culinary school or college? I went to catering college. I studied Home Ec in school; it was required for boys and girls, so there was no getting out of it. I loved it and considered being a Home Ec teacher. But as a teenager, I was painfully shy, and the thought of getting up in front of a room full of people….
What do you eat? Whatever I’m baking, which is why I put on half a stone each market season.
What do you cook at home? Mostly English-style, but it’s gotten more Americanized. I still don’t make burgers very often, but I don’t make fish and chips very often either. Last night I made chili, which in England we would call chili con carne. I put cheese on top because that’s what you do in America, but we ate it over rice, which is how we eat it in England. On Sundays we still have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
What are your three favorite restaurants in St. Louis? Saffron (we Brits like our Indian food!), Mango and the London Tea Room (to eat somebody else’s baked goods for a change).
The local chef who most impresses you? I don’t really move in those circles. Does that sound awful?
Your favorite restaurant elsewhere? Wherever I’m taken next Sunday. I’ll be in England and it’s my birthday. We’re going out for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, so I’d better like it.
Your favorite food city? London, without a question. It’s the one I’ve eaten in the most. You can get anything you want there. My sister lives there and she never cooks. So when I visit, we eat out every day.
Favorite recent food find? Locally grown pumpkin. Up until the fall, I had never made a pumpkin pie from scratch. It’s not nearly as scary as you think it’s going to be. The hardest part is cutting it in half.
Most essential ingredient in your kitchen? Butter. Butter is not a dirty word. I go through about five pounds each baking day. That sounds a lot, but I always seem to be buying that much.
Favorite local food find — and where do you get it? Tea, from Traveling Tea. I grew up drinking tea — basic black tea out of a tea bag — so I was skeptical. But Kateri [Meyer, the owner] has been teaching me the finer points of white and green teas.
Five words to describe your food. Fine English refreshments from scratch.
Bakewell tarts (pastry case, raspberry preserve with almond ‘cake’ filling and topped with icing) named after a town in Derbyshire, England
One food you dislike. Chestnuts. I tried them in France from a street vendor, and they made me gag. It surprised me, because I love nuts, and I’ve never had that experience with anything else. There isn’t much I don’t like.
A food you can’t live without. I have an Englishman’s cappuccino for breakfast every morning — that’s milk warmed in the microwave with Nescafe added.
An ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Crisco. Oh, and that awful non-dairy whipped cream that’s never been near a cow and has coconuts in it.
Culinarily speaking, St. Louis needs more… I think St. Louis is doing a good job already. There are lots of small-owned places as well as great magazines and newspapers. I think it’s ahead of the curve.
Best tip for home cooks. Don’t be afraid or intimidated.
Favorite after-work hangout. I have a junior and a senior [in high school] at home. Once they go off to college, it may be different, but I go straight home and start that job.
Favorite kitchen tool. A microplane. Using a cheese grater just pales in comparison.
What’s next for you? Growing the business, which can go one of two ways. I can either go with a café or expand the manufacturing side through farmers’ markets. Everywhere you see [café owners] struggling, and why would you do that if you can’t make it pay?
What inspires you? Seeing the London Tea Room succeed shows that there is an interest. Positive feedback always inspires me too.
Chefs who inspire you. I don’t watch much cooking television. I can’t cope with the adverts. I’ll occasionally watch the Two Fat Ladies, but that’s twenty years old. I put The Hairy Bikers on my Christmas list, but I didn’t get it. I quite like watching Jamie Oliver’s programs. I prefer the Cooking Channel to the Food Network: actual cooks talking about cooking versus food presenters. Rachael Ray? Ugh! And that semi-homemade lady? She dresses to match what she’s cooking. It’s all the wrong way round.
Favorite cookbooks? The one that’s been with me from the beginning is the Good Housekeeping Cookbook. My grandparents gave it to me as a gift in the 1970s. It’s got photos in the front with page numbers to turn to the recipes. All you have to do is flip through the first few pages. Even now it’s my fallback for the basics. I got my grandmother’s 1950’s edition when she moved into a retirement home. I love it, love seeing how it’s evolved, but I don’t touch it often because it’s falling apart.
Proudest professional moment? Every time I get a compliment. I’ve been on television three times, but it’s really nice to have face-to-face contact.
Favorite music to have in the kitchen. Never. In the car I listen to NPR. If I was techno-savvy, I could program my iPod to NPR, but I rarely have music on, even at home.
What’s on your pizza? Whatever the family consensus is. Right now it’s one half ham and pineapple, because that’s what my older daughter likes. The other half is supreme. My husband’s favorite is chili powder and cheese. My own personal choice would be onions and black olives.
What’s in your omelet? Mushrooms, onions and cheddar.
What are you drinking? Hot tea. Six cups a day.
What’s the most surprising food you’ve eaten? Baked beans with extra things added and served with burgers. Brits have baked beans for breakfast with eggs. To have them with burgers was a shock. Why do you add all that sugar and extra bacon and such?
What’s the most difficult lesson you’ve learned in this business? Just being in business itself. As soon as you get over one hurdle, another one presents itself. I’ve given up thinking, “As soon as we get this settled, then we’ll be there.”
When did you know the chef’s life was for you? It just seemed like the natural thing to do. I’ve always enjoyed the cooking and the entertaining. Well, not the entertaining, but the providing.
According to The Food Lover’s Companion, Eccles cake, named after the town of Eccles, in Lancashire, England, is “a small domed confection [that] has a filling of currants and other dried fruit mixed with sugar and butter and encased in a puff pastry shell. Queen’s Cuisine chef Jane Muscroft prefers to use homemade puff pastry, but she calls for store-bought in this recipe so as to make it easier on home cooks. If you’d like to try the real thing, Muscroft sells puff pastry made with butter and unbleached flour via her website, qconline.us.
1 sheet Pepperidge Farm or other frozen puff pastry (or 1/4 pound homemade)
1 stick butter
1-2/3 cups raisins
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
Thaw pastry according to instructions on package.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Melt butter in a saucepan, then add raisins and sugar. Mix together until sugar has dissolved, then transfer to a small bowl to cool. It’s a good idea to do this ahead of time; if the mixture is still warm when you add it to the pastry, it will be difficult to work with.
Open out pastry sheet, then cut into three strips along fold seams.
Flour board and roll one strip of pastry into a rectangle 15 x 5 inches (approx). Cut into three 5 x 5 inch squares. Repeat with remaining strips of pastry.
Put a spoonful of cooled raisin mixture into the center of each square.
Moisten the edges of a pastry square with water. Fold the edges up and seal to make a parcel.
Turn over so seal is on the bottom and use a rolling pin to roll lightly into a circle.
Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Repeat with remaining pastry squares.
Cut three slits into the top of each cake, then brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake in oven for 15 minutes, turning after 10.
Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 9 cakes
Featured in the Melton Times, my home town’s local rag…..
Published on Tuesday 15 March 2011 04:00
HER English home baking is winning hearts in America and she’s hoping to open more eyes to our pork pies.
Born and bred in Melton, Jane Muscroft (43) moved to America in 2000 and now gives cookery classes at five of supermarket chain Dierberg’s cookery schools in the St Louis (Missouri) area.
Since moving to America Jane’s catering business Queen’s Cuisine has grown and she now sells her baked goodies at farmer’s markets.
Jane, who recently visited her parents in Newport Avenue, has wowed students and customers with her English favourites including her range of scones, cakes and pastries.
Other meaty offerings and demonstrations have included her home-made Melton pork pie, steak and ale pie, toad-in-the-hole and some Indian dishes.
She said: “The Americans are so interested in English life, the accent and the food. It’s a cultural experience for them.
“I like making Melton pork pie because it goes back to my roots. My pork pie classes were very well received by customers who thought they were getting a pot pie!
“I also make sausage rolls which I’m afraid to say are more popular. Getting them to drink tea is something. Getting them to eat pork pie is a few steps on from that.
She added: “When I did my very first class I got in touch with Dickinson and Morris who were very helpful. I was told to use equal amounts of meat and pastry.
“I weigh out 6oz of pastry and use 6oz of pork filling to make a 12oz pie. I’ve stuck to that ever since.”
Jane, a former St Francis Primary School pupil, gained her catering qualifications at South Fields College in Leicester.
Her first job aged 14 was at the Manor Oven, in Sherrard Street, serving in the cafe and doing odd jobs in the kitchen. She has also worked at the Harboro Hotel, Sysonby Knoll Hotel and The George Hotel.
Having built up a brand and customer base, Jane hopes to open her own cafe one day as well as giving more hands-on cookery classes.
And to mark the royal wedding she will be giving classes with a royal twist.
By Pat Eby | Photo by Carmen Troesser
Posted On: 02/01/2011
This month’s winter markets offer just-right treats from artisan bakers to soften winter’s cruel tricks. You’ll find pound cakes so buttery they melt on your tongue, tender English scones fragrant with dried fruit, and Cheddar-chive biscuits none the less savory for being gluten-free.
Jessie Pearl Hairston’s double chocolate Bundt.
Jessie Pearl Hairston sold her first pound cakes 50 years ago, when she was just 13. Today, Hairston bakes to supplement her income, focusing on baking high-quality products for customers, either by custom order or through local farmers’ markets.
Her cakes – moist, dense and intensely flavorful – cut to a velvety crumb. She’s known for endless varieties, including lemon, buttermilk, double chocolate, vanilla, mandarin orange, strawberry, Key lime, coffee, peanut butter, marble, Seven-Up, banana and coconut. There’s red velvet, Oreo and even gooey butter.
At markets, you’ll also find specials like her sugar-free sweet potato pie or seasonal fruit cobblers. You could luck into pumpkin, banana, strawberry or cranberry-walnut tea breads. Try candy-like Pearlie Bars brimming with chocolate, butterscotch, coconut and nuts, super-chocolaty brownies or cream cheese pecan pie. Can’t wait till the Clayton Farmers’ Market opens this spring? For custom orders, contact Hairston at 314.266.8619.
For a little bit of heaven, buy her biscuits, regular or sweet potato. One bite, and “your tongue will slap your brains out,” Hairston claimed. She’s right: Her baking is that lush.
Find more posh treats at Queen’s Cuisine, where proper English delicacies wait to grace your table. Owner Jane Muscroft landed stateside when her husband followed his job. She’s been introducing folks to the charms of English scones, authentic shortbread, seasonal pies and sundry treats ever since.
You’ll find her goodies at farmers’ markets, including St. Louis Community Farmers’ Market at St. John’s Episcopal Church and at the Maplewood Winter Farmers’ Market at Schlafly Bottleworks, as well as online at the Queen’s Cuisine Web site, qconline.us. Muscroft also teaches classes at Dierbergs cooking schools and hosts afternoon teas by special request at The Oatman House in Collinsville.
Her cranberry-orange scones hit the perfect flavor and texture combination for me. These aren’t dried-out, crumbling scones big as a baseball and hard as a brick. Instead, Muscroft’s scones fit the hand and bite tender with an almost creamy mouth feel. That’s without butter and preserves or a gobbet of fabled clotted cream.
Muscroft changes her products seasonally; December’s mince pie, tart and sweet, hit just the right note for me. This spring and summer, Muscroft plans to offer shoppers sausage rolls and a cream tea at farmers’ markets, regulations permitting. “The sausage roll would use local sausages,” she said. “A cream tea is a pot of tea, a scone, strawberry jam and clotted cream.” Wouldn’t that be a lovely breakfast?
For breakfast last summer at the Kirkwood Farmers’ Market, I munched quite happily on gluten-free Cheddar-chive biscuits from Wheatless Wonders. These savory biscuits taste sensational, but they’re not the baker’s only offering. Creamy chocolate brownies, apple spice cakes, dinner rolls – Adam Prey bakes gluten-free, but with the same great tastes and textures you’d expect from any baked item. Taste rules.
“I don’t want an aftertaste, a grassy flavor or something that’s not the right texture. Products that make it to the market are products that work. I want to mimic the flavor of traditional bakeries, but using ingredients that are good for you,” Prey said. He uses no hydrogenated oils, refined sugars or flours, wheat flours, additives or cornstarch. Flours include tapioca, almond bean, amaranth, rice, sorghum, coconut and quinoa. Not everything’s organic, but each ingredient is high-quality.
Prey’s baked goods are available this winter at his mother Marianne Prey’s Extra Virgin, an Olive Ovation. Next spring, he may find time to sell at the Kirkwood and the Ellisville farmers’ market and hopes to offer gluten-free mixes so that customers can bake up their own treats at home. Watch his Web site, wheatlesswondersbakery.com, for details.
Visit these bakers and other artisan food producers each month at local markets, even in dreary February. Mid-month, sweeten the Valentine’s dinner with something fresh-baked and fabulous.