Back in the day, when I was an impoverished university student, I often used to spend holiday weekends helping my parents sell their assorted breads, buns and preserves at farmers' markets around the Welsh borders. Each market was assessed by me on the grounds of distance from home (i.e. how early I had to get up) and lunch options. Ludlow Food Festival was by far the winner: only 20 mins from home, an excellent lunch option range - and held in a rather nice ruined castle. The loser by some margin was Nantwich farmers' market. Absolutely bloody miles away and the lunch options were so bad I actually ended up leaving the market and heading into town*. Though I believe it was there that Dad and I met Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the Two Fat Ladies, who went mad over our preserved lemons, used them in a demo and sent swarms of middle aged ladies over to the stall, elbowing each other in their attempts to scoop up the last jars.
Despite the brush with celebrity cheffiness, I would never ever do it again. The general public, I discovered, can be very rude, demanding and are obsessed with free samples. And my parents gave it up too - I think that the amount of effort required to get the food to their standards far outstripped the rewards.
However I do still have fond memories of the food they used to make. Bath buns, onion marmalade, fantastic bread - and something called bishak. This was a little bready pie with a simple filling of butternut squash and a bit of onion. Delicious! And I've always wondered about where they got it from, never having seen reference to it anywhere else. And when I saw this fatayer recipe in The Moro Cookbook I thought, 'Ah ha! The bishak prototype'. But a quick google search (why didn't I do it earlier?!) revealed that actually the bishak recipe is from Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food - which has been sitting on my bookshelf for about two years! I can't believe it's been there, under my nose for so long.
But now I get to play a game of 'compare the little pumpkin pie recipe'. So, first up is the Fatayer, which according to Sam and Sam of Moro, are from Lebanon and Syria, and usually stuffed with spinach and labneh. The pumpkin/squash version is a Moro innovation. Maybe they've been reading Claudia Roden....
Anyway, I loved these little pies. The filling is a mixture of squash (in my case) or pumpkin (if you're feeling hallowe'eny), feta, pine nuts and oregano, which is then parcelled up in flatbread. It's one of those recipes that demand a little fiddling about without actually being difficult, leading (in my case anyway) to a disproportionate amount of pride in the final result. The recipe suggested making four fatayer, but I made eight little ones instead - perfect for packed lunches.
from The Moro Cookbook
220g strong white bread flour, plus a little extra for dusting
½ tsp salt
½ tsp dried yeast
100ml tepid water
2 tbsp olive oil
800g pumpkin or squash, seeded and chopped into 5cm square chunks
½ garlic clove, crushed to a paste with salt
1 tbsp olive oil
80g feta, crumbled and mixed with ½ small bunch fresh oregano, chopped
1 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
Put the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the water and add the olive oil. Add this gradually to the flour and salt, mixing as you go. (Sam and Sam recommend doing this by hand.) When it's all been incorporated, transfer to a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. If necessary, add more flour or water. You're after a soft, smooth, elastic dough. Cover with a cloth and leave while you get on with the filling.
Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8. Toss the pumpkin in the garlic and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking tray and bake for about 25 minutes, or until soft. Cool slightly and then purée. Check the seasoning and add more if necessary.
Roll the dough into four/eight balls, depending on whether you want four big fatayer or eight smaller ones. Roll each ball out on a floured surface until it's about 5mm thick. Try to keep the shape as circular as possible. Put ½/1 tbps (depending on number of pies) pumpkin in the middle of the bread, in a roughly triangular shape, then top with some feta and pinenuts. Use some water to moisten the edge of the bread and bring together to create a pyramid shape. Squeeze the edges together to seal the pie. Use scissors to trim any excess dough and squeeze together again.
Bake on an oiled baking tray for about 10-15 minutes. The dough should begin to colour, but not be totally crisp.
We served this with a wonderful chickpea salad from the same book, ,which was basically chickpeas, cucumber, tomatoes, mint and coriander in a dressing made of garlic, chilli, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil and red onion. Really fresh and full of flavour.
*This was some years ago, so it may have changed. I don't mean to damn Nantwich's offerings forever and ever. But I'm not volunteering to go back and find out.