Monday, 14 December 2009

Cranks Homity pies make a come-back

Cranks was one of the first vegetarian restaurants that appeared in Britain. It opened its first restaurant in 1961 in the famous Carnaby Street and soon earned its reputation as the place to eat for vegetarians. But by the 1980s and 90s, the stereotypical image of the vegetarian as sandal-wearing-lentil-loving-hippy was apparently holding the restaurant back, so the chain had to transform the way people saw vegetarian cuisine and 'vegetarians'. The chain also faced competition with the increasing availability of vegetarian food, not just by other vegetarian outlets, but by mainstream supermarkets too.

I have never eaten at Cranks (as all the restaurants were located in England), but have most - if not all of the cookbooks. I liked the Cranks traditional image of hand-thrown pottery and heavy wooden chairs presented beautifully through some of their books, something that modern day restaurants try to accomplish with new furniture and decor. But unfortunately, after years of serving wholesome, flavourful and hearty dishes, Cranks closed all its outlets in January 2001. I think there is now only one restaurant, in Dartington, Devon. If I should ever venture that way, I will be paying them a visit as it is a vegetarian culinary British institution.

Anyway, after that history lesson on Cranks I guess I should let you know what a Homity pie is?! Homity pies were one of the most popular dishes served at Cranks. I would describe homity pies as an open shell pastry with a potato filling. I have read two different stories about the origins of the homity pie. One states it was an old English economy meal recipe from the Second World War, the other says it was a Romany speciality. To keep up with the changing times, the homity pie had also gone through a number of transformations at Cranks: the potatoes were mashed and made without the pastry case; or flavoured with Tamari and Tabasco.

Well yesterday afternoon I had decided to make some Cranks style homity pies. It is a little time consuming as you have to make the wholemeal pastry, rest it in the fridge, blind bake it and then it’s onto the potato filling - that is why I decided to make it the day before.
My recipe is based on Nadine Abensur's 'traditional' Cranks recipe that was brought into the 1990s, but I have added a small pinch of spice to take it a little bit further. My sincere apologies to those who adore the 'real traditional Cranks pie', but do give this a go - you may just like it.

Cranks Homity pies – the spiced way
Makes 6
For the pastry
175g wholemeal flour, plus extra for dusting
100g butter, plus extra for greasing
2 tablespoon iced water
For the filling
600g potatoes, chopped into cubes
1 clove of garlic, minced
40ml olive oil
375g onions, finely sliced
125g chestnut mushrooms
½ teaspoon of chilli or cayenne powder
1 teaspoon of garam masala
100ml double cream
125g mild cheddar cheese, grated
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional sprinkling of cayenne powder
To make the pastry
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, folding the bran back in. Rub the butter into it and add the water. Once you have brought the dough into a ball, wrap it loosely in cling film and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
To make the filling
Boil the potatoes until tender then drain and set aside. Fry the onions and garlic until tender and translucent. Add the mushrooms, chilli or cayenne pepper and cook for five minutes, then add the potatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. Finally add the double cream, then remove from the heat and add half the cheese. Season with salt and pepper and cayenne pepper if using, add the coriander and allow to cool before spooning generously into pastry cases. Scatter the remaining cheese generously all over and bake for about 20 minutes in the oven. These can be eaten warm or at room temperature. Adapted from the Cranks Bible.

Finally, to end, this morning I learned that the homity pies are making a comeback and are now being sold at selected Waitrose stores, but why would you want to buy them when you can so easily make them at home, ah I guess there are times when you don’t get round to making your own.


  1. I love homity pie - have had it in cafes, but haven't made my own yet. I really should get around to it!

  2. Hi Mango - lovely post, and I remember those Cranks pies of old.
    I'm back after a broadband and bathroom hiatus - thank you so much for your comments.
    Fran xx

  3. This sounds like a hearty dish, Mango. I never heard of Cranks, so thanks for the info. Where does the name "homity" come from?

  4. Those little pie's look very good!


  5. Oh yum, I love homity pie. Luckily I live close enough to Dartington to be able to partake of their very own version. Having said that, have to say they are not as good as they used to be when Cranks first opened at Dartington. It's also usually very crowded these days which makes for a less relaxing meal. Didn't manage to make it on my bread making course though, even though Schumacher College is just around the corner. Do think the Cranks recipe books are great though.

  6. Hmm! never heard of it but sounds like a winner, I have saved it to my 'mangocheeks magic' folder for the future :)

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. That was really interesting, thanks. We have a Cranks cookbook in the library where I work, you've inspired me to take it out and give it a try!

  8. wow! what an original recipe! i absolutely need to try it!
    i love your blog very much and will be back here for sure :)
    wish you a sweet day,

  9. I love the aromatic garam masala in these delectable little savory pies :D

  10. Rachel,
    I hope you get round to making them.

    Oh Fran, it is so so good to hear from you.
    Welcome back :D

    Oh Barbara, now your asking. I have absolutely no idea where the word 'homity' comes from, if you can shed any light, it would be most appreciated.

    Thank you Pam.

    Choclette, you are a lucky bunny to have been able to partake in Cranks original version of the homity pie. Sorry to read that they are not as good as they used to be, guess its a benefit to make your own then. I agree the books are very good: old and new.

    I am sorry to read that you didn't manage to make it on your bread making course, maybe the opportunity will present itself again.

    Kella, I think you will like these.

    Clare - which Cranks book is it. I may be able to recommend a recipe or two from it.

    Thank you so much Justyna and Welcome to my blog.

    Thank you Yasmeen, Garam masala is a brilliant combo, esp when freshly made.

  11. These sound delicious. I've just been catching up on your recent posts, please pass on my congratulations to D on his PhD.

  12. Thank you Jo.
    I will certainly let him know. Thank You.

  13. These are so unusual, I've never seen anything quite like them. They do look quite delicious though.

  14. Michele, I do think you would like them.

  15. I am actually quite well-regarded amongst friends for my excellence at baking Homity Pies! One of my all-time favourite things to cook and eat. So homely and warming, all that mashed-potato deliciousness...

    I wonder how much Waitrose will sell them for? That will be interesting to see.

  16. Scarlett,
    I have absolutely no doubt that your Homity pies are held in high regard. This was my first time, and no doubt I will follow your lead and become known for mine too :D

    I have seen some of Cranks products such as pasta sauces being sold at a large supermarket store, so like you would be curious to know how much Waitrose will sell the Homity pies for and would I be willing to pay for it or make my own. Let's see.

    Finally, do you have any idea where the word 'homity' comes from?

  17. One of my favourite 'discoveries' upon visiting London in the last 1990s was cranks - I particularly loved the sausage rolls but I remember the homity pies and was so sad to hear they have closes - I have a few of their cookbooks and they are great - I think we are really starting to appreciate some of the old school vegetarian dishes now

  18. It is sad news that Cranks no longer exist, but they have left behind some excellent books that remind us of homely old-fashion good vegetarian grub.


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