Our Favorite Meat Pie Recipe!
Winter’s here and there’s nothing more comforting for dinner on a cold evening than a savory meat pie – and a favorite also of our medieval friends!
Pie pastry was probably created by the Greeks as long ago as the 2nd century, BC. When Rome conquered Greece, they too became fans of the pastry. When the Romans went on to conquer the known world, they brought the tasty pastry pie along with them where it was adapted to local foods and customs.
Since the Middle Ages, the most popular lovers of the meat pie have certainly been the English. In medieval times, it was the nobility and royalty who ate the most meat. There would most likely be a selection of meats such as venison, rabbit, goat, lamb, mutton, veal or pork. Much was roasted, but very often these meats were baked into pies with rich sauces.
Here’s a recipe that we found on page 51 of an old cookbook called, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks, Thomas Austin, ed. London: Early English Text Society, 1888. It is for a rich Lombard-style pie.
First, you can read it in the original Middle English and then in our modern translation.
A Rich Lombard-style Pie: Take fresh cream, parsley and eggs, both yolks and whites and mix them together, then strain them through a sieve or strainer until it is thick enough to stand by itself. Take fresh marrow, dates cut in halves or thirds, and prunes, put them in “coffin” (a pie shell) made of good dough, and cook in the oven until the crust is just firm, then remove the pie shell and add the egg mixture, adding enough sugar and salt, and return to the oven to bake until done. If the pie is for a Lenten meal, omit the eggs and marrow. Serve it forth.
The lower classes of England didn’t eat much meat as they couldn’t really afford to buy much meat at the market and hunting wild game was forbidden to the lower classes. Meat was not a large part of their diet until much later.
For the noblesse oblige, bird pies were quite popular as well. In addition to hens and geese, game birds such as ducks stork, crane, heron, peacock, pheasants, plover, partridge, quail, turtle-doves, larks and sparrows – to name a few – were also served at a nobleman’s table. If they were not spit roasted, the birds were often baked into a pie. Reminds me of that old nursery rhyme:
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.
Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king!”
Swans were considered a true delicacy and could only to be eaten by the monarch. To this day in the U.K. it is still illegal to eat a swan. I don’t believe Her Majesty indulges either.
The Middle Ages had some very strict rules as to when you could eat meat. So meat pies were only available certain times of the year. The Church had strict rules for meat consumption. You couldn’t eat meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. (You would most likely switch to fish on these days. The Normans who conquered the English in 1066 loved Lampreys Pie. Lampreys were a type of eel and considered quite a delicacy at the English courts. Henry I died after eating too many lampreys.)
Meat eating was also forbidden during the entire seasons of Advent and Lent. In the pie recipe above, did you notice the admonition for removing the marrow and eggs during Lent?
If you’d like to connect with your love of the Middle Ages in a culinary way, a meat pie is an easy and flavorful way to do so. Here is our favorite meat pie recipe for a Steak and Kidney Pie – updated for the 21st Century. If you can’t find kidneys, mushrooms make a fine substitute.
It’s been tested in the e-Royalty kitchen and given 5 stars.
Sift flour into bowl. Add salt and sugar. Cut butter into small pieces. Drop into bowl. Add margarine. Blend well using pastry blender or fingertips. Stir in egg yolk and enough water to enable ball of dough to be formed. Wrap on wax paper and chill 20 minutes before rolling.
Trim beef to remove all fat. Chop kidneys into small pieces. Brown beef and kidneys in hot oil. Add onions and cook five minutes. Stir in flour and add beef broth gradually. Season with salt and pepper. Add Worcestershire sauce and bay leaf.
Transfer all ingredients to casserole dish. Cover and simmer for 1 ½ hours until beef is tender.
Transfer ingredients to deep 10” pie plate. Top with pastry. Cut pastry to allow steam to escape. Brush pastry with egg yolk and milk glaze.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 35 minutes until beef is hot and pastry is golden brown.
Do you have a favorite meat pie recipe? We’d love to hear about it. Comment below.