medieval meat pie

Stuff happened, and suddenly, on short notice, I'm making meat pies. The catch is, they have to be accurate for 14th Century England - in their finished state. It's for an educational display and the group (me included) are real sticklers for detail. I can use my modern kitchen to make the pies - thank goodness. I have pork and hogget (1 year old sheep meat) so I figured two different kinds of pie.

Food allergies mean I can't include soy in any form whatsoever, which basically means I need to make every part from scratch. Thankfully I can use the pressure cooker for the broth/gravy/sauce if I need to. Eggs may or may not be possible, so I'll err on the side of caution and go with no eggs.

I think I have all the ingredients I need, lots of fat, including mutton, hogget, lamb, pork, suet, leaf and lard - but not much butter. Meat, flour, salt, and fresh herbs in the garden, a few spices. Not sure what else is needed.

Now, for the big question - how on earth do I make these pies?

Please help. Need to finish making them by tomorrow evening!

Also, any thoughts on a vegetarian version that does not include any new world foods like tomatoes, potatoes, beans...? Favas, lentils and chickpeas are okay. How does one make a suet style crust that does not include ingredients that killed an animal? Maybe butter and vegi fats?



trampledbygeese June 17, 2015
The pork pies turned out delicious. We used the sorted food link as inspiration. Filling was pork shoulder, onions, salt, pepper, sage, nutmeg & dry fruit. For half we did dry apricots, and half we did prunes. The prunes taste best and really compliment the pork. Apricots, are overpowered by the other flavours. The filling was raw when it went into the pastry. We couldn't get the pastry right, so we did most of the pies in muffin trays, with a few constructed period style for display. When finished, I used the broth from the smoked trotter, mixed some gelatin in with it and poured it in the hole. Taste is amazing!

The lamb pie - or what was called lamb in the 14th Century, but would be called mutton or hogget now. Most of history, lamb referred to meat from a sheep under two years old - we did as one huge pie. Again, we couldn't get the pastry right, so we used a large spring form pan and used a very thick crust so that it would stand up on it's own when released from the pan. The filling we used Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management as inspiration, as well as oral history of what meat pies were like in britain prior to 1950. aka, I asked old family members what they remember peasant food tasting like before electricity came to town.

Lamb filling was boiled lamb (thank you pressure cooker for making the process of boiling frozen joint of lamb take 20 min instead of 4 hours!), onions, turnips (fingers crossed that's old world), carrots all fried together with Poudre Forte , salt, some wine, some sugar, splash of vinegar and some liquid from boiling the joint. We used a ratio of one part meat to two parts veg. The seasoning we did to taste and measured by splash, glug and handful. Haven't tried the pie yet, but the filling tasted good when we put it in the pastry.

The pastry itself was again inspired by Mrs Beeton. We used roughly 1 part lard I had rendered using these instructions , two parts very hot/boiling water, generous helping of salt, and flour until thick enough. I have no idea if this is a 'proper' recipe for pastry, but it holds together when cooked and is incredibly delicious.

As the pies are to be eaten cold or room temp, I was very heavy handed with the spices and salt, almost to the point where it was far too strong while the fillings were warm. We fried up some pork filling before stuffing the pastry, to make certain we had the spice right. When we tasted the finished pie at room temp, the spice was just perfect.

So, basically, a lot of cheating with method, but at least we have a few pies that look the part.

Also a lot of interpretive history. Since most recipes of the time are written for the upper ranks of society, then they could easily afford to toss away the pastry as a cooking vessel. But I'm cooking for people who work for a living, so I doubt they could afford to waste any bit of food - therefore, edible pastry.

I'm off to the 14th Century for the next week or so. See you all when I get back. Thanks again for the help and inspiration.
trampledbygeese June 17, 2015
oh, I also put some chopped up prunes with the lamb filling. It was missing something in the taste, and this seemed to do the trick.
Nancy June 15, 2015
agree with comments so far about pastry coffins, and the balancing act between historical faithfulness & what we now consider eligibility.

probably not in time for the feast, but for future reading & use, 2 books:

1542 French cookbook (from which I've made an excellent medieval blend of spices for use with meat and or cakes)

the great Taillevent

last, keep in mind that many meals considered "not meat" for Church calendar and observances would have included fish. do your 21stC non meat eaters countenance that?
Nancy June 15, 2015
edibility (not mistaken "eligibility")
Nancy June 15, 2015
PS French 16c not so different from English 14c. another source, closer to home, on historical pastry and crust, is English Bread and Yeast Cookery (Elizabeth David), now available as a download (free or low cost).
Chocolate B. June 15, 2015
This is just a fascinating discussion! I'm learning a lot of interesting things. Keep it going! And best of luck with your cooking adventure.
trampledbygeese June 15, 2015
So, it looks like I need some sort of jelly for the filling. How about if I boil up a smoked pork trotter for the jelly broth?
Susan W. June 14, 2015
I have no answer for you. I wish I did. Can I just say you amaze me? I would have had such a lead time to accomplish this feat. Food 52 just doesn't seem to be the best source...unless it was one of us asking you for advice.
PieceOfLayerCake June 14, 2015
Well...all I know about medieval meat pies is that the crust was often very tough and rarely eaten. You could do a hot water crust. I would think that's the closest approximation to the sturdy crusts of yesteryear. You could form them in ramekins like one would a pork pie ( If you're going authentic with flavors, herbs weren't very common but spices were highly prized. Cinnamon, ginger and clove were used often with meats.

As for vegetarian pies, from what I understand, they were pretty fond of mincemeat, which doesn't have to have meat in it. You can do a mixture of chopped, dried fruits/nuts/grains (I like the idea of chickpeas, or even farro). For the crust, any solid fat will do...of course butter is delicious, but I would recommend a good quality shortening.

Shapewise, I'm as clueless as you are. I would do a Cornish pasty type form, which is like a calzone...but I can't speak on how accurate it is to the period. DO let us know how it goes, I'm very curious.
Jan W. June 14, 2015
Precisely - pie crust a.k.a coffins at the time, were not the flaky pastry of modern (after the 17th c.) cookery, rather, they were designed to withstand the high temperature of the oven and yet retain the moisture of the (mostly meat) filling. Originally they were put in the oven without any sort of pan or ceramic to support it, so the crust had to be incredibly thick. It was promptly discarded from most pies.

They would typically look something like the section of the Rijksmuseum painting I've attached. The crust is broken open, and the contents are served with a spoon from within.

Thinner crusted pastries without a top-crust would be called tartes, and these would typically be consumed crust and all. Pasties (with the exception of those from Cornwall), would also be thinner crusted and could be eaten in the hand if necessary.
trampledbygeese June 15, 2015
That's a hard one, balancing authentic crust with modern tastes. How to balance historical accuracy with the fact that not everyone in the troupe would be willing to have a pie with an inedible crust? We are going to be eating the pies, but the public isn't, so I suspect I can take a bit of ... I want to say poetic licence here, but I think it's more interpretive history.

Looking at the way cooking was done then, especially with peasant cooking, there seems to be two different styles of pie. One done for the table, like a dinner party for the upper crust, which would be the larger, free standing, inedible pastry, and a style that would be more suited to peasant eating - ie, portable lunch for eating out in the fields, a bit like the modern pork pie, I think. Problem is, not many period documents cover peasant foods, we have to stipulate from drawings and archaeological artifacts what they may have eaten.

Since our demonstration is one of traveling artizans and affluent peasants, maybe I could interpret the recipe to include an edible crust.

Would a Victorian style meat pie crust, with lard, boiling water, and flour (maybe some salt for modern taste), look like a medieval portable meat pie?
Exbruxelles June 14, 2015 The recipes I've read all have a lot of spices and a lot of dried fruit--probably to mask the flavor and/or smell of meat that is less-than-perfectly-fresh. Godspeed.

I don't think you're going to find an authentic "vegetarian" pie, but if you decide on the filling you can certainly make the crust with butter. I do all the time.
trampledbygeese June 14, 2015
There are probably authentic vegetarian pies as it seems every other day was a 'eat no meat or fish or dairy' day. At least three days a week and special occasions are free of dairy and meat, in that time period... it's just pies were so common, that very few thought to write down the recipes.
trampledbygeese June 14, 2015
Also, thanks for the link to medieval cookery. That looks like a good starting point for the hogget pie.
creamtea June 14, 2015
I'd have a look at Claudia Roden, The Book of Jewish Food, as well as Penelope Casas, The Food and Wines of Spain. There is a rich tradition of Sephardic/Spanish savory meat pies, empanadas, etc.; I also have a book called Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali with a "recipe" for Andalusian Pie (really a translation of a medieval recipe, no measurements of the ingredients).
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