Who doesn’t love a good pie? Our medieval ancestors were no different with the term pie being traced all the way back to 1303. So since it is British Pie Week, we thought it would be the perfect time to talk about medieval pies!
The word pie or “pye” as it would be more commonly known as in the medieval times is most likely a reference to magpies but not because they were a common filling! It was because magpies were observed as having collected odds and ends for their nests. The medieval cook, rather like a magpie, would collect together whatever ingredients they had handy when making a pie.
Pies were commonplace in the medieval diet; being eaten by rich and poor alike and they were originally used to make meat last longer in a time before fridges. The pastry case is often referred to as a coffin in recipes because the case was essentially a box for its contents, and this helped preserve the food for longer. This was especially important for peasants who would need to find ways of making food last during the winter months. It is important to point out that the pastry casing for the most part was not actually eaten.
The pies would be filled with root vegetables and there would also be a choice of meats that varied depending on your social status. If you were lower down the social ladder, then you would have to make do with trusty old steak or pork pies. Those higher up would be able to indulge in the more gamey meats that they could hunt for on their own estates. Anything that had wings and flew would likely end up in a pie. Birds of all sizes from crows and hens to swallows and sparrows could be used. Fruit pies did not become widely eaten until the fifteenth century when sugar became cheaper and therefore was more widely available.
For those who could afford it food could also be used for entertainment. At some parties these days you might see someone jump out of a cake; in the medieval times you might have had the chance to see someone jump out of a pie!
One such incident involves the court dwarf of Charles I’s wife Queen Henrietta Maria, Jeffrey Hudson jumped out of a pie presented to the King and his Queen, dressed as a knight. An even more impressive story is that during the Feast of the Pheasant held by Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy in 1454 it is reported that 24 musicians played their instruments in an enormous pie.
Leicestershire is world-famous for its pork pies and the first known pork pies recipe comes from the kitchen of King Richard II. A recipe for the pastry can be seen on the menu for his banquets starting from 1390.
Unlike our modern pork pies (which are savoury) these early versions were sweetened with dried fruits like currents and ginger. A recipe for one of these dishes would have been something like this:
• 19″ pie shell with lid
• 1½ lb. pork
• ½ tsp. salt
• 6 egg yolks
• 2 tsp. ginger
• ¼ tsp. pepper
• 1/3 cup honey
• ½ cup currants
• ½ chopped dates
First boil down the pork and grind it up, then brown it over a medium flame.
Let it cool for a bit before mixing it in with the other ingredients, the resulting filling should be very moist.
Place the mixture into a pie shell and place the lid on top.
Next fold the top dough over and pinch the edges up.
Finally bake at 375°F/190°C for 45 minutes to an hour or until the pie is golden brown.
Mince pies were considered a festive treat by the people of the middle ages, just like they are today, due to costly nature of the spices included in the pies. This meant they were reserved for special occasions however this was not reserved to Christmas and these luxuries were served on other special occasions like Easter. Medieval mince pies differed from their modern counterparts because they actually had minced meat in them – mixing sweet and savoury.