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r ranson
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I made meat pies for the first time last month as part of a medieval re-enactment event. We do a display every year for a local park to educate people as to what life was like in the 14th Century. It's great fun and my favourite part is learning how to cook the different foods people ate in the Middle Ages.



This Growyourowngroceries article turned up in my inbox this morning and it reminded me how much I enjoyed making (and eating) the meat pies. It also brings up some important points that I thought you might find interesting.

Cooking meat, especially with spices and lots of salt, can extend the time it stays good at room temperature. Meat pies can be used as a way to preserve meat for a little while. When trying this at home, you need to use your own common sense, as a meat pie won't last forever. But it can be a useful tool for those times when the fridge is broken or the power goes out (provided you have a way to bake them). It also makes a great travel food. I'm not up to date on modern government sanctioned food safety regulations, but I've seen historical accounts of meat pies lasting in the pantry for about a week, and at room temperature for several days.

I suspect part of the reason why meat pies last so well is that the meat is cooked with a lot of fat or gelatin. For English Pork Pies the jelly is poured into the meat pie through a hole in the top of the 'lid' after the pie is baked - thus reducing the amount of air that gets to the meat and preserving it like aspic.

For most of history, less than one percent of the population could afford the luxury of wasting food. Yet, even into the mid 1800s the cookbooks have pastry recipes that don't include edible pastry. For the longest time I couldn't make sense of that. Flour was not always easy to come by or affordable, so why would peasants be willing to use it for a food shell that just gets tossed to the pigs? Unless of course, it didn't? This is where I do a bit of interpretive history based on oral traditions in my family and common sense.

First, consider that upto the mid 1800s, literacy rate in Europe was pathetic. It was only the upper crust who could afford the luxury of writing a cookbook and had the skills to write it. These are the same people who show off their wealth by displaying waste. Conspicuous consumption, the public display of acquiring and wasting wealth, has always been an important part of being wealthy and powerful. So it makes sense that they would not eat the shell of the meat pie. Quite often, this glutenous waste would actually be a kind of charity, the scrapings from the plate would be given to the poor. They would take these pie crusts home - baked flour and water flavoured with meat juices could actually have value in a peasant's kitchen.

I theorize that the piecrusts would be dried and then crumbled into pottages (thick soups) to thicken them and add nutrition. This is quite common with bread crumbs and other flour/water baked then dried things.


I suspect it would be possible to make meat pie crusts from non-wheat flours. Carol Deppe in the Resilient Gardener, talks about how one can use boiling water to activate the 'glue' in different gluten free grains. The traditional meat pie pastry is made with boiling water - as this makes a much stronger crust that can stand alone. I would love to hear other people's experiences with gluten free meat pie crusts.

When I made meat pies, I made an edible crust using home made lard and drippings.


My Meat Pie Crust Recipe

1 part lard, fat, or drippings combined with 3 parts boiling water and a generous amount of salt (amount varies depending on the fat - if it's bacon fat, use less salt, if it's just lard, add more salt...&c. If you like salt, add more salt.). About 3 parts flour to start. Slowly add the water/fat mix to the flour, stirring constantly. It should make a very stiff mix, so add more flour as you need it, or stop adding the water/fat mix when you get to the right texture. The texture should be much thicker than you could imagine a pie crust dough being.

Kneed the crust a bit and then let it rest 20 min to an hour for the gluten to finish activating. If you keep the dough warm or cold at this stage, seems to depend on which century you are in.


Meat Pie Filling Ideas

Little Pork Pies
A fatty bit of pork, about 70/30 meat to fat - chopped fine. Sausage meat works too. Pork Shoulder is perfect.
Onion
Sage
Generous helping of Poudre Forte or pepper
Other spices or herbs as you like
dry fruit really adds a nice punch to the pie.
Pork broth or other broth plus gelatin - to make a stiff jelly. I boiled up some smoked trotters for mine to make the jelly, but broth plus commercial jelly works.

Mix all but the broth jelly. Stuff very full, in single portion savory pie crusts and put a crust lid on each one. Make a half inch hole in the top of each pie. Bake, 400F ish for half an hour ish until pastry and meat is cooked. If you have a thermometer, meat should be over 140F in the middle, over 160F is better.

Take out of the oven, let cool about 5 to ten min, then carefully pour the jelly broth in the hole at the top of the pie. It will take several goes to get the jelly in the pie as it seeps into the spaces in the filling.



Another take on pork pies by the sexy boys at Sorted Foods - I love a man who can cook



A different Meat Pie
Goat and mutton are both excellent for meat pies. Lamb and beef work well too. For the larger pie, I pre-cook the filling, or more often, use leftover roast with the drippings from the roasting added into the meat before storing.



Get your leftover roast or boil a joint of meat - chop it fine, put to one side.
Onions
Swedes, neeps, potatoes, carrots, or other 'dry' veg. Root veg work well here.
dry fruit
herbs and spices
wine, vinegar, honey, to taste.

Finely chop the veg, fry the onions until translucent, add the other veg and fry gently until cooked through. Add a splash of wine and deglaze the pan. Add the meat, fry a bit more till heated through, add some broth or drippings from the roast, add some herbs, spices, honey, vinegar, whatever. Taste, taste and taste again. Add more spice than you thing necessary if you plan to eat the meat cold. Boil off the extra liquid - we want the filling to be moist with a light bit of gravy, but not soggy.

Fill the pie(s) firmly, put the pastry lid on it and poke holes in the top, and then bake at 400F ish for half an hour to an hour ish - until pastry is fully cooked. As filling is pre-cooked, the internal temp isn't as important.



A Universal Food Chopper (looks like a meat grinder with the blade on the outside) works wonders for making meat pie. Basically, I pass all the filling ingredients through the coarse setting on my food chopper - meat, veg, fruit, herbs, everything.


picture borrowed from here
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mmm pie
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mutton pie
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filling the pork pies - we cheated and used muffin tins to shape the pies
 
John Elliott
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Many countries have incorporated the meat pie into their cuisine. I especially like the чебуреки that are sold at open air markets in the Crimea:



She needs a bigger plate, those are a little on the small side. And in Spanish speaking countries, there are various versions of the empenada:



In Asia, they may be called spring rolls, wontons, crab rangoon, or samosas, and they might have different shapes, like cylinders or triangles, with fins or without, but they are still the same idea, tasty stuff that doesn't have a long shelf-life encased in a shell that will keep much longer -- or at least until some hungry person happens upon them.

 
R Scott
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Yum.

As for the "inedible" crust, I had the impression they were often used for a meat pie stew made by breaking it up into some boiling water. Basically a condensed soup in a hard tack can.
 
Drew Moffatt
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I lived on beef bacon and cheese pies at high school, it helped that dad ran the shop. We sometimes make rabbit pie if I shoot a fat one near the house
 
Rach Hasbu
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I ventured into the hot pastry pie a while back, using a old English cook book, based on a pork pair but with a pheasant that had been donated to us. At the time we didn't do a lot of baking so this was a holiday adventure in someone else's kitchen.
It came out looking beautiful, I have to say the meat part was delicious. The pastry had a weird taste to it... It was old flour that had been stored in a cupboard with some medicine... With a bottle of TCP. Just storing the flour in the same space as the closed TCP bottle had made the entire pastry taste of TCP. Lesson learned, beware where and how you store your flour. Other than that, the process was surprisingly easy.
 
David Livingston
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"We do a display every year for a local park to educate people as to what life was like in the 24th Century."
I'm impressed as usually people go into the past going into the future takes some real skill !
I am a big fan of meat pies unfortunetly its not something thats really part of french cooking . I really love pork pies I used to have one for breakfast fresh from the bakers made that morning yummy .
What I need though is a little ceramic stand that goes in the middle of a big pie to stop the pie crust falling into the mixture .
Also you have not mentioned the other great meat pie that is Steak and kidney pudding . Suet pastry either baked or steamed adds a little something.

David
 
Heidi Hoff
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David, the French settlers in North America must have brought the idea of meat pies with them as cultural baggage, because there is fierce competition here in Québec for the best cipaille and tourtière recipes.

Tourtière recipe
Cipaille recipe

Cipaille is usually served like a shepherd's pie, spooned out of a deep casserole dish and is somewhat juicier, in my experience. Tourtière is more likely to be presented in a regular pie plate or unmolded from a spring-form pan. It tends to have a finer, drier texture (again, in my experience).

I have no doubt that, for the settlers of the 16th and 17th centuries, these pies were part of their survival strategy. Some say that cipaille, which is pronounced "sea-pie," actually originates with meat (or seafood) pies taken out to sea by fishermen. The cod industry on Québec's Gaspé Peninsula was largely run by Brits and Scots, so the "sea pie" may well be of hybrid origin. On the other hand, the word may be a deformation of "six pâtes", referring to the traditional six layers of pastry. The word "tourtière" appears to stem from the same linguistic roots as "torte" (multi-layered cake) or "tarte" (pie), and may also refer to the baking dish, a "tourte" or "tourtière."

Today, because they are labor-intensive in addition to being delicious, they are mass-produced and sold in grocery stores year-round. Butcher shops often make their own signature versions. The homemade versions are often served during the holidays, when folks have the time to babysit the oven. Many recipes call for 10 hours in the oven!
 
r ranson
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David Livingston wrote:"We do a display every year for a local park to educate people as to what life was like in the 24th Century."
I'm impressed as usually people go into the past going into the future takes some real skill !
I am a big fan of meat pies unfortunetly its not something thats really part of french cooking . I really love pork pies I used to have one for breakfast fresh from the bakers made that morning yummy .
What I need though is a little ceramic stand that goes in the middle of a big pie to stop the pie crust falling into the mixture .
Also you have not mentioned the other great meat pie that is Steak and kidney pudding . Suet pastry either baked or steamed adds a little something.

David


Ops, that should have been 14th Century. Thanks for catching that. If you ever see my dyslexia getting in the way of meaning again, feel free to tell me privately through the PM system they have here.

If you can pack the meat in tight enough, and make the pastry thicker than modern tastes dictate, then the pastry won't fall in on itself. Using an animal fat, and boiling water also helps the pastry keep its shape.

Another trick to keeping the pie the right shape is to use a fairly dry stuffing. Too much moisture or steam can make the pastry soggy and less strong.

I like a Suet pastry too, but I'm lazy and I find it more work than a lard or dripping pastry so I save suet pastry for sweet pies. All knowing wiki describes suet as "raw beef or mutton fat, especially the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys", which is close enough for this discussion. It's a hard fat that needs to be ground and cut into the flour before adding the water. I find it's wonderful for cold water crusts and sweet pie crusts. The reason why many people don't use suet crusts for meat pies, especially big ones, is that the gluten in the flour isn't as active and the crust won't hold it's shape as well.



 
Rhys Firth
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You mention inedible crusts, one thing about pies for the lower classes was pies also did double duty as a hand warmer during the morning while working, the thick hard solid crust would survive knocks and riding around in a handwarmer or muff or by the time pockets were invented rather than the older pouch on a belt, in pockets.

Once the pie was cold and no longer keeping your hands warm in the snows of the little ice age winters and the sun was up and burnt off the morning chill, the pie contents could be eaten and the casing saved for breakfast, crumbled into bacon fat or other flavoured fat saved off roasts and fried. In the US there you may be familiar with "Biscuits with gravy" or the maize based johnnycake/journeycake, they sound pretty similar. Modern day equivalent might be potato hash browns for breakfast, at the time potatoes were still unknown in europe.
 
David Livingston
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Luckerly in the UK you can buy suet already prepared for cooking brand name atora http://www.atora.co.uk/inspiration/ and you can buy it organic too
As for dyslexia I am dyslexic in two languages lol

DAvid
 
r ranson
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I'm going to bounce this topic up as I have a hankering for pork pies and chutney.

Also, I would love to hear more about savory pies.
What are your family traditions?
Tell me a story about your experiences with meat pies.
 
allen lumley
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- So the story on upper crusts the way I heard it ! Every village of any size had a village baker who literally baked for the whole town, Bread would have been the 1st thing

placed in the bakers oven after firing with several rounds of baking for owed by perhaps a pot of beans followed in turn with other dishes that had their own individual

cooking time and temperatures !

Even with careful monitoring loaves will get over cooked with dark bottom crusts, these would have been sold at a small discount, with truly blackened bottoms passed out

as charity !

In those days the bread was sliced at right angles to the way it is done today, the 1st slice cut off would be the bottom crust and would have been given to the serving class

As you went higher and higher up the loaf the bread was lighter, moister and generally was more spreadable ! Finally the "Upper crust'' was fed to the Master and Mistress

of the house . And this is where the term connecting the best slice of a loaf of bread to the rich social elite comes from _ Or so it was told to me !!! Big AL
 
William Wallace
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Ransom, your pies look delicious.  I really enjoy the Caribbean meat patty flavor more than the Hispanic empanada flavor.  They are basically the same, just seasoning preference. 

The story on the history of the upper crust term was fascinating.  Even if that retelling isn't true, it is definitely believable.  They surely would have sliced the loaf horizontally.
 
Galadriel Freden
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When I make a beef stew, I try to make a double recipe so that I can use it the next day for a steak pie/pudding.  I prefer beef tallow (I get raw beef fat from my butcher and render it in my slow cooker) for my meat pie crust;  I generally make the crust like American style biscuit or cobbler crust I think--though I'm American myself, I've lived over here so long I can hardly remember what a cobbler's like!  I rub a generous amount of (room temperature) tallow into some flour with a dash of salt, then add enough cold water to turn into a very dry dough.  I squeeze it into a ball and try to let it chill in the fridge for at least an hour, though I've used it without chilling too.  The dough gets gently rolled or patted out till it'll fit the top of my pyrex pudding basin:  it's usually around half an inch thick--I don't do a fully enclosed steak pie.  After it's all assembled, I paint the crust with a whisked egg, to give it a nice shine, then bake till the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling.  It's always a big hit, and my seven year old usually wants seconds of the crust, which is crumbly and tender and just a little bit beefy.

On a whim, I decided to try this same crust for an enclosed apple pie last week.  It was fully chilled, and I rolled it very very thin.  It made an amazing crust, still very tender and with just a hint of beef that was lovely with the apple.  Maybe I'll try rolling it this way for my next steak pie.
 
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