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Bake Metes and Mince Pies

Bakemete is a Middle-English word meaning pie - literally a 'baked meat'. That above is a re-creation of one served during the third course of Henry VI's coronation in 1429. It is described as "a bake mete lyke a shylde, quarteryd red and whyte, set with losynges gylt, and floures of borage". The red colour in this re-creation was achieved with powdered red sanders wood.

A peacock pie

John Thacker's design for a hare pie

Woodcut illustration of a rabbit or hare pie from John Thacker's The Art of Cookery (Newcastle: 1758).

Markham does not indicate the form of his Herring Pie coffin, but pies containing fish were frequently made in fish shapes. Above is Robert May's Baked Salmon in Pie Form. May also illustrated a Baked Salmon in Pasty Form. The re-created salmon pie is garnished with oyster chewitts.

A lumber pie complete with 'cut lid' made with puff paste.

Lumber pies were also made in more unusual shapes. The sinuous 'coffins' illustrated above were printed in Robert May's book, but he also illustrates a more traditional round coffin for this type of pie. In some of the illustrations below from other early cookery books, you will notice alternative designs for this popular meat ball pie. The great court cook Charles Carter must have originally intended to include illustrations of pie designs in his Complete Practical Cook (London: 1730), but failed to do so. In his recipe for a lumber pie, he tells us to 'raise a Coffin four-square with four Corners divided into three'. To find out what he meant by this he then directs us to some patterns later in the book. These unfortunately never appeared.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mince pies, like lumber pies, were also made in eccentric shapes and arranged in kalaidoscopic form. They were sometimes called shred or secrets pies.

Shapes for pies from T. Hall, The Queen's Royal Cookery (London: 1713). Note the arrangement of mince pies on the salver.

More pie designs from The Accomplish'd Ladies Delight (London: 1696).

Click to see a larger photograph of this pie

A mince pie based on mutton from Lady Barbara Fleming's manuscript receipt book (1673). In the Lake counties 'sweet pies'containing meat, survived well into the twentieth century. The design for the crust is from Kidder's Receipts in Pastry and Cookery (London: 1720). Click the design to see a larger image of this highly ornamented pie.

Victorian puff paste mince pie

A typical Victorian mince pie made with a base of shortcrust and a top of puff paste. Click on the mince pie to find out more about our BAKERY COURSES.

Above: a partridge pie. Among the other delicacies served at the eight year old Henry's feast in Westminster Hall were "Partryche and Pecock enhackyll". The latter was a cooked peacock mounted in its skin. Other birds like partridges, swans, bitterns and herons were frequently placed on top of pies for ornament and as a means of identifying the contents. This medieval practice of creating a 'subteltie' or eye-catching centrepiece, remained current until the eighteenth century and even later. For instance, a game pie with a stuffed pheasant placed on top, is illustrated in an 1890s edition of Mrs Beeton as a breakfast dish. Pies were also made in the shape of the animal they contained, as in the mid-eighteenth century example below, in the form of a rabbit or hare.

Thacker's rabbit pie

Above. A re-creation of John Thacker's Rabbit or Hare Pie. This is a savoury pie, but some early modern period meat pies were sweet. Even fish pies were seasoned with sugar, such as the two unusual pies behind the rabbit. These are from Gervase Markham's The English Housewife (London: 1615). They are a herring pie (left) and a ling pie (right). Though they were slightly sweetened, pies of this kind usually contained dried or fresh fruit and verjuice or Seville orange juice, so in reality the effect was sweet and sour. In England, the sweet meat pie has survived into modern times in the mince pies we eat at Christmas, though the only meat they now contain is suet.
John Thacker's Rabbit or Hare Pie

TAKE a Cupple, or two, of Rabbits, skin and. clean them, cut them into Pieces as you do for a Fricasy, season them with Pepper and Salt, with a good Handful of Parsley thred fine; then raise a Coffin in the Form as above: Make some Forc'd-meat, and make it into Balls; boil some Eggs hard, and take the Yolks, lay some Rabbit in the Bottom, then Butter on that, then fome Forc'd-meat, then more Rabbit on that; then the Yolks of Eggs, and more Forc'd-meat and Butter. Close and garnish it as in the Figure; wash it over with the Yolk of an Egg and a little Cream; paper it, and bake it two Hours in a good baking Oven; when bak'd, put in fome good Gravey; take off the Paper from the Bottom and Sides. Dish it, and send it up.

A Hare Pye is made the fame Way, only put in Half a Pint of Red Wine before you lid it, and bake it Half an Hour longer. You may make them in; Dish, with Puff or Pasty-Paste; and, when bak'd, you may put in a Ragoo of Sweet-breads, Morels, and Truffles, as you will find before-mention'd.

From John Thacker The Art of Cookery (Newcastle: 1758)

Gervase Markham's Herring Pie

Take white pickled Herrings of one night’s watering, and boyl them a little, then take off the skin, and take only the backs of them, and pick the fish cleane from the bones ; then take good store of Raisins of the Sun, and stone them ; and put them to the fish; then take a Warden or two, and pare it, and slice it in small slices from the core, and put it likewise to the fish; then with a very sharp shredding knife shred all as small and fine as may be: then put to it good store of Currants, Sugar, Cinamon, slic’t Dates, and so put it into the coffin, with good store of very sweet Butter, and so cover it, and leave onely a round vent-hole on the top of the lid, and so bake it like pies of that nature: When it is sufficiently bak’t, draw it out and take claret wine and a little verjuyce, sugar, Cinamon, and sweet Butter, and boyl them to-gether: then put it in at the vent hole, and shake the pie a little- and put it againe into the Oven for a little space, and so serve it up, the lid being candied over with sugar and the sides of the dish trimmed over with sugar.

From Gervase Markham The English Housewife, (London: 1615)

Robert May's Lumber Pie before being covered with a 'cut lid'. This is one of the great 'sweet-sour' pies of the early modern period. The name is a corruption of Lombard Pie. The little balls of lumber meat, usually made from veal, sometimes enclosed a little nugget of bone marrow and would have had a soft centre like a Chicken Kiev. Other forgotten English pies in this ancient sweet-sour tradition were dowlett pie, spring pie and stump pie.
To make a Lumber-Pie

Take some grated bread, and beef-suet cut into bits like great dice, and some cloves and mace, then some veal or capon minced small with beef suet, sweet herbs, fair sugar, the yolks of six eggs boil’d hard and cut in quarters, put them to the other ingredients, with some barberries, some yolks of raw eggs, and a little cream, work up all together and put it in the caul of veal like little sausages; then bake them in a dish, and being half baked have a pie made and dried in the oven ; put these puddings into it with some butter, verjuyce sugar, some dates on them, large mace, grapes, or barberries, and marrow - being baked, serve it with a cut cover on it, and scrape sugar on it.

From Robert May The Accomplisht Cook (London: 1660).

Mince Pies

A great deal of nonsense has been written about the history of mince pies. For instance it has often been said that they were originally made in the form of Christ's crib, while the Eastern spices they contained were emblematic of the three Magi. There is no historical evidence to support these fairy stories. Just recently ( The Times - Dec. 13th 2004), the Royal Society of Chemistry in London made a big fuss about 're-discovering' a so-called 'lost' recipe from Gervase Markham's The English Huswife (London:1615) with its meat-based filling. Such a pity that all the newspaper photographs showed a pie baked in an aluminium foil tray. The pastry also looked suspiciously like it had come out of a supermarket freezer. For those who would like to try the real Markham recipe this Christmas, we have reproduced it below. If you want to be authentic and are feeling artistic, make your 'coffins' using some of the original designs on this page.
Gervase Markham's Minc't Pie

Take a Legge of Mutton, and cut the best of the flesh from the bone, and parboyl it well then put to it three pound of the best Mutton suet & shred it very small; then spread it abroad, and fashion it with Salt Cloves and Mace: then put in good store of Currants, great Raisins and Prunes clean washed and picked a few Dates sliced, and some Orenge-pils sliced ; then being all well mixt together, put it into a coffin, or into divers coffins, and so bake them
and when they are served up, open the lids and strow store of Sugar on the top of the meat and upon the lid. And in this sort you may also bake Beef or Veal, onely the Beef would not be parboyld, and the Veal will ask a double quantity of Suet.

From Gervase Markham The English Housewife, (London: 1615)

The mince pies above are from designs published in Edward Kidder's Pastry and Cookery of c.1720. Below is his recipe. At this period, the favourite meat used in mince pies was tongue, or sometimes tripe. In the nineteenth century, minced roast beef became the norm, as in the second recipe, made every Christmas for Queen Victoria by her master cook Charles Elme Francatelli. The third recipe is for lemon mincemeat, which is made without any meat.

Three centuries of mince pies. Front row (left to right): Sir Kenelm Digby's Mince Pies iced with Ambergris Sugar (1670) ), Edward Kidder's Shaped Mince Pies (c.1720), Lady Barbara Fleming's Mutton Mince Pie (1673). Back row (left to right):Urbain Dubois's Puff Paste Mince Pies (1871) and Mrs Isabella Beeton's Shortcrust Mince Pies (1861).
Mincemeat à la Royale

To equal proportions of roast-beef:, raisins, currants, suet, candied citron, orange, lemon, spices and sugar, add a proportionate weight of stewed pears and preserved ginger, the grated rind of three dozen oranges and lemons, and also their juice, one bottle of old rum, one bottle of brandy, and two of old port.

Lemon Mincemeat

Boil four lemons till quite tender, then pound them in a mortar or chop them up while warm, adding to them two pounds of pounded loaf sugar; let tfhis stand till next day, then add two pounds of suet, two pounds of currants, one pound of raisins chopped, a little brandy, one ounce of mixed spice, and port wine, to taste, say half a pint of brandy and wine together.

Both from Charles Elme Francatelli The Modern Cook (London: 1846).

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