In Jane Grigson's book Good Things, she quotes from the diary of a Parson Woodforde, a Norfolk clergyman who obviously liked his food. He wrote in his dairy on the 13th of July that "[we] had for Dinner some Pyke and fried Soals, a nice Piece of boiled Beef, Ham and a Couple of Fowls, Peas and Beans, a green Goose rosted, Gooseberry Pies, Currant Tarts, the Charter, hung Beef scraped &c…". All recognisable as nice food typical of the British Isles at that time, except, that is, for The Charter. "Was it [a] sweet or [a] savoury? Was it in fact even food at all?" she asks. Then, apparently on another occasion at the Parson's brother's, an incident occurred where a very naughty dog snook into the cellar and snarfed down The Charter all to itself. It was, at least, food, but dogs will eat pretty much anything, so the type of food isn't possible to deduce.
My friend Katie has a dog that ate an entire chocolate cake once – fully iced as well. What happened to that cheeky dog's bowels is not fit for a description in a food blog.
Parson Woodforde 1740-1803
Anyways, the editor of the Parson's diary assumed it was some kind of custard. It wasn't until Griggers stumbled upon the book A few choice recipes by Sarah Lindsay (a Lady) from 1883, who gives a recipe for a Charter Pie, saying it is a Cornish recipe and the filling is of chicken in cream. It's a shame that Jane had no internet in her time; it would have made her life so much easier as I found this little fact on GoogleBooks pretty quick-smart.
Upon doing a quick recipe search on the internet, I found a few versions of the recipe, but they didn't really give any more background to the pie. I did notice that one website listed it as American cuisine, so it must've been taken over the Atlantic at some point and survived there for a good few generations.
Anyways, I thought this pie would go down for my dinner party-cum-buffet that I had last weekend. The Meat Pies & Puddings section of the book has been rather hit and miss, so I did worry that would be a bit crap. Jane does big it up, and it does appear also in Good Things, so for it to occur twice in her writing, it must be good…
The recipe asks for two three pound chickens that have been jointed, so you can imagine that it is a decent sized pie, so make sure that you make enough shortcrust pastry to cover a large, shallow pie dish. The recipe specifies a rich shortcrust pastry too, so make it with at least five ounces of salted butter (and therefore ten ounces of plain flour), an egg yolk and some ice-cold water to bind.
Whilst your pastry is resting in the fridge, chop a large onion and soften it in two ounces of butter. Remove the onions from the pan and spread them on the base of a wide, shallow pie dish or tray. Toss your chicken pieces in seasoned flour, turn up the heat in your pan, add a two more ounces of butter and fry the chicken pieces until they are a nice golden brown. Do not crowd the pan, so cook in two or three batches if you need to. Arrange the chicken pieces tightly together in a single layer on top of the onions.
Next, chop a leek or six spring onions alongside a nice large bunch of parsley. Place in a saucepan and cover with a quarter of a pint each of milk and single cream (that's coffee cream for any Americans). Bring to a boil and simmer for two or three minutes. Pour this mixture over the chicken and season very, very well with salt and pepper.
Roll out your pastry and cover the pie, using some beaten egg as a seal. Make a hole in the centre of the pie large enough to fit a kitchen funnel. Jane then asks us to make a pastry rose to fit on top of it that also has a hole (so the steam can still escape). Decorate with more pastry if you like. Brush the pastry with more beaten egg. Bake at 220-230°C (425-450°F) for the first twenty minutes and then lower the heat to 180°C (350°F) for the remainder of the cooking time – an hour should do it.
Just before the pie is ready, bring half a pint of double cream to the boil, so that when it is cooked, you can take the pie from out of the oven, remove the pastry rose and pour in, with the aid of your funnel, the hot cream. Then replace your rose.
The pastry is good hot or cold, says Jane. It went for just warm so that the sauce would thicken almost becoming jelly (a benefit of using chicken on the bone, rather than just the meat cut into pieces).
This is perhaps a good point to mention the proper English way of serving up a pie like this. Using a knife, cut away the piece of pastry you would like to serve and place it on the side of the pie. Next, spoon out the filling onto the plate and perch the pastry on top of it. Do not go digging straight in there with your spoon messing up the pastry and getting all mixed up with the filling. This is a deadly sin at the Buttery residence and you will be thrown out should you attempt it.
#303 Cornish Charter Pie. What a great pie! The ingredients made a thick creamy chicken soup that is delicious in itself and the chicken was wonderfully tender from being cooked in all that milk and cream. Much better than the last chicken pie from the book, which was insipid by comparison. This will be my staple recipe for chicken pie in the future (unless anyone has one that can beat it). 8.5/10.