There are no Christmas recipes in English Food left to cook, but this one is close, being a cross between a savoury lamb pie and a sweet mince pie. It’s a recipe that has no introduction from Jane Grigson, though I feel it should, as it is pretty strange-sounding: a pie with a minced lamb, dried fruit and apple filling. Though it hails from Westmorland (a now defunct northern English county now made up of bits of Cumberland, Lancashire and Yorkshire), it seems to me to be a very typical pie baked during the medieval period, where it was very common to cook meat with lots of dried fruit and spices.
The Westmorland Coat of Arms
Why was this done? After all it seems to be an odd combination. Many people say that it is because heavy use of fruit and spices masked the taste of rancid and rotten meat. This, however, is a total myth; the reason meat was combined with spice, dried fruit and sugar was because all of these ingredients were extremely expensive. It was all showing off. They are – in my past experience – also a good combination: previous recipes like #87 Mrs Beeton’s Traditional Mincemeat and #328 Salmon in Pastry, with a Herb Sauce follow the same principle.
By the time of the Victorian era, none of these ingredients were particularly expensive, and this sort of food fell from favour, the only surviving remnant being the now totally meat-free mince pie.
This pie is known as a ‘plate pie’, which is still commonly made in Northern England. It is simply a pie made, not in a tin, but on a plate. The plates can be of typical (ovenproof!) ceramic or formed from enamel. Whichever you use, make sure it is deepish. My Mum still makes both sweet and savoury plate pies.
To make the pie, start with the filling. Mince together 6 ounces of lean, boned lamb with 3 ounces of lamb fat (you can the butcher for fat trimmings or keep your own and freeze them until you have accrued enough). Mix these together along with 6 ounces of apples, any will do, but I used tart Bramleys, 4 ounces each of currants, raisins and sultanas, 2 ounces of candied peel, the juice of one orange and half a lemon, 2 ounces of blanched, slivered almonds, 4 tablespoons of rum, a good pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper, half a teaspoon each of mace and cinnamon and a quarter of a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg. Phew.
Once well-mixed, give it a little taste and add more seasoning and spices if you wish.
Next, roll out enough shortcrust pastry and line the plate with it. Scatter over the filling and cover with more pastry, sealing the edges with beaten egg or water. Trim the edges and crimp, before glazing with beaten egg in the usual way.
Bake at 200⁰C for around 30 minutes.
Jane says that any remaining filling can be used to make small mince pies. I think I went one better however, and made sweet lamb Eccles cakes, which were such a success they ended up on my last Pop-Up Restaurant’s menu.
#388 Sweet Lamb Pie from Westmorland. I spotted this pie quite early, thinking it must be awful. Today I feel Jane Grigson has taught me well and I now knew this would be good. When you bite into it, you get the taste and aroma of lamb – so you know it is there – but the fruit and spice compliment it very well. There is no added sugar and the apples are still tart, so it is not sickly like a Christmas mince pie. Is it sweet? Is it savoury? It does not matter; these sorts of recipes are the crowning glory of English Food. Really lovely, go and make one. 8/10.