Thursday, January 2, 2014

#388 Sweet Lamb Pie from Westmorland

Happy New Year Grigsoners!

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.

4 comments:

Kathryn said...

Once again Grandma comes in on this one - she did a pasty with leftover cooked lamb (as fat as possible), apple, and spices. A long established family favourite. Her family were from Teesdale originally so not so far away. And I seem to remember Hartley has a lamb and fruit pie as well - she isn't to hand to look it up. Then there's the Scottish habit of topping up cold mutton pies with red currant jelly. Sheep fat and fruit seem natural accompaniments.
Not happy about your comments about sickly mince pies - not in this house they aren't. No sugar in any of the family recipes and by the the time the fruit and suet has fermented for three months precious little fructose either.
Here's hoping The Buttery will go from strength to strength in the New Year

Neil B said...

Hello there. Thanks for your comments, all very useful, as usual!
I must agree with you on the mince pie issue - but how many people buy their own pies/mincemeat instead of making their own? Even then, they'll be using modern sugary recipes. However, I do think things are a-changing for the better...

Mandy Brigwell said...

I'm just about to collect the ingredients for sweet lamb pie (from Westmorland) and it's definitely on the menu for this weekend.

Therein lies the problem: is it main or pudding? Do I serve it with buttered beans, broccoli and potatoes, or do I provide a desultory main course with a following of sweet lamb pie and a blob of vanilla-sugared cream?

Where would you put this in a menu?

Neil B said...

Mandy, that is a good question! I recently did put it on a menu as an appetiser, but made lamb Eccles cakes.

It's strange because I can't imagine what you'd eat with it as a proper course on it's own.

I've thought about it, and I think it would work best as a dessert; people's tastes have changed, and I don't think would like it as a savoury main.

I would serve it with an orange ice cream made with crème fraiche instead of cream.

What do you think?