Yorkshire Christmas pie

banner

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • For

    8-10

    people

Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

Yorkshire Christmas pies are probably the most impressive pies in the English repertoire that have survived through time. The filling of the pie consists of a remarkable combination: a boned turkey filled with a boned goose, chicken, partridge and pigeon. The stuffed turkey was then placed into the crust and more meat was put around it as a filler.

In an 18th-century recipe from Hannah Glasse, hare was used to fill the gaps to the left and right of the turkey. In a recipe from Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell from 1807, she says that the decoration on the top of the pie must be in the shape of a flower, and in her recipe the outer pieces of meat were replaced by a minced meat mixture so that the filling held together when cut.

These pies were often given as Christmas gifts in the 18th century. People in the countryside would even send a pie many miles away, with reports stating that pies that arrived were a health hazard. Their pastry crusts would be made inches thick so they would survive a journey in a horsedrawn carriage, yet they didn’t think that the pies should remain cooled.

Engravings of the period show that in 1858 a Yorkshire Christmas pie was served to the Queen at Windsor Castle. The pie was beautifully decorated but also so incredibly large that it had to be carried into the room on the shoulders of four footmen. It would have been a statement piece, just as it was intended to be in earlier centuries.

These types of elaborate pies were the privilege of the very rich, not only because of the pricy contents, but also the precious copper moulds that were often used to create them. Only the kitchens of the grandest houses owned one of these game pie moulds and they are rarely found today. I stumbled upon one a couple of years ago in an antiques store and it was the price of a small second-hand car. I was very tempted.

The authentic Yorkshire Christmas pie was made by actually stuffing the birds one inside another and then sewing the birds closed, but to get a more refined result it is best to work with fillets and use the surplus meat for another dish or very finely chop it to use instead of the minced meat. From the bones you can make broth, which is then reduced to an aspic or jelly that, just like in the pork pies, was subsequently poured through the opening in the crust lid.

Ingredients

For the pie

  • 450 g (1 lb) chicken breast
  • 350 g (12 oz) partridge breast
  • 300 g (10½ oz) pheasant breast
  • 80 g ( oz) small rooster or quail breast
  • 2 saddles of wild hare – about 250 g (9 oz), or replace with extra poultry
  • 14 g (½ oz) ground mace
  • 14 g (½ oz) ground nutmeg
  • 7 g ( oz) ground cloves or allspice
  • 14 g (½ oz) ground black pepper
  • 100 ml ( fl oz) Madeira or sherry
  • 100 g ( oz) smoked bacon, thinly sliced

For the filling

  • 450 g (1 lb) minced meat (chicken, pork, lamb or off-cuts from the poultry used)
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp finely chopped thyme
  • pinch of sea salt

For the hot water crust

Method

For a large 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) game pie mould

Marinate the poultry and the hare a day in advance: mix the meat well with the spices and put it in a resealable plastic bag or a deep bowl. Pour the Madeira or sherry over the mixture, seal or cover and leave to rest in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 190°C (375°F).

Mix the minced meat with the herbs and salt. Wash the marinade off the meat and pat dry with paper towel.

Follow the method for the Hot water crust pastry. Set aside a third of the pastry to make the lid (if possible, keep it warm on a radiator or stove).

Roll out the remaining pastry until 8 mm ( inch) thick. Form an ellipse, place the mould on top and cut out two triangles on each end about 10 cm (4 inches) wide. Fold the ends into the middle and place the pastry on the base of the pie mould (you don’t need to grease it because the pastry contains enough fat). Open out the pastry and make sure there is still some overhanging the edge to attach the lid later. Push the ends together where you cut out the triangles to create a neat seam. If you have cracks or holes, you can repair them with some left-over pastry, providing it is still warm enough.

When the crust is nicely prepared in the mould, take half of the minced meat and divide it over the bottom of the pie crust. Add the fillets of the smallest bird, followed by the second smallest, then put a layer of bacon strips on top. Place the other fillets on top with a layer of bacon in between until all the poultry is added. Lay the hare saddles on both sides, then cover everything with the other half of the minced meat. The filling should now come higher than the edge of the pie mould so that the top of the pie will have a dome shape.

Roll out the pastry for the lid and cut out a hole in the centre. Wet the edges of the crust with water or egg yolk and place the dough lid on top. Cut away the excess pastry and crimp the edges well so that the pie is well sealed. Make decorations for the pie with the left-over pastry. Use egg wash to stick the decorations onto the pie, but don’t egg wash the entire pie yet.

Place the pie on a baking tray lined with baking paper in the lower part of the oven, reduce the temperature to 160°C (320°F) and bake the pie for 4 hours. The pie is cooked when the internal temperature reaches 75°C (167°F) or higher on a thermometer.

Now, be brave – take the pie out of the pie mould using the special hinges, and apply a layer of egg wash. Return the pie to the oven for another 15-30 minutes of baking.