Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to he heard in spite of all the noise of the others… It was a fine family-piece.
(Persuasion, Chapter 14)
What sort of cold pies would Mrs Musgrove be serving to all and sundry as they come to pay their Christmas visits to the Mansion House at Uppercross? Most certainly she would have and a large Yorkshire Christmas Pie sitting on that trestle table.
This Yorkshire Pie was made by Ivan Day of Historic Foods and I thank him for his permission to use his photograph here.
From Yorkshire originally, where there was a thriving trade at Christmas sending the pies around the country as gifts in the festive season, they were great pies filled with many different kinds of meat, intended to feed many people over many days. The concept was to cut off the crust lid, chop up the cooked meat within,serve everyone to some of each of he different the meats,then recover the remaining meat with clarified butter and re- seal the crust lid, to serve more people another day.
They were traditionally served on the Fest of Stephen- the 26th December-and afterwards.
And whilst some were made in the North of England, recipes were published for them so that people living all over the country, if they could afford the ingredients, could make them in their own kitchens. It took a skilled cook to make them prior to the days of pie moulds, for these pies had to be raised by hand.
The picture above shows an early 19th century Christmas Pie , on the right behind the jug, raised by hand, as recorded by the amateur artist, Mary Ellen Best. She was a Yorkshire woman, so we can therefore assume that this pie was authentically decorated and recorded. This was the template for Ivan’s example of the Yorkshire pie, above. This picture is her still life of Christmas food, which shows us not only great examples of the Yorkshire Christmas Pie but also of Yorkshire ’s unique version of Mince Pies (the smaller pies in the picture on the plate in front of the Yorkshire Pie),which were always made with puff pastry. More on them tomorrow…
Back to Christmas Pies. Here is Richard Briggs’s version. Briggs was a real Tavern cook of the Temple Tavern, London
and his book was published in 1794, perfect for our period.
As you can see the pie is expensive and complicated to prepare because of the sheer amount of meat it contains. The size can be calculated by the fact that a whole bushel of flour ( over 50 lbs!) is recommended to be used in this recipe for the pie’s pastry. Let’s see how we made our version in the summer on Ivan Day’s Christmas of the Past cookery course (note our version was slightly later than Jane Austen’s era, the form inspired by Mrs Marshall’s Cookery Book of 1880
..but the filling and the crust were similar to the Richard Briggs recipe).
So, here is the step by step way to make an authentic Yorkshire Christmas Pie…
Make a forcemeat with minced veal, minced pork, breadcrumbs, parsley, mace and nutmeg.
Knead the paste, roll it and line a tin that has been previously coated in melted lard.
Line the pastry with the forcemeat mixture…
Begin to add the boned meats….goose, chicken
Add a final layer of the forcemeat mixture….
Cover the pie with your paste….
And begin to decorate it….
We emulated Mrs Marshall’s example and added leaf upon leaf…..
Don’t forget to make holes for the steam to escape during the long cooking period….
Decorate with a pastry rose….
And get ready to put it in the oven for , in this case, 4 hours.
And the next day here is the cooked Christmas Yorkshire Pie
Carefully remove the rose and add liquid gelatine to help preserve the meats…
Et voila! All done…
For curiosity’s sake we cut the pie in half to see what it looked like. Spectacular, frankly. As I have explained above this would not have happened in Mrs Musgrove’s house :the lid would have been carefully removed and re-sealed every time a serving-to many people- was made.