Tag Archives: pies

Oyster Pie Part 2: Cooking

I have to confess first of all that I had trouble getting my hands on fresh oysters. I didn’t seem to be able to find them anywhere. I did get some tinned smoked oysters though. Not ideal, but I think it’s a reasonable substitute. Here’s the recipe:

To make an Oyster Pye

Save the liquour of your largest Oysters, season them with Pepper, and Ginger, and put them into a Coffin: put in a minst Onyon, a few Currins, and a good piece of Butter. Then poure in your sirrup, and close it. When it is bakte, cut up the Pye, and put in a spoonefull of Vinegar, and melted Butter: shake it well together, and set it in againe into the Ouen a little while: Then take it out, and serue it in.

John Murrell, A new booke of cookerie. 1615

The “coffin” in question is a pastry case. I took the pastry recipe from a later cookbook, The art of cookery refin’d and augmented by Joseph Cooper (1654). Pastry (or paste as it is usually known) recipes seem quite hard to come by especially in earlier cookbooks. Most of the recipe I found included egg yolks, but since I was trying to make a Lent-friendly pie, I opted for this one:

Paste for thin Bake-meats.

THe Paste for your thin bake-Meats must be made with boyling liquor, as followeth: When your liquor (which is water) boyleth, put to every peck of Flower two pound of Butter, but let your Butter boyle in your Liquor first.

A bake-meat is another word for a pie, and a peck is equal to about 16 dry pints. I only wanted to make a small pie just for me – plus I didn’t have many oysters – so I decided that I should divide the recipe by 16. I used 1 dry pint of flour (16 oz), and there are 16 ounces in a pound , so that means 2oz butter. I heated the butter with 100ml of water and added it all to the flour. I stirred with a knife at first, and then kneaded the dough when it started to come together.

After making the pastry, I lined a shallow cake tin with just over half of it.  I then put the oysters in the bottom, then sprinkled them with a little ground ginger and a grinding of pepper.

I then added a small finely chopped onion, a little bit of butter, and a couple of currants. I realised I probably should have got two tins of oysters, there was not really enough to cover the pie base, so I gathered the edges in to make a little parcel and put another piece of pastry over the top. This actually only used about half of the pastry.

I put it in an oven, preheated to 180, and baked it for about half an hour. I then took it out, cut a hole in the top, and poured in a few drops of balsamic vinegar and about a tbsp melted butter. I shook the pie to distribute the oil and butter, then returned the pie to the oven for another 10 minutes.

I did try the pie and it was…. well, to be honest it wasn’t particularly nice. I was hoping that the unusual combination of ingredients would turn out to be unexpectedly delicious (think chocolate and chilli, or strawberries and vinegar). Alas, it was not to be. The currents were not a welcome addition in my opinion. Maybe it would have been better with fresh oysters, but the whole thing seemed to me to be full of very strong clashing flavours. On the plus side, the pastry was quite interesting, it was crisp and flaky, much crisper than regular short crust.

I’d certainly like to try another pie. I’m reluctant to post a recipe here since as I wouldn’t really recommend eating this let alone cooking it! Next time I’ll try to cook something more palatable.

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Oyster pie: Part 1

A pie I made a few years ago for a friend's birthday. I believe it was chicken and mushroom.

Apparently it’s British Pie Week this week. I am a big fan of pies, and I have been wanting to make one for this blog for a while – pie week seems like a good time a try a recipe out.

References to pies are fairly frequent in the literature of the period. Much like today, they seem to have been a popular, if unhealthy, food – readily available on city streets and at courtly banquets alike.

With that I marked all the trades
Were round about the Cittie,
The cryes of youngmen, boyes, and maydes,
And all their pleasant dittie:
Ripe Cherrie, ripe ripe,
Hotte Pippin- pies; they pipe:
Hay’ny Boules or Trayes to mende?
White young Radish, white.
I haue fresh Cheese and Creame

The verse above is from an anonymous 1610 broadside ballad, I Have Fresh Cheese and Cream. The ballad is about a young man who is in love with a London dairy maid, and this verse is wonderfully evocative of the various foods and other items available on the London streets, including the delicious-sounding “Hotte Pippin-pies” (pippins are apples).

Pies were popular with the upper classes too. In 1672, Elias Ashmole published a book containing details of the activities of the Order of the Garter, The institution, laws & ceremonies of the most noble Order of the Garter collected and digested into one body. Menus for various feasts are contained in the book, one such banquet included seven different types of pie – pigeon pie, venison pie, oyster pie, beatilia pie, tongue pie, skerret pie and lamprey pie.

Unsurprisingly, most regimens and diet books do not recommend pies as a healthy food, particularly for sick people:

When a man getteth the Stranguria or difficultye to make water / the~ anoynt him his nauel wt suet warmed & no more / & it auoydeth very shortly.

Such diseased must beware of salt meates & smoked / as Hering / Ling / Coddes / grene Places / smouth fishes / as Iles / La~priles / Barbels / Te~ches: also must he beware of fat meates as baco~ / pasteys or pyes / fatt chese / raw milke

Brunschwig, Hieronymus. A most excellent and perfecte homish apothecarye or homely physik booke.(1561)

Here’s another:

The pacient oughte to vse thynges of easye digestion, and in smal quanty|ty, and ought to absteine from breade to litle leuened, cakes, tartes pasties, pies, hogges fleshe, beafe, and poudred meates, and fumishe.

Goeurot, Jean. The regiment of life. (1550) 

However, Thomas Twyne’s The schoolemaster, or teacher of table philosophie (1576) takes a slightly more positive view of pies:

Generally all sortes of Pasties and Pies yéelde but litle nourishment in comparison of meates made with brothes. Yet many times they do good to them yt are full of humours, & pleasure them that would dry vp, and make their bodies proper.

Since it’s Lent I thought I would avoid using anything that would have been forbidden during Lent in the Early Modern period – essentially that means no meat or eggs. I’ve found a tasty looking recipe for Oyster Pie, and I’ll be making it later in the week. From the looks of this line from George Chapman’s May-Day (1611), oyster pies could also have made an appearance in my Valentine’s post a few weeks ago, here they are part of an aphrodisiac feast – the setting for potential adultery:

For that sir, she is prouided: for you shall no sooner enter but off goes your rustie skabberd, sweete water is readie to scoure your filthy face, milk, & a bath of fernebraks for your fustie bodie, a chamber perfum’d, a wrought shirt, night cap, and her husbands gowne, a banquet of Oysters pyes, Potatoes, Skirret rootes, Eringes, and diuers other whetstones of venery.

I’ll be cooking the oyster pie on Thursday afternoon, and I’ll hopefully be posting the recipe later that evening if all goes to plan.

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