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.