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)
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.