Pigeon Pie

1 sheet of basic pastry dough
3 tbsp butter
15 oz of game bird meat (or chicken)
1 hard boiled egg
1 beef steak (4oz)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rub the poultry with butter and season with salt and pepper. In a deep pie dish place your beef in the center with a single hard boiled egg yolk. Arrange the poultry around the sides and fill the pie dish with water, enough to cover the meat. Roll the pastry over the dish and bake for an hour.

Historically British pies were associated with Medieval showmanship. The pie was designed to conceal its ingredients, surprising the diners when it was opened to reveal mystery ingredients.  Regardless of whether all pies at a Medieval table actually played this role, eighteenth-century recipe books and popular culture reflected this notion. For example, the Song of Sixpence rhyme describes twenty four black birds hidden within a pie crust so that when the pie was cut open they emerged alive. [1] The end of the song describes this contrived dish as a “dainty dish To set before the king.”[2] This final line distances the elaborate live-bird pie from eighteenth-century everyday life. This line alone cannot prove a general trajectory away from using pies as a dish of concealment and theater. Part of the shift was precipitated by British politics of the time.

When comparing themselves to France, the British invariably had little positive to say about their neighbors across the channel. They highlighted their apparent agricultural self-sufficiency and lack of starvation, the relative freedoms of members ranking lower on the social scale, and in print the vilified the immoral extravagances of the wastefulness of French cuisine or the apparent sexual abandon of European women.[3] Yet in practice, French culture and French cuisine were popular and influential among the gentry. French enlightenment intellectuals such as Voltaire were popular in both countries, and the shared feudal and agricultural past, along with the popularity of the Grand Tour, made French culture similar enough to adapt to the British way of life.[4] Given the contradictory nature of the British popular culture’s relationship with France it is unsurprising that similar contradictory aspects are found within British culinary practices.

In print French food was vilified as wasteful and minuscule, contrasted with the solid and nourishing nature of British fare. Traditional British foods such as plumb pudding and roast beef were such strong symbolic images that social clubs such as the “Sublime Society of Beefsteaks” (1735) were established and numerous popular songs about roast beef were penned in its honor.[5] While French food was being attacked, in practice British chefs appropriated French recipes and French techniques. Glasse begins her cookery book with a diatribe on French food that suggests not only that French cooks waste money and ingredients, but that their employers overestimate their abilities and she includes a chapter to demonstrate how wasteful French cooking can be when she can produce the same results with far fewer ingredients.[6] Yet in looking at Glasse’s actual recipes not only is the French influence apparent, but she includes recipes such as ‘Beef a la mode’ and comments on alternative ‘French’ ways to dress vegetables. [7] Lehmann suggests that the verbal abuse of French foods along with the inclusion of French recipes reflects a compromise between politically correct anti-French sentiments and the latest fashions, especially since the threat of being replaced by a French cook was diminishing even within more elite households.[8] As it became Anglicized, French style increasingly became synonymous with sauces enriched with ingredients including truffles, morels, and artichoke bottoms. [9] Thus while French food carried with it political and religious connotations in the public mind, in practice what passed for French food in England was both popular and common.

[1] Sing a Song of Sixpence Clarkson, Janet. Pie: A Global History. Reaktion Books, 2009. And Alchin, Linda The Secret History of Nursery Rhymes Linda Alchin, 2013. Now a traditional English nursery rhyme

First published in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book c. 1744.

[2] Sing a Song of Sixpence Clarkson, Janet. Pie: A Global History. Reaktion Books, 2009. And Alchin, Linda The Secret History of Nursery Rhymes Linda Alchin, 2013.
[3] Colley, Britons, 40-41.

[4] Newman, The Rise of English Nationalism, 11.

[5] Broglio, “The Best Machine for Converting Herbage into Money,” 42.

[6] Glasse, On the Art of Cookery, v.

[7] Glasse, On the Art of Cookery, 37, 15.

[8] Lehmann, The British Housewife, 114.

[9] Lehmann, The British Housewife, 236.


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