Mini Chicken & Bacon Pies

Mini Chicken and Bacon Pies

Jane Newton, circa 1675

Jane Newton’s 17th century manuscript recipe book (MS1325 at The Wellcome Library) is unusual for the time, because it appears to have been written by the lady herself. It is meticulously set out, beginning with an alphabetical index and progressing through a range of recipes, informally grouped together: potages, roasts, boilings, collarings, puddings, picklings, tarts, wines and preserves.

The handwriting is regular, the lettering exaggeratingly flourished – Jane loves an upper-case letter and refuses to confine them to the beginning of sentences – the spelling quirky and capricious. The ink has faded to brown, but the scarlet margins and meticulously underlined titles are still bright and bold.

The recipes have a very informal tone, and on reading them it is possible to hear Jane chattering away about her cookery recipes, complete with interruptions to her train of thought. In the recipe for Taffety Tarts, she gets as far as rolling out the pastry only to leave the instructions hovering unfinished on the page as she then gets distracted into starting a recipe for Manchet. This too appears incomplete, as after setting the dough to rise, the seventeenth century save-all of “yn bake itt.” is used to hurriedly end the recipe.

Two incomplete recipes from the pen of Jane Newton
Two incomplete recipes from the pen of Jane Newton

The title of this mini pie recipe is a perfect example of the informal tone of most of the book. In the early pages,  Jane closes out a recipe for Partridge Pottage with the following comment:

This Pottage is proper to bee Garnished wth Pitti Patties or Little Pa∫sts a thing never yet in Print And I shall give yow the be∫t diretton for the makeing them when I treat of Bakemeates wch wil bee thereafter given yow

It takes more than twenty pages for this recipe to turn up. Rather than a succinct yet descriptive title, Jane opts for To make the Pufes I was Speaking of before in my Pottage. I don’t know about you, but I can almost hear Jane’s vague introductory “Oh…you know…. those things…. pastry bits…. whatchamacallits…. the ones I was talking about earlier!” and see the accompanying distracted, flapping hand.

Jane was – justifiably – very proud of these tasty morsels:

The∫e are a thing wch is delightfull to the Eater & is not a u∫uall thing at many Tables to be had and Invented by an Italian

These pies are a true Deja Food recipe because they include cooked meat in their composition. Although I’ve gone with just chicken, the original recipe suggests a combination of chicken and veal. Alternatives include turkey or pork.  The filling also differs from most modern pies in that it has neither sauce nor gravy, and is neither heavy nor cloying, but bright and fresh. A squeeze of orange juice, possibly a Seville, and the moisture in the fresh ingredients keeps the filling from both drying out and making the pastry soggy during baking. Once baked, a few drops of chicken stock are poured into the pies after baking to add both seasoning and lusciousness.

The most unusual detail for these little savoury pies, is the inclusion of a grape in the middle of each. These would have been taken from the thinnings of vines usually grown by the great houses  – there’s not enough room to allow every bunch of grapes to ripen – so they would be underripe and therefore quite sharp to the taste, not sweet. In the baking they would soften a little and provide a bright burst of tart freshness to the cooked filling.  Underripe green gooseberries would work equally well, if you don’t have a vine to hand.

Jane suggests serving these as garnishes to the aforementioned pottage (meaty soup) or even on a dish by themselves. My further recommendations are for including them in lunchboxes, picnics or as nibbles/appetisers.

Mini Chicken & Bacon Pies

Makes 20 mini pies

shortcrust pastry – made with around 300g flour
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry.

150g cooked chicken
60g smoked, dry-cured streaky bacon – about 4 rashers
3tbs finely chopped fresh parsley(10g)
1tbs fresh thyme, stripped from the stalks
2 rounded tbs chopped shallot (1 round or ½ a smallish banana shallot)
¼ tsp ground white pepper
a pinch of salt
juice of ½ an orange – about 2tbs/30ml
20 small, sharp grapes/gooseberries

Egg for glazing

100ml well-flavoured chicken stock

  • Dice the chicken and bacon finely and stir together with the herbs, onion and seasoning.
  • Add the orange juice and stir to combine.
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Roll out the shortcrust pastry, cut out 20 rounds and line the greased cups of a mini muffin tin.
  • Spoon a little of the mixture into the cups, place a grape in top, then cover with more of the filling mixture.
  • Dampen the edges of the pastry with a little water.
  • Cut out 20 lids from the puff pastry and press them gently on top of the mini pies.
  • Trim any excess pastry.
  • Brush over with beaten egg and cut a small hole in the top of each pastry lid – a plastic straw works well.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is cooked, the lids puffed and golden.
  • Use a small funnel or teaspoon to pour a little chicken stock into each pie to moisten the filling.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Serve warm.
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