Christmas Pie

Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1863

This is a version of the traditional raised pie that graced the sideboards of many a rich household going back centuries. With much time being devoted to celebrating the festive season, the amount of time spent waiting on the kitchen could be drastically reduced with a sideboard groaning under selection of cold cuts and pies to slice throughout the twelve days of Christmas.

The most famous Christmas pies were undoubtedly from Yorkshire, whose frequently gargantuan sizes inspired both awe and wonder, not to mention expense.

“The host of the Angel Hotel, at Whitby, last week, set before his friends a Yorkshire Christmas Pie, seven feet in circumference and containing four stones of flour, 12lbs butter and suet, a brace of pheasants, a brace of partridges, two geese, two rabbits, ten chickens, six ducks, two tongues, one turkey, and six pounds of ham.” ¹

The traditional format of these pies consisted of the birds being boned, seasoned, rolled and then stuffed one inside the other, in the manner of Russian babushka dolls, quite putting the modern ‘turducken’ to shame for its amateurishness. Hannah Glasse’s recipe of 1747 called for a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge and a pigeon. In addition, to fill up the gaps around the main bird, on one side was laid a jointed hare, on the other side woodcock, and “more Game, and what Sort of wild Fowl you can get.”

These large pies were frequently packaged up and sent to London as gifts, or merely as provisions for the festive season. Unfortunately, their size and sturdiness wasn’t always a guarantee of safe travel. In 1832, The Age newspaper carried the following morsel of information in it’s roundup of news snippets column, the Georgian newspaper equivalent of an “And finally…” news item:

“The Lord Chancellor’s Christmas Pie upset, broken and devoured by dogs.”

Adapted from his book The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant, Francatelli’s recipe simplifies the difficulty of baking so many different types of game and poultry from raw, by pre-cooking the birds to medium rare, filling the pie with the meat, and then finishing the cooking when the pie is baked. The baking time is also considerably reduced.

Christmas Pie cut

This recipe has a lot of steps, none of which are particularly difficult, but you can spread them out over a couple of days rather than feel obliged to have one mammoth kitchen session.

Christmas Pie

Seasoning
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp mace
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp peppercorns
2 crushed dried bay leaves
1.5tsp dried basil
1.5 tsp marjoram
1.5 tsp winter savoury
1.5 tsp thyme
0.25tsp chilli pepper
0.5tsp sumac dried mango powder
1tsp garlic powder

Forcemeat
150g butter
1 clove of garlic, chopped fine
1tsp salt
500g rindless streaky bacon, chopped
500g chicken livers, rinsed

Filling
1 whole turkey leg, slow-cooked overnight on a raft of celery, carrot and onion
An assortment of game birds, preferably with carcass, such as:
1 duck crown
1 goose crown
1 pheasant
2 woodcock

Savoury jelly
1 litre of beef stock
turkey stock from cooking the turkey leg
Any trimmings/bones from cooking the game birds
1 onion
2 carrots
3 sticks celery
2 bay leaves
1tbs black peppercorns
3 sprigs thyme
1 blade mace
1 batch game pie pastry (see page xx)
1 large egg for glazing.

  • Preparing The Pie Components
  • Set aside 1 tablespoon of the seasoning mixture for use on the filling.
  • Melt the butter for the forcemeat in a large pan with the chopped garlic.
  • Add the chopped bacon and cook for 5-10 minutes.
  • Add the chicken livers and sprinkle with the seasoning mixture.
  • Cook until just pink in the middle.
  • Remove from the heat and tip into a food processor fitting with a chopping blade.
  • Blitz until smooth, pour into a bowl, cover and set aside until required.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.
  • Season the game birds with salt, pepper, and the tablespoon of the seasoning mix.
  • Spread with a thin layer of the forcemeat.
  • Arrange in a baking tray and brush over with melted clarified butter.
  • Bake until just cooked through (internal temperature of 74°C).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  • If using crowns or whole birds remove the breasts, as whole as possible, from the carcass and strip the rest of the meat from the bones. Allow to cool completely then cover and chill in the fridge until needed.
  • Put the remnants of the carcasses into a large pan, together with the stocks, seasonings and vegetables for the savoury jelly.
  • Bring to a boil, then cover, turn down the heat and simmer for 2-3
    hours to allow the flavours to develop.
  • Strain the stock twice: once through a fine sieve and then again through dampened muslin to remove all the unwanted solids.
  • Allow the stock to cool, then chill in the fridge. Remove the fat from the surface of the chilled stock and decant the stock into suitable containers.
  • Make a note of how solid, or not, the stock is when cold, and when the time comes to mix the gelatine, adjust accordingly: if the stock is fairly stiff,
    then little or no gelatine will be required, if it is a soft-set, then just half the regular quantity of gelatine may be all that is required.
  • Constructing The Pie
  • Cut off about 1/3 of the pastry and roll out for the lid of the pie. Cut it to size with 2cm extra all round. Cover with cling film and set aside.
  • Gather the trimmings together with the rest of the pastry and roll out for lining your greased pie tin. Be sure not to have your pastry too thin, as it will have
    to support a lot of filling – no less than 1cm on the sides and a little thicker over the bottom half of the pie. Let any excess pastry lie over the edges of the tin.
  • Spread a 1cm layer of forcemeat all over the inside of the pie. Arrange a layer of the meat and cover with a layer of forcemeat to fill in any gaps. Continue layering until all the filling and forcemeat has been used up.
  • Brush the top edges of the pastry with water. Lay the pie lid over the top of the pie. Press firmly around the edges to seal. Trim any excess pastry using the back of a knife, then crimp the edges of the pie to decorate. Use the trimmings to make decorations for the top of the pie.
  • Cut a 1-2cm steam vent in the top of the pie, large enough for the savoury jelly to be poured through once the pie is baked.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Brush the lid of the pie with beaten egg and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 70°C. If the top starts browning too much, cover loosely with a sheet of baking parchment or foil.
  • Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for several hours. When almost cold, measure out 600ml of the savoury jelly and warm in a pan. If using gelatine, soak as many leaves as required in cold water before draining and adding to the stock.
  • Stir until the gelatine has melted.
  • Before you start pouring the savoury jelly into the pie, you might want to check whether there are any holes in your pastry. Carefully remove the pie from the tin and inspect closely. You can either mix up a flower and water paste to fill any cracks, or wrap the sides and bottom of the pie tightly in cling film: this won’t stop the leaks, but it will keep everything contained until the jelly has set.
  • Return the wrapped pie to the tin before adding the jelly.
  • Pour the jelly a little at a time through the hole in the top of the pie. Use a jug and/or a fine funnel.
  • Allow time between pourings for the liquid to permeate the pie filling – it has to find and fill all the air pockets between the meat.
  • Leave to set in a cool place, or, if you have room, in the fridge overnight. The jelly will seal off any air pockets and thus prolong the shelf-life of the pie.
  • Properly stored, it can adorn a sideboard buffet all the way from Christmas almost to the New Year.

1 “Local and General Intelligence”, The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser (Leeds, England), Saturday, January 7, 1843; Issue 269. p3.

Plum Pudding

This pudding has a lot going for it: its fruity, spiced, zesty with candied peel, suet-free and thus vegetarian, less than 2 hours in the making/baking – and over 300 years old!

I found this recipe in the manuscript recipe book of Elizabeth Philipps (circa 1694), when I was hunting for Christmas recipes. The recipe’s full title is “An excellent Plum Pudding Hot or Cake Cold”, which is just the kind of two-for-one recipe that our modern Christmas needs – especially if you’re running late and missed stir-up Sunday. Excellent example of Deja Food too!

The recipe is marked with the annotation “daughter Green”. I think this must mean the recipe was passed on by her daughter, whose married name was Green – although there were unusual naming conventions back then; perhaps Mistress Philipps had a rainbow of daughters? We can but guess. As if the title wasn’t endorsement enough, a later hand has also awarded a tick and the comment ‘good’. This made this recipe a culinary ‘dead cert’ in my opinion: something that was so delicious when tasted, the recipe was requested and recorded by hand in the family recipe book, and this approval was then endorsed by a third party coming across the recipe at a later date.

Mini Puddings
Mini Puddings

You can bake this in a regular cake tin, but a ceramic pudding bowl works just as well, and makes the resemblance to a Christmas Pudding much clearer. The hour-long baking time creates a wonderfully dark and crunchy crust, which contrasts dramatically with the light, pale insides.  You can also bake it in individual pudding bowls (the recipe makes 10 small puddings), which looks very sweet too, although the shorter cooking time makes for a paler outside. This would be too much traditional Christmas Pudding for one person, but this pudding is a yeast-raised, light, fruited, cake texture, and much more refreshing to the palate as well as being easier on the stomach.

Plum Pudding Original Recipe
Source: MS3082, Wellcome Library Collection

Plum Pudding

375g plain flour
1/3 nutmeg, grated
1 tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground cloves
1 sachet fast-action yeast

40g granulated sugar
150g unsalted butter
150ml cream/milk
50ml cream sherry or mead
2 large eggs

300g currants
75g raisins
60g mixed candied peel [1]
40g flaked almonds

  • Mix the flour, yeast and spices.
  • Put the sugar, butter and milk/cream in a pan and warm gently until the butter is melted.
  • Add the sherry or mead.
  • If the mixture is still hot, let it cool a little first, then whisk in the eggs.
  • Add the liquids to the flour and mix thoroughly. It should form a soft dough. Add up to 150ml more milk if you think it is required.
  • Set somewhere warm to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Stir in the fruit and almonds until thoroughly combined.
  • If you are making small, individual puddings, each mould or aluminium foil cup will take about 125g of dough. Otherwise, generously butter a 1.6 litre pudding bowl and add the dough.
  • Set aside for 15 minutes while the oven warms up.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Bake
    • a single, large pudding for about an hour. Turn the basin round after 30 minutes and check for done-ness at 50 minutes.
    • the small, individual puddings for 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Run a spatula around the sides of the basin to loosen the pudding, and carefully turn out onto your serving plate.
  • Serve warm, with double cream.
  • For later: Even though this pudding is nice cold, it really is at its best just warm, so for serving later, zap slices/individual puddings in the microwave for 30 seconds before serving.

[1] I used 20g each of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit, rinsed of excess syrup

Fat-free Mincemeat

This recipe is adapted from Hannah Glasse’s 1747 recipe for Mince Pies for Lent.

Nowadays, we traditionally make mincemeat far in advance of the festive season, so that it can mature in flavour. Both the sugar and the suet act as preservative and so when Christmas rolls around, you’ve got a jar of deliciously spicy sweetmeat and not a fizzing, fermenting jar of goo.

The downside of course is having to be organised enough to remember to make it far enough in advance, making enough for those unexpected baking moments (such as surprise visitors, or a last minute school bake sale contribution), and not making too much so you have storage problems. Quite apart from it not being suitable for either vegetarians or vegans.

Here, hopefully, is a solution. No suet means it’s vegetarian and vegan. No added sugar means its more suited to people needing to control their sugar intake, for whatever reason – although there IS sugar in the candied peel, so this isn’t quite a sugar-free recipe. Best of all it doesn’t need maturing, it’s literally mix and go.

The mixture is gently warmed and the fruits absorb the sherry, brandy and fruit juices. The finely-chopped dates break down and bind everything together. The result is packed full of flavour and with a much cleaner and fresher taste. This mix makes just under 500g of ready-to-use mincemeat.

NB This will keep for up to a week in the fridge, but no longer. Cooked as mince pies and frozen – up to 3 months.

Fat-free Mincemeat

50g currants
50g raisins – crimson raisins look pretty
50g sultanas
50g dates – finely chopped
25g candied orange peel [1]
25g candied lemon peel [1]
25g candied grapefruit peel [1]
35g dried cranberries
25g flaked almonds – chopped
2tbs sherry
1tbs brandy
juice & grated rind of an orange
pinch of ground ginger
a grating of nutmeg,
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of mixed spice
pinch of ground cloves

60-100ml apple juice

  • Put the dried fruits into a small saucepan.
  • Cut the candied peel into small pieces with scissors and add to the pan with the spices. NB If you’re using your home-made candied peel that has been stored in syrup, then there’s no need to soften it in the saucepan – just stir it in with the nuts once the fruit has plumped.
  • Add the orange juice and zest, brandy, sherry and 60ml of apple juice.
  • Stir gently to combine and set pan over the lowest possible heat.
  • Cover and let the mixture stew gently until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  • If the fruit isn’t as plumped and juicy as you would like, add a little more apple juice.
  • The mixture should be moist, but with no liquid visible in the bottom
  • When you’re happy with the consistency, stir through the chopped, flaked almonds.

[1] If you’ve made some candied peel yourself, then these are pretty straightforward. If not, then use 75g of what you have/can get. Buy whole peel pieces if possible – they retain their flavour much better than chopped – and cut them just before use.

 

Candied Peel

A forgotten art in British preserving is home-made candied peel. ‘But I can buy that!’ you shriek. Yes, I know. But if you’ve ever tasted fresh candied peel made with nothing more than sugar, peel and water – you’d understand. I used to hate store-bought candied peel, and avoided anything that included it, but home-made just blows it out of the water. The explosion of citrus flavour is amazing. The beauty of making it yourself is that you can candy any citrus peel you like, and not be limited to just orange and lemon. So here, for anyone who fancies having a go, is how to do it, gleaned from 17th century manuscript recipe books. It’s not difficult or complicated, but it is a bit repetitive. But make a decent amount at one time, and you won’t have to repeat it for a good few months. Oh – and it’ll make your house smell amazing.

How To Candy Peel

Citrus fruit of choice
Sugar
Water

  • Remove the skin from the fruit. Slice off the top and bottom (to make a flat surface to stand the fruit on) and then cut the peel from the sides of the fruit by slicing downwards. Keep as much of the pith as possible.
  • Scrape any flesh and membranes from the fruit rind. Don’t worry if you can’t get it all, it’ll become easier after the peel has been boiled. Leave the pith intact – it’s the pith absorbing the sugar that keeps the rind juicy and helps prevent it becoming hard.
  • Place the rind into a pan large enough to hold it plus an inch of water. Cover with clean water.
  • Bring water to a boil and boil for a minute or two then drain.
  • Rinse the peel thoroughly, and also scrub the sides of the saucepan thoroughly as well. Why? The bitterness of the peel comes from the citrus oil in the skin of the fruit. Bringing the water to the boil helps release this oil, but it then floats on the top of the water, coats the rind when the water is poured off, and also congeals onto the sides of the pan. If you don’t rinse the peel and scrub the pan well, you just end up basically boiling the peel in the bitter citrus oil, which kinda defeats the whole purpose of repeated boilings.
  • Repeat until the peels are semi translucent and very tender. This will greatly depend on the type and condition of the fruit itself, but as a rough guide, lemons = 4 times, oranges = 5 times, grapefruit = 6 times.
  • Leave in a colander to drain well.
  • While the peel is draining, make some sugar syrup: mix 1 part water to 2 parts sugar. 500ml water to 1kg sugar is straightforward, but might leave you with a lot of leftovers, if you’re not making much peel. Not very helpful I’m afraid, but to my mind, it is better to have a little extra syrup, than have to make more once you’ve added the peels because there isn’t enough. I usually guesstimate by eye – and use non-standard measures (i.e. large mug or jug) and just measure by volume.
  • Heat the sugar and water slowly until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil and continue to heat until the mixture is clear.
  • Squeeze excess water from the peels by pressing them between several layers of kitchen roll – or I find that using a clean hand towel works best – they’re surprisingly soggy peels!
  • Scrape off any remaining flesh and membranes using the side of a teaspoon and cut the peels into 5mm strips.
  • Once the syrup is clear, drop in the drained peel. Make sure that there is enough syrup to allow all of the rinds to be submerged.
  • Bring syrup and rind to a boil then cover and put onto the lowest heat. Let it stew gently until the rinds become translucent and jewel-like (almost like coloured glass). Stir occasionally. This takes about an hour. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat to speed things along, it’ll just harden the peel.
  • Store the candied peel in screw-top jars, making sure it’s completely covered by the syrup. This will keep it moist until required, and the high sugar content of the syrup will act as a preservative. When you need to use it in a recipe, rinse off the excess syrup and pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Any excess syrup can be bottled and saved to drizzle over cakes or desserts. It will have a wonderful flavour.

Coconut Gingerbread Cakes

Gingerbread is such a classic teatime treat – and I’m a huge fan of classics – it’s just that I don’t usually feel very inspired when I hear the word ‘gingerbread’. I think of a treacle-dark cake, rich, sticky and aromatic with ginger – sounds delicious, no? – but the main thing that springs to mind is something akin to a brick slab.

It probably goes back to the large, family bakes of my childhood, where the cake-of-the-week was kept wrapped in foil in a tin and slowly chiseled away at during the week until it was all gone. There wouldn’t be another cake until this cake had been eaten, and it used to lurk in the tin in all its brickiness, standing between me and any other baked treat. The chances were high that it would eventually be replaced with something equally heavy and fruity – but that new cake’s attraction would be, initially at any rate, mostly due to the fact that it wasn’t the gingerbread.

The image of heaviness and brick-like shape has lurked in my culinary memory ever since – which is a shame because what it SHOULD bring to mind is crisp winter nights, spiciness and fireworks, treacle-richness and bonfires. So I thought I should try and rehabilitate it, and bring it up to date. Ironically, I achieved this by referring to a recipe over 165 years old, from Miss Eliza Acton.

Heroines of Cooking: Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Acton (1799 – 1859)

Originally a poet, Eliza Acton is considered by many to be the first to write a cookery book as we would recognise it today. Her Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) was the first to separate a list of ingredients from the methodology, and was aimed specifically at small households. Additionally, the author’s observations on potential problems and recommendations for subtle variations were included, illustrating Eliza’s personal experience with the recipes, unlike many of her contemporaries and cookery authors that were to follow. It was an immediate success and remained in print for almost 60 years. She was to write only one other book The English Bread Book (1857), in which her strong views against the adulteration and processing of food would still be being echoed by Doris Grant almost a century later.

After several experimental baking batches, here is Eliza’s recipe for Coconut Gingerbread Cakes, scaled down to a manageable quantity. Baked in a mini muffin tin, the recipe makes approximately 24 bite -sized cakes with all the dark richness of traditional gingerbread, with the added coconut giving both a lighter texture and more complex flavour. Fresh coconut is a little time consuming to prepare, but very much worth the effort.

Coconut Gingerbread Cakes

Makes 24

75g plain flour
75g ground rice
2 tsp ground ginger
grated rind of 1 lemon
110g treacle
40g butter
40g dark brown soft sugar
80g fresh grated coconut

  • Mix flour, ground rice, ginger and lemon rind in a bowl and set aside.
  • Put the treacle, sugar and butter into a saucepan and heat gently until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the warm treacle mixture and stir to combined. Stir in the coconut and then set mixture aside to cool.
  • Heat oven to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
  • Divide cooled mixture into 20g pieces, roll into a ball and drop into greased mini-muffin cups.
  • Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
  • Keeps very well in an airtight box/tin.