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More on Shepherd’s Pie

A Casserole of Mutton
Butter a deep dish or mould, and line it with potatoes mashed with milk or butter, and seasoned with pepper and salt. Fill it with slices of the lean cold mutton, or lamb, seasoned also. Cover the whole with more mashed potatoes. Put it into an oven, and bake it till the meat is thoroughly warmed, and the potatoes brown. The carefully turn it out on a large dish; or you may, if more convenient, send it to table in the dish it was baked in.”
---Directions for Cookery in Its Various Branches, Miss Leslie, Philadelphia, 1849



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Vincent Van Gogh, Peasant Man and Woman Planting Potatoes, 1885

Shepherd’s pie is one of those old dishes that endure.  The recipe you see above is 150 years old and still so appealing, especially on a cold winter night. 

Nancy loved Shepherd’s Pie in her childhood and wants to retrieve it.  This weekend she’s going to test the first one, and soon she’ll share the results.

The origins of this rib-sticking dish go back to the great pie baking traditions of medieval England where meat was cooked with dried fruit spices
and fruit inside a “coffin” of pastry dough.  Pie was originally a form of food preservation before refrigeration. 

Enter the potato, brought back from the New World.  The possibilities were enormous for thickening stews and soups and adding heft.  In the following recipe, the great 18th century writer Hannah Glasse inches us toward Shepherd’s Pie by giving a recipe for a traditional spiced meat pie with pastry--plus potatoes. See it here:

“To Make a very fine Sweet lamb or Veal Pye.
Season your Lamb with Salt, Pepper, Cloves, Mace and Nutmeg, all beat fine, to your Palate. Cut your Lamb, or Veal, into little Pieces, make a good Puff-paste Crust, lay it into your Dish, then lay in your Meat, strew on it some stoned Raisins and Currans clean washed, and some Sugar; then lay on it some Forced-meat Balls made sweet, and in the Summer some Artichoke-bottoms boiled, and scalded Grapes in the Winter. Boil Spanish Potatoes cut in Pieces, candied Citron, candied Orange, and Lemon-peel, and three or four large Blades of Mace; put Butter on the Top, close up your Pye, and bake it. Have ready against it comes out of the Oven a Caudle [thick drink] made thus: Take a Pint of White Wine, and mix in the Yolks of three Eggs, stir it well together over the Fire, one way, all the time till it is thick; then take it off, stir in Sugar enough to sweeten it, and squeeze in the Juice of a Lemon; pour it hot into your Pye, and close it up again.Send it hot to table.” 
---The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, Hannah Glasse [London:1747]Chapter VIII, “Of Pies.”

Not long after we begin to see recipes that do away with the pastry crust entirely in favor of potatoes.  What a smart idea. Less work and a much simpler (and lighter . . . maybe) repast. 

Click here for Nancy’s final version of modern Shepherd’s Pie you can make with success

see also: Calling All Recipe Detectives — Shepherd’s Pie









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