Mrs Beeton’s Chicken or Fowl Pie

One of the things that has interested me over the years is Victorian Era food.

So from time to time when we have guests over I experiment with a bit of historic cuisine and this Saturday a Chicken Pie was on the cards.

One thing with the majority of ‘historic cooking’ you have to adapt them but the trick is to try not to do it too much otherwise you lose the point.

So to Mrs Beeton’s Chicken or Fowl Pie

929. INGREDIENTS – 2 small fowls or 1 large one, white pepper and salt to taste, 1/2 teaspoonful of grated nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoonful of pounded mace, forcemeat No. 417, a few slices of ham, 3 hard-boiled eggs, 1/2 pint of water, puff crust.

Mode.—Skin and cut up the fowls into joints, and put the neck, leg, and backbones in a stewpan, with a little water, an onion, a bunch of savoury herbs, and a blade of mace; let these stew for about an hour, and, when done, strain off the liquor: this is for gravy. Put a layer of fowl at the bottom of a pie-dish, then a layer of ham, then one of force meat and hard-boiled eggs cut in rings; between the layers put a seasoning of pounded mace, nutmeg, pepper, and salt. Proceed in this manner until the dish is full, and pour in about 1/2 pint of water; border the edge of the dish with puff crust, put on the cover, ornament the top, and glaze it by brushing over it the yolk of an egg. Bake from 1–1/4 to 1–1/2 hour, should the pie be very large, and, when done, pour in, at the top, the gravy made from the bones. If to be eaten cold, and wished particularly nice, the joints of the fowls should be boned, and placed in the dish with alternate layers of forcemeat; sausage-meat may also be substituted for the forcemeat, and is now very much used. When the chickens are boned, and mixed with sausage-meat, the pie will take about 2 hours to bake. It should be covered with a piece of paper when about half-done, to prevent the paste from being dried up or scorched.

Time.—For a pie with unboned meat, 1–1/4 to 1–1/2 hour; with boned meat and sausage or forcemeat, 1–1/2 to 2 hours.

Average cost, with 2 fowls, 6s. 6d.

Sufficient for 6 or 7 persons.

So I reduced the measurements for the three of us and used dried herbs for convenience (I don’t if I can help it!). I browned the chicken and put it in the dish, topped it off with a thin layer of ham (thinker ham next methinks) and covered that with two hard boiled eggs and added salt, pepper, mace and nutmeg.

Added to this I needed to make up some force meat which is more or less the same as stuffing really.

So it’s force meat 417 which has a wonderful lemon taste to it.

417. INGREDIENTS – 2 oz. of ham or lean bacon, 1/4 lb. of suet, the rind of half a lemon, 1 teaspoonful of minced parsley, 1 teaspoonful of minced sweet herbs; salt, cayenne, and pounded mace to taste; 6 oz. of bread crumbs, 2 eggs.

Mode.—Shred the ham or bacon, chop the suet, lemon-peel, and herbs, taking particular care that all be very finely minced; add a seasoning to taste, of salt, cayenne, and mace, and blend all thoroughly together with the bread crumbs, before wetting. Now beat and strain the eggs, work these up with the other ingredients, and the forcemeat will be ready for use. When it is made into balls, fry of a nice brown, in boiling lard, or put them on a tin and bake for 1/2 hour in a moderate oven. As we have stated before, no one flavour should predominate greatly, and the forcemeat should be of sufficient body to cut with a knife, and yet not dry and heavy. For very delicate forcemeat, it is advisable to pound the ingredients together before binding with the egg; but for ordinary cooking, mincing very finely answers the purpose.

Average cost, 8d.

Sufficient for a turkey, a moderate-sized fillet of veal, or a hare.

I shaped the force meat into balls and cooked it in the oven for about 20 mins, more or less until it was brown. I then sliced the all in half to create a layer before adding the water and pastry to the seal the deal so to speak.

Mrs Beeton on sweet herbs:

Those most usually employed for purposes of cooking, such as the flavouring of soups, sauces, forcemeats, &c., are thyme, sage, mint, marjoram, savory, and basil. Other sweet herbs are cultivated for purposes of medicine and perfumery: they are most grateful both to the organs of taste and smelling; and to the aroma derived from them is due, in a great measure, the sweet and exhilarating fragrance of our “flowery meads.” In town, sweet herbs have to be procured at the greengrocers’ or herbalists’, 

Mrs Beeton would be proud!

whilst, in the country, the garden should furnish all that are wanted, the cook taking great care to have some dried in the autumn for her use throughout the winter months.

And cook it on gas mark 7 for about 1 and half hours. With mashed potatoes, asparagus and a few glasses of wine it was a great meal!