This recipe comes from the time of our favorite Medieval England misogynist, Henry VIII, and was prepared often at Hampton Court, his main castle.
Who? King of England, turkey leg eater
Lived: 1491 – 1547
- Used to be a strapping handsome youth, but as it was popular in the day to resemble a small whale, he quickly expanded horizontally (see this useful diagram from the Hampton Court museum to see the transformation from “sexy Henry to Henry the Tyrant!” Their words, not mine.) The diet of an average nobleman in his court was 80% meat. Vegetables? Bah, for plebians.
- While he was still young and attractive, he was married to Catherine of Aragon. But as she was unable to bear sons, he grew desperate to marry someone else. When he wasn’t allowed to divorce his first wife, he decided to form his own Church of England and appointed himself head representative of God so he got to call all the shots on Christianity now, including claiming all of the church’s property. I guess nothing peculiar here, considering how people would just land in all sorts of places and plant their flags as proof of property ownership. Short of land to conquer now, I try to do the same thing by coughing all over the sesame chicken at the buffet counter.
- Overall, he had 6 wives, 2 of which he beheaded. For his fourth wife, he tried to court Christina of Denmark, but she responded to his proposal with “If I had two heads, I would happily put one at the disposal of the King of England”. Ouch.
- Unrelated – I was named after Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter from his 2nd marriage. My parents had high ambitions when they named me, all of which I have completely failed to meet because I haven’t effectively doubled the size of my kingdom by conquering large parts of New England, sponsored advancements in science or literature, or maintained my virginity until death. The last one is a moot point.
Meat Pie (also called Chuets):
Aww Medieval England is so exciting. All the intrigue, all the incest and the beheadings! (For all of you who get most of your information about Medieval England through watching the “Other Boleyn Girl” or “The Tudors”, don’t believe half of that juicy tabloid stuff, but totally believe the other half!). My interest in this time period started because of my namesake, Elizabeth I, but I quickly devoured all the other history related to her – because having a witch mother that supposedly picked up her head after she was beheaded and put it back on her neck, and a stepmother that might’ve slept with her brother, and a step-sister that supposedly appears in your bathroom mirror if you spin around 3 times in the dark and chant “Bloody Mary”?? THAT’S AWESOME.
Everything associated with Henry VIII and Elizabeth I was top of my list when I visited London this past summer. One of the major tourist attractions associated with this time period is Hampton Court, where Henry VIII spent most of his time with his court.
At Hampton Court, there were rows of delicious looking, albeit plastic, meat pies laid out in rows at the kitchen exhibit. Until the fork was introduced to Europe in the Renaissance, people mostly ate with their hands. Food was served on trenchers (plates made of coarse bread for most people; the nobleman-equivalent was usually silver plates) and when the meal was done, the trencher itself could be eaten if you were still hungry.
Similarly, cooks would make meat pies and the pie crust would serve as a convenient mini pot to put directly into the oven. When served, the top would be cut open and people would spoon out the meat or eat the crust with the meat. I wanted to eat this staple food that was a precursor to the modern chicken pot pie.
Let me just say this – this recipe takes days… Proceed only if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to the delicate art, or if you just have too much spare time on your hands because your friends won’t go with you to Williamsburg on a Wednesday night.
Part I: The meat
Chop up the beef and marinate it in the wine for a day.
Remove the meat, reserving the wine, and brown it separately in butter (for the history enthusiasts here, this should be more accurately done with suet or animal fat). Remove the meat, and saute the onion and garlic in the remaining butter until slightly soft.
Add the herbs and spices and vinegar, as well as the wine and meat. Slow cook/Dutch Oven it at 275 degrees for 2.5 hours.
Nice and tender after slow cooking overnight. I woke up at 5 AM for this picture…
Mince up the meat even more and add the chopped up dried fruits (I put these through a food processor). Let it sit for an hour so that the fruits can soak up the juices.
Part II: The crust
If you’re lazy, you can get pre-made crust at the supermarket. Otherwise, mix the flour and butter together until it resembles coarse crumbs and slowly add water until it all comes together into a ball. Refrigerate for at least an hour
(And while we’re at this, can we talk about how miraculous flour is? Somebody long ago was like, “Hey, let’s grind up all of this wheat super-fine by hand and mix it with water just for kicks!! Because we just don’t have enough on our plates right now, you know besides avoiding getting eaten by lions or hunting/gathering enough to last us through the winter????”
And hey, now we have bread! Like how?? Wheat doesn’t resemble bread at all – it’s as if I told my 5 year old self and was like “You are going to be a fully functioning adult one day” and expected to believe it (…still hasn’t happened yet))
Part IIa: Packing it into the pies
Now that the crust is ready, divide it into 6-8 lumps. Out of each lump, make 2 circles and 1 long strip. One circle is the base and should be larger than the other circle (which is the top).
The long strip is the wall and should be kneaded together with the base until it resembles a small bowl. Use water if necessary to patch the dough together
Fill up the pies with the minced meat!
Put on the top (smaller circle) by kneading the small circle with the edges of the bowl by folding it together like a drawstring purse. Cut slits in the top to let steam escape.
Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Cover the tops with aluminum foil to prevent burning and then lower temperature to 325 degrees for another hour.
Verdict: Like chicken pot pie, but sweeter and more tender, plus it’s historical and small enough for individual servings! The crust could be a little less dry, but it needs to be stiff in order to stand up properly.
I would rate this
5 beheaded wives out of 6
Servings: 6 – 8 pies
Time: 2 days
1.75 lb of stew beef
½ bottle red wine
2 tbsp butter (or suet)
1 onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
½ tsp cloves, whole
1 tsp nutmeg (or mace)
2 tsp pepper
3 anchovies (I cheated and used fish oil)
2 tbsp fresh marjoram (optional)
2 tbsp fresh thyme (I cheated and used dried thyme)
sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
¼ cup of red wine vinegar
Additional meat filling ingredients
3 tbsp butter (suet)
4 prunes, chopped
4 dates, chopped
⅓ cup raisins
⅓ cup currants (I substituted cranberries)
big pinch of saffron
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt & pepper, to taste
Crust (meant to be very hard and dry – if you want to make your own, use a traditional pie crust recipe and reduce the amount of water and butter)
3 cups of white flour
3 cups of whole wheat flour
16 tbsp of butter (or suet)
1 cup of water or less
salt to taste
Let’s Make This:
- Chop the beef into small pieces and marinate it in the wine for a day.
- Remove the meat, reserving the wine.
- Brown the beef in the butter/suet. Remove the beef and saute the onions and garlic in the remaining butter
- Put the beef, wine, onions and garlic in a slow cooker or dutch oven. Add the herbs and spices and wine vinegar. Cook for 2.5 hours on low or until tender. Remove the cloves,marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves.
- Chop up the dried fruit (prunes, dates, raisins, currants) in a food processor. Add them to the meat mixture, as well as the 3 tbsp of butter/tbsp, saffron, wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Heat slightly to allow the butter to mix in. Remove from heat and let it sit for an hour.
- Make the crust by combining the white and wheat flour and butter roughly until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add up to 1 cup of water slowly (tbsp by tbsp) until the dough comes together. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
- Create the mini pie crusts (see above pictures). In order to get the pieces of crust to coalesce, wet them slightly before pressing them together. Make sure the bottom of the pie has no holes before filling the pies ¾ of the way with filling. Add the top circle and pinch the sides together with the top circle with water to close the pie. Make holes on top of the pies for steam.
- Cook for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Cover the pies with aluminum foil and lower temperature to 325 degrees. Cook for another hour. And then INSTAGRAM THAT SHIT #foodtimemachine
Sources: Henry VIII’s Hampton Court and his Chuets (Meat Pies) by Lost Past Remembered; Hampton Court visit