I blame Hollywood. The popular image of medieval and Tudor food is all fat, gouty nobles with meat grease dripping off their chins, waving haunches of venison which of course would be stiff with spices because they didn’t have fridges and the meat was off. In between gargantuan flesh fests they would oppress peasants and maybe ravish a maiden or two before getting their comeuppance from a hero of gentle birth who lived in a treehouse.
Sorry to disabuse you but while oppression and possibly ravishment took place and the rich could enjoy a meat-heavy diet, it wasn’t rancid because a) it was usually freshly killed and b) they were clever about where they sited their larders, and they used costly spices because they liked them and to show off their wealth.
Also, Robin Hood wasn’t real or indeed a (fictional) Tudor, and that’s the period Mrs Portly’s Time Machine is visiting today. If you’re one of those people who dislikes long preambles you’ve probably gone off by now to watch Alan Rickman being villainous on Netflix and good riddance. Buy a cookery book and stop whingeing about the way people like me write our free recipes.
This is my interpretation of a series of receipts in two 16th century books, Thomas Dawson’s The Good Housewife’s Jewel and A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, which it’s thought belonged to Margaret Parker, wife of a Master of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge in the days when spelling was idiosyncratic and students were grateful.
Allowes were what today we would call olives, thin slices of meat (sometimes salmon) rolled up around a filling. They could be roasted on a spit, simmered in a pot or as here, baked in a pie. What they seem to have in common was dried fruit, hard boiled egg yolks and plenty of spice. They are delicious and like quite a few late medieval and Tudor recipes, have a whiff of the Levant about them. I particularly like the addition of dried barberries, which give a welcome sharp note. The quantities of dried fruit and spice are a matter of taste. What follows is what worked for me.
To make this, you need to beat the meat very thinly. It’s quite tedious and takes longer than you think so unless you have a lot of pent-up aggression, speak nicely to your butcher. The weight given is what I used; you need six slices each about the size of a paperback book so if your butcher is brawnier than me, which wouldn’t be hard, you may need less.
I have made this with thinly sliced leg of lamb and with veal escalopes. No, eating rosé veal isn’t cruel, crating calves is illegal here and ethical farming gives the males a longer life than they would have otherwise. Longer than chickens, most pigs and lambs. If you are still averse, try thin frying steak. Lamb is my favourite for this recipe, though.
The pie is moist to eat but doesn’t contain the gravy we’d expect today, so you might like to bear this in mind when you’re deciding on side dishes.
You will need a metal pie tin approximately 24cm in diameter and 4cm deep; while you can use a ceramic dish, it’s harder to get a crisp bottom. A deep quiche tin with a removable base will also work.
If you want to get ahead, you can line the tin the day before and cover it closely with clingfilm. Roll out the lid just before you complete the pie.
Allowes - A Tudor Meat Pie
Approx 550-600g lamb leg, veal escalope or frying steak (see Notes before buying)
1 or 2 lamb’s kidneys
3 hard boiled egg yolks
5 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
5 tbsp dried barberries, divided (see below)
3 tbsp raisins, divided (see below)
1 tspn dried thyme leaves
15g fresh parsley, finely chopped
75g butter, divided (see below)
1 tspn ground ginger
1/4 tspn powdered mace
Pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tspn powdered cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground black pepper
1 tspn salt
1 large raw egg, beaten
350g shortcrust pastry
1 tbsp verjuice or white wine vinegar
If you haven’t got a friendly butcher (see Notes), beat the meat flat. Lay it between two sheets of baking paper and have at it with a rolling pin. Cover lightly and set aside in the fridge while you line your pie tin.
Lightly grease your tin and roll out two thirds of your pastry to line it. Leave a slight overhang on the edges to allow for shrinkage. Wrap the remaining pastry and refrigerate both tin and extra pastry while you make the filling.
Scoop out three tablespoons of barberries and two of raisins and put them to one side for later.
Place the rest in a bowl and add the crumbled hard boiled egg yolks, the breadcrumbs and all the herbs and spices, including the salt and pepper.
Core the kidneys, chop them small and add to the stuffing. Add the beaten egg (reserving a little to glaze the pastry) and stir well to mix.
Lay your meat slices on the worksurface with a short edge towards you and place one sixth of the stuffing near the bottom edge of each one. Put a blob of butter on each pile of filling. Roll tightly and keep the allowes seam side down.
Heat the oven to 170C/150 fan/ 325F/Gas Mark 3. Put in a baking sheet to heat up. (This combats a soggy bottom.)
Retrieve your pie tin from the fridge, trim the edges and pack in the allowes fairly tightly. Scatter over the remaining barberries and raisins, filling any gaps, season the meat with salt and pepper to taste, and dot the remaining butter over the top. Please don’t omit the butter in this recipe or the pie will be too dry. Drizzle over the verjuice or vinegar.
Roll out the lid, egg wash the edges of the pie, and place the lid on top, crimping the edges for a tight seal. Make a hole in the middle of the pie to let the steam out or use a pie funnel.
Egg wash the top of the pie and use any pastry leftovers to make decorations. Glaze those too. Once the oven is fully up to heat, put the pie on the pre-heated baking sheet and cook for one hour, or until the pastry is golden and the meat cooked though.
Allow the pie to sit for 10 minutes or so before slicing and serving.