Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Pies at Riversdale House Museum

c. 1801 Dining Room Tablescape for a Christmas Ball Supper with Raised Pies, Riversdale House Museum (December, 2014)

For the 2014 Christmas dining room display at the c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum in Riverdale Park, Md, I decided to make Yorkshire Christmas Raised/Standing Pies the centerpiece of the Christmas Ball Supper design.  

I used an 1809 recipe by Frederick Nutt (below) as the inspiration for the dining room display of raised pies at Riversdale House Museum.  I liked that the directions included making small raised pies for ball suppers and that the pastry could be ornamented "according to fancy."  Of course, the pies I make are faux salt dough versions of these beautiful culinary delights. The large pie in the center of the table was made by faux food artist Henri Gadbois at Real Faux Foods. I hope you enjoy the display which will be available to see until the middle of January.

These pies are no longer fashionable so you may not know too much about them. Here is some information and history about raised/standing pies to help you understand their place at the Christmas table:

How Did These Pies Get Their Name?

From Isabella Beeton's, Mrs. Beeton's Household Management. Originally published in London: 1861

These pies were known by many different names, all with good reason:

First, Yorkshire, England was best known as the historic focal point for the production of these huge raised standing pies. Therefore, they became known as Yorkshire Pies. 

Second, the pies were often shipped from Yorkshire throughout all parts of England, particularly during the Christmas holiday season; therefore, they were often called Christmas Pies or Yorkshire Christmas Pies (sometimes the Christmas version of the pies contains a different filling from pies made at other times of the year). 

Yorkshire may be have been the figurative capital of the raised pie food tradition; however, people who had the time, money, and inclination could make their own raised pies for Christmas or anytime even if they did not live in Yorkshire, England. Numerous recipes for raised  pies are found in many 18th and 19th century cookbooks that were popular throughout England and in America, as well. Therefore, it is completely valid to assume that the Calvert Family who lived at Riversdale in the early 19th century would have these pies during the Christmas holiday season.

Third, the pastry crust was often raised on a pie form or dolly (pictured below) to make it tall. Therefore, they were often called "Raised Pies."

Finally, they were called "Standing Pies" because they were made with pastry dough that was thick and strong enough for the finished pies to be able to stand without pie tins to support them. 

What Was in One of These Pies?
These pies were typically stuffed with cooked, boned fowl, game, hare and other wild game, and they could also contain beef, ham, bacon, and forcemeat (like a meatloaf or meatball mixture), and other things, such as truffles. The fillings were often layered one on top of the other. For example, boned turkey meat would line the bottom of the pie crust, then boned goose meat would be layered on top of that, then additional assorted fowl meat , partridge meat, pigeon meat, or game could be included. The mirror image would sit above the top of the pie dish, making each layer of meat a round casing for the one inside it. The inside would look a bit like a meat bomb!

How Were the Pies Constructed?
The pies are called raised or standing pies because the pastry dough needed to be strong enough to stand alone without the support of pie tins. One way to do this would be to use a pie dolly (form) to help form the shape of the pie. This picture shows the dough being shaped around the wooden pie dolly:

Raising the sides of the pie on a pie dolly.
Another way to make standing pies was to use large pie tins designed specifically for making the pies. These tins usually had very elaborate designs etched into them. After the pie was baked, the tin would be removed and the pie would be presented in a free-standing manner.

A pastry pie lid would cover the top and it could be decorated with pastry cut-outs "according to the fancy" of the chef. A hole would be made in the top center of the pastry to allow steam to vent and to allow a thick gelatin-rich stock or aspic to be poured into the center of the pie after baking to encase the meats once cooled.  This was done to keep the meats preserved for several days. After the pie cooled, it was ready for service, and, yes, it was meant to be served cold or at room temperature!
Small Raised Pie Ready for the Oven!

How to Serve a Raised Pie
Interestingly, a raised pie would not be cut into pie wedges.  Instead, the pie top was very carefully removed and set aside for later re-use. The meats were scooped out of the center of the pie. After service, the pie lid was replaced and the plug in the opening of the top would be removed to allow additional warmed gelatin or aspic to be poured into the pie to re-cover the meats inside. It would then be placed in a cool place so that the gelatin would solidify and re-seal the meats to keep them fresh for future consumption. The pie could be served in this manner several times until it was completely finished.

A Recipe from 1809
Source: The Imperial and Royal Cook by Frederick Nutt. London: 1809

The 1809 Nutt recipe for Christmas Pie (below) is based on his recipe for A Goose and Turkey Pie which is over 6 pages long!  The Christmas version follows this recipe and includes the addition of pheasants, partridges, and hare.  There are many things I like about this recipe; here are some of the the highlights:

The pie contains:
  • 2 geese (boned)
  • 2 turkeys (boned)
  • Truffles
  • Westphalia Ham
  • “Good Stock” (no type is mentioned but presumably one that is cooked down enough to be gelatin)
  • Filet of veal or rump-steaks line the bottom of the standing pie
  • Farce (forcemeat which is ground meat mixed with egg, breadcrumbs, seasonings - similar to meatballs or meatloaf)
  • Bacon

Some Interesting Directions Given in the Recipe:
· “. . .ornament it according to fancy”
· It will take “between four and twenty hours to get cold.”
· “It ought to be begun four days before the day on which it is wanted.”
· Before the pie is served the bacon should be taken off and replaced with chopped aspic.
· Small pies can be made for “ball suppers."
· The Christmas version of this pie has the addition of pheasants, partridges, and hares (all boned).

An 1851 American Recipe for a Standing Pie
Here is less daunting American version of a standing pie recipe from Eliza Leslie's Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery, originally published in Philadelphia in 1851:

If you live in the Washington DC/Baltimore metropolitan area, take a trip to Riversdale to see the dining room and the rest of the house up close and in person!

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