How to Cook a Fourteenth-Century Pork Pie

Maeve L'Estrange

Maeve L’Estrange is a culinary archaeologist, studying for a PhD in experimental archaeology in UCD. Since no medieval Irish recipes survive, she tries to piece together what may have been eaten by examining the fauna and flora remains from excavation reports and combining these with spices and other foodstuff referred to in primary documents of the period.


Early in the fourteenth century, the prior of Holy Trinity, Dublin, along with the kitchener and others, were served a pasty for breakfast.

“One pasty. At breakfast for the Prior, seneschal, Kitchener, and others. 1d,” reads the account entry, documenting the detail.

This is important for several reasons. It tells us that pasties, still popular nowadays, date back at least to the fourteenth century. It also tells us that professional bakers in Dublin were making and selling pasties, and that the cost of the pasty was one penny.

Entries for other items costing the same amount include oysters, bread, one-quarter of a roast lamb, mustard, and cooked salmon. This gives us an idea of what a penny could buy.

The pasty purchased for the priory would have been a filled, sealed pastry case containing some kind of meat or fowl, and vegetable, which was either baked, or deep-fried in lard.

As well as Ireland, these pastry foodstuffs were popular in Britain and France. Pastry goods in general were popular in the Middle Ages, and ranged from simple “chewets” – which are smaller than pasties, but have similar fillings – to luxurious, tall “Parma pies”, filled with layer upon layer of meat and fowl, and surrounded by pastry castellations, glazed with gold or silver leaf, with banners of the country the pie was to represent.

Pastry foodstuffs were plentiful during the era. Most differed to anything we are familiar with today. Sometimes, the pastry was used just as the vessel in which to cook delicate contents, then discarded. This was more likely to happen in wealthier households; the poorer members of society would likely have eaten the pastry as well as the contents.

Pastry tarts were made with self-supporting crusts of just flour and water, but a sweet version also had sugar and saffron. They had interesting names. “Tart of Flesh” was filled with minced pork, white cheese, nuts, spices, wine and raisins. “Cheese Tart” came with white cheese and eggs. “Crustardes”, or custards, contained rich mixtures of meat, bone marrow and dried fruits set in egg and milk batters. “Pies of Paris” were made with pre-cooked meats. And there were many, many more.

This month’s recipe is for a flampoint, so called because the pastry is formed into flame points. The flame points were sometimes glazed with egg yolk, to give them an appropriate yellow colour. This type of tart called for the filling to be ground, using a pestle and mortar.

Flampoint: a 14th-Century Pork Pie

Ingredients

For the Pastry

  • 350 g./12 oz. plain flour
  • 50 g./2 oz. caster sugar
  • 3 eggs

For the Filling

  • 350 g./12 oz. finely chopped pork
  • 2 dried figs
  • 150 ml./ ¼ pt. ale
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • a pinch of saffron
  • ½ tsp. salt

Method

Put the pork in a pan, add enough water to barely cover it, simmer for 45 minutes, drain and cool. Simmer the figs in the ale for 5 minutes, cool, drain, and chop.

Meanwhile, sift the flour into a bowl, add the sugar, mix in 3 beaten eggs and knead to form a stiff dough. Take approximately two-thirds of the pastry and roll out. Cut a circle in the pastry, measuring approximately 24 cm/9 ½ inches. Build up a wall in pastry case of approx. 3–4 cm/1 inch, supporting it externally if possible.

Using a pestle and mortar, or the back of a wooden spoon, grind the pork, figs, pepper, salt, and saffron together, adding 2 beaten eggs to soften the mixture, and working it until it resembles a paste.

Put this paste into the pastry case. Roll out the remaining pastry, and shape to form a lid. Beat the third egg, brush some of it onto the edges of the pastry case, place the lid on top and pinch the edges together in order to seal it.

Make 8 cuts through the lid, almost to the edges, then fold each point back, bringing the tip forward again, to form the “flame”. Roll some of the remaining dough into small balls, placing one at the tip of each of these 8 flames. Brush the flames and small pastry balls with beaten egg.

Bake at 180⁰C/350⁰F/gas mark 4 for 40 minutes.

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Author:

Maeve L'Estrange: Maeve L’Estrange is a culinary archaeologist, studying for a PhD in experimental archaeology in UCD. Since no medieval Irish recipes survive, she tries to piece together what may have been eaten by examining the fauna and flora remains from excavation reports and combining these with spices and other foodstuff referred to in primary documents of the period.

Reader responses

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Conan Doyle
at 5 June at 21:34

Sugar, in a 14th Century recipe? I doubt it! As far as I know, sugar wasn't imported into Britain or Ireland until the 16th Century at the earliest! If you have archaebotanical evidence to the contrary I would absolutely Love to hear it! I also find the notion of 3 whole eggs in less than a pound of flour rather flamboyant for a supposedly "medieval" recipe, but perhaps my focus on earlier (9-11th) centuries has given me a more austere vision of what life was like.

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