Elizabethan Food - A Great English Pie

Elizabethan food was often highly spiced. Spices had only recently been introduced to England, and were a great novelty. They began to feature in many dishes eaten by the wealthy. Nutmeg, mace, cloves, and pepper were just some of the spices that featured in the food of Elizabethan England – often combined in unusual ways with fruit and meat.

Great British Food

Strictly authentic Elizabethan food would seem rather strange to our tastes, but the principles can easily be adapted for the modern palate, as the authors of Canteen's Great British Food (Ebury Press, £16.99) demonstrate with this wonderfully Shakespearean recipe. Inspired by the spices, fruit, nuts and game of Elizabethan food they have created this Duck, Chestnut and Prune Pie. It would be ideal served hot for Christmas dinner or a special occasion, and is also great eaten cold. The recipe appears with permission.

Duck, Chestnut and Prune Pie – Recipe

Ingredients – Serves 6

For the pie:

3 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

100g carrots, diced

100g celery, diced

100g celeriac, diced

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

250ml pale ale

250ml meat stock (see below)

20 fresh sage leaves, chopped

big pinch of ground mace

big pinch of ground allspice

500g skinless duck leg meat, cut in chunks

200g leeks, diced

80g peeled cooked chestnuts, chopped

50g stoned prunes, chopped

2 tbsp cornflour

salt and black pepper

To finish:

700g puff pastry

1 egg, beaten

For the meat stock:

Bones from roast meats

Parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary stalks

Onion, leek, carrots and celery peelings and trimmings

20 black peppercorns

6 bay leaves

Any juices and scrapings from roasts


To make the meat stock:

Place everything in a big pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Turn down to the lowest heat possible and skim off any fat with a ladle. Simmer for 2-3 hours.

Pour the liquid through a fine strainer set in a bowl. Discard the bones, vegetables and flavourings. Pour the stock back into the pot and bring to the boil. Reduce by half of until you have a good strong and meaty-tasting stock.

To make the duck, chestnut and prune pie:

Heat up the oil in a big saucepan. Add the onion, carrots, celery and celeriac and sweat for 10–15 minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ale, stock, sage, mace, allspice and duck leg meat plus some salt and pepper. Cover and cook on a low heat for 1–1½ hours until the meat is very tender.

Add the leeks, chestnuts and prunes. Cook for 2 minutes. Mix the cornflour with a little water, then add to the pan. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Check the seasoning. Allow to cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Butter the inside of a 28-30cm oval pie dish that is at least 8cm deep.

Roll out the pastry on a well-floured board to a thickness of 3mm. Cut out an oval piece of pastry to line the dish. The pastry needs to be long and wide enough to cover the bottom and sides of the dish, with some extra for overhang. Place in the dish, leaving the edges hanging over the sides.

Brush the overhang with a little beaten egg. Fill with the cold pie filling. Cut a piece of pastry for the lid – this should be slightly larger than the dish – and lay it over the filling. Dip your fingers in flour and pinch the edges of the lid to the edges of the pastry lining the dish, to seal them together. Trim off excess pastry with a knife.

Cut three or four 1-cm slits in the lid, to allow steam to escape during baking. Brush the lid with beaten egg to glaze. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges and through the slits in the lid. Serve hot.

As you can see, Elizabethan food can easily be adapted to today's culinary tastes.

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