Sunday, December 23, 2012

Eat Humble Pie and be Merry!

Have you ever wondered how our ancestors in Elizabethan times spent their Christmas. If you have, then wonder no more. Eat, drink and be merry was their attitude towards Christmas. After the miserable years of Mary Tudor's reign, Elizabeth's love of culture and luxury was very welcome, and when she indulged in Christmas festivities so too did the rest of her subjects. Not everything was equal though. While the nobility enjoyed brawn and mustard, roast beef, goose and turkey, all accompanied by plum porridge, minced pies and a special Christmas beer, their servants ate Humble Pie.

While the grandest homes boasted peacocks and roasted swans in full plumage as a centrepiece for the table, their servants were boiling up discarded offal. That was after they had skinned the birds prior to roasting and then slipped them back into their feathers before serving. A spit roasted wild boar, complete with head, was another spectacular centrepiece.

The meal would also have been accompanied by tomatoes, potatoes, red peppers and pineapples as well as citrus fruit, quinces, melons and apricots: exotic foods that had been brought back from the New World and from Southern Europe. And as if that wasn't enough there were colourful sweetmeats including marchpane (marzipan), gingerbread and candied fruits as well as custards and tarts. Everything was washed down with mulled wine, syllabub or lambswool (a blend of hot cider, sherry or ale, spices and apples and heated until it had a white woolly head).

Servants, however, had to make do with ale and the aforementioned Humble Pie. This really is a pie, not just an attitude! It was made from the innards of a deer: the kidneys, intestines, brains, heart, or liver (the humbles), which were boiled in a stew along with suet, apples and currants and seasoned with salt, sugar and spices before being encased with pastry. So if you want a real Elizabethan Christmas, try the recipe below. On the other hand, you may prefer the peacock and the swan!

Merry Christmas!

This ancient recipe is from the historic Castle Howard in Yorkshire, England ( and was written down in 1734. It is the inspiration for the saying ‘to eat humble pie’ as only the peasants ate this pie, the better meat being saved for the wealthy . The wording and spellings are more or less as they were first written down.

Humble Pie

entrails of a deer -stomach: washed intestine, liver, kidneys, heart etc
beef suet to the same weight as the deer entrails
10 cloves
tsp mace
tsp nutmeg
tsp cinammon
pinch salt
4 pounds of currants
half a pound of candy'd orange, lemon and citron peel
half a pound of dates

How to make it

Parboil the Humbles of a Deer
Take all the Fat off them
Add the Beef Suet and mince it very small together
Season it with Cloves,Mace ,Nutmeg, and a little Cinammon and Salt
Put some Currants, Candy's and Dates, stoned and sliced
Fill your Pye and lid it
When baked put in some Sack and serve it (sack is fortified wine)