If you’re relocating to London, sure, there just might be enough cause for error and embarrassment as you try to get situated in a new country, but that’s not the kind of “humble pie” I’m talking about today. 🙂 You’re likely already familiar with the English nursery rhyme:
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
We were entertaining a friend visiting London from the US last night and decided to treat him to some traditional British pub cuisine, namely the meat pie. And, appropriately enough, we took him to the Blackbird pub in Earls Court! The Blackbird is our go-to if any guests (or ourselves) are hankerin’ for a meat pie, as they offer such a nice selection of them, and their pastry is exquisitely light and fluffy. They do offer a vegetarian version as well, in case Tim Burton’s film Sweeney Todd has you concerned as to the origin of the pie’s contents:
Fancy a pie from this dear lady? Want to know a little more about it first? Okay. Apparently, meat pies (“humble pies,” as we also know them) have been consumed in Britain for over six centuries, and I read that such food actually came to the Isles even earlier with the Romans, who used a flour and water casing sheerly for cooking the meat inside, not to be eaten itself. In medieval times, the pies took on a rectangular shape, so were called “coffins,” and they were stuffed with sweet fruits and spices along with the meat…the precursor to the enormous Yorkshire Christmas pie that I still cannot wrap my brain around, let alone my mouth (the famous recipe is here, for whenever you happen to have an extra turkey, goose, duck, partridge, and pigeon lying around and you’re wishing you just had one easy recipe that could use them all…hm, perhaps you’ll want to try a less ambitious mincemeat pie instead, another holiday favorite in the UK). Speaking of English nursery rhymes:
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said ‘What a good boy am I!’
By Victorian-era England, pies had become more savory, and today we commonly see them filled with steak and kidney, pork, chicken, and sometimes game fowl. These pies were essentially England’s first takeaway foods, the early form of cheap street meat:
Simple Simon met a pieman going to the fair;
Said Simple Simon to the pieman, “Let me taste your ware.”
Said the pieman to Simple Simon, “Show me first your penny.”
Said Simple Simon to the pieman, “Sir, I have not any!”
At home in the States, I guess the closest I saw to these meat pies were the “pot pies” often stuffed with chicken and gravy.
Throughout the UK, you can also find them in the related Cornish pasty form, which are very conducive to eating by hand (they were intentionally designed, in fact, to have the thick, crescent-shaped crust rolled around the edge for tin miners to hold onto with their dirty hands so they could eat the meaty pocket cleanly and discard the crust with the rubbish). You’re likely to find these pies or pasties sold at sporting venues much like we’d see hotdogs in the US!
I must say, prior to moving to London, I’d never been one for pot pies or just much meat in general, so it surprised me how much I enjoyed the British meat pie and continue to do so—so give it a go after your London relocation to get properly acquainted with local cuisine.