The Pie of Destiny

In a world of mass-produced pastry trash, one woman would rise up and fight on behalf of all pie-kind. She alone would have the strength to wield THE PIE OF DESTINY!

At WCCS, I participated in a lamb “breaking” class — cutting a lamb into primals. It was incredibly interesting. I’ve broken a pig before, but not a sheep; the anatomy is basically the same, but I always want more practice. During the same class, we also slaughtered two roosters. The lamb had been slaughtered the night before. I helped pluck the roosters and watched the gutting process. It was all incredibly interesting!

I took one of the roosters and some of the lamb meat. Later in the day, I had a coffin from the class I taught, and I decided, of course, to fill that coffin with meat. But that wasn’t quite twee enough for me, so I gathered wild herbs and greens from the site. I ended up making a pie with meat from animals slaughtered on site and plants found on site and a crust made on site — it felt like the official unofficial symposium pie.

Photo by Wulfric. The pie is topless by this point, which is an accurate metaphor for the evening.

Directions for the pastry can be found in my pie crust class handout, linked in the previous post.

Here’s how I did the filling: First, I chopped some fatty lamb meat very small, and mixed it with salt and some very finely minced mint. Then I blanched a mix of nettles, redwood sorrel, fiddleheads, and lemon balm, chopped them finely, and mixed them with the lamb. I packed this into the bottom of the pastry. Then, I removed the breast meat from the rooster and put that on top of the seasoned lamb. Finally, I jointed the rooster and put its legs and wings above the rest of the meat and then put the coffin lid on top.

I baked this pie a looooonnnnng time — probably 4-5 hours, all told! — at 325°F. This meant that the meat got wonderfully tender, with the coffin acting just like a baking dish. To serve, I removed the top crust and let people dig in. The top crust was actually pretty tasty, even though I made the pastry thick. I would have been interested to taste the side/bottom crust, as a lot of fat and juice from the lamb had soaked into it; however, I was trying to keep things relatively tidy, and it seemed easier to just scoop out filling. I personally thought the lamb and rooster were delicious; I liked the flavor profile, and the meat was just so tender and flavorful. The rooster was what chicken wants to taste like.

I felt like this was a “bucket list” pie — making food from animals killed less than 24 hours before hand and plants I gathered. This pie made me really happy.

Photo by Wulfric, whimsy by Eulalia



How to Make Crustardes of Flessh (finally!)

At long last, here is a complete description of how I made Crustardes of Flessh for KASC back in March, including recipes and quantities. Enjoy!

This is the finished pie that I served my judges on Saturday. The one I had for Sunday looked even better, but I didn't get pictures of it.
This is the finished pie that I served my judges on Saturday. The one I had for Sunday looked even better, but I didn’t get pictures of it.

Continue reading “How to Make Crustardes of Flessh (finally!)”

Medieval Cooking is Complex: A Complete Recipe Annotation

During the process of creating my pie for KASC, I had to not only do a lot of test cooking, but I also had to do a ton of close reading. Reading a medieval recipe is a complex and nuanced endeavor. Here is an example of my process of interpreting a recipe.

Continue reading “Medieval Cooking is Complex: A Complete Recipe Annotation”

Watch my KAS final presentation

If you missed seeing me present my pie entry on Sunday, now you can play along at home thanks to the video by Russ Gilman-Hunt:

Part 1

Part 2

During the Q&A portion I explained more about some of my recreation choices (such as how I chose the spices I used), about pie crusts generally, and where I hope to take this project in the future. Watching this now, I see soooooo much detail I could have added. I felt so constrained by the time limit, which was frustrating. I do wish I had talked more about my process; I think I didn’t give myself enough credit for how much work went into mastering making this one particular pie. But overall I felt incredibly good about my presentation, and I even (shockingly!) don’t hate watching this on film.

And if you want to hear everything I have to say on the subjects of medieval pie, 14th century English cooking, the intersection of food and social class, and how to choose ingredients that are as authentic as possible, clearly the only answer is to take a class from me at an event 🙂

My Kingdom Arts and Sciences documentation

Photo by Morgan Donner
Photo by Morgan Donner
PDF copies of my research paper and documentation for my two projects are up in the files section. Now you too can experience the thrill of reading 64 pages about medieval pies, or the wonder of graphs that help us interpret the lives of medieval women, or the frisson of fear of knowing that I have a lot of toxic pigments in my garage right now.

Here are the abstracts from each of these, to get you a little excited:

Early 16th century French miniature: For this entry I aimed to replicate one of the full-page miniatures found in an illuminated manuscript originally commissioned for a Dominican cloister in Poissy, France around 1510. This work was based in large part on my close study of the manuscript itself and my analysis of the painting techniques used within it. I supplemented this with research into similar manuscripts from the same time period and place, especially ones which are incomplete (which give clues to the techniques used to produce their illuminations). My main interest in completing this project was to practice using more historical materials and techniques in my scribal work. I made my own ink and paints and documented the processes I used for each. The finished painting was completed on parchment using paints I made from period pigments or modern chemically similar substitutes.

Late 14th century pie: For this entry I prepared a meat pie based on a recipe from Forme of Cury, a culinary manuscript attributed to Richard II’s master cooks and believed to have been compiled around 1390. The pie I chose to recreate is representative of trends in foods consumed by high-status individuals in England during the high medieval and late medieval periods. Building on research I did for a pie crust project presented last year, the crust was prepared using stone ground and sieved flour from heirloom rivet and bread wheat grown in mixed fields in England. The filling contains three different types of birds: squab, chicken, and quail (as a stand-in for passerine songbirds, which are largely illegal to kill in the US), as well as eggs, currants, and spices. The consumption of birds was a sign of wealth during this time period, so it is fitting that a royal pie contain multiple types of desirable (and expensive) birds. The other filling ingredients would have been imported to England, adding considerably to their cost. This is also a very labor intensive food; multiple steps and some specialized techniques are required to produce this pie, which is a further indication of the social context in which this pie would have existed.

Women’s Work: Through an examination of archived medieval documents, this paper presents evidence for women in guilds and trades in York during the reigns of Edward I through III. I examined digital transcriptions of primary source documents, including the York Register of Freemen and the Ebor Cause Papers, extracting data about female names and occupations. By analyzing these data, I was able to compare my findings to those of other researchers who have written about women as workers in other areas of medieval Europe. Overall, I found that the situation for women in York was consistent with that for women in other medieval European cities: while women did participate (sometimes significantly) in wage-work, women’s participation was typically limited to certain types of jobs in certain industries, and women rarely achieved full guild membership.

Again, to read the full papers, hop over to files.