Umble Pie

A most appropriate (but hopefully not prophetic!) first recipe on is the Umble Pie. 

The History bit…

In the 14th Century, the English adopted the Middle French word nombles meaning the offal  (heart, liver, kidneys, and various small pieces of the entrails) of an animal, such as a deer, a hog, or a sheep. Over time, this became corrupted to umbles and was typically used to refer to Venison offal (heart, kidneys and lung). Servants and huntsmen working for the gentry in the Late Middle Ages through to the Victorian Era would often be given the offal of any deer killed, in token appreciation as it were, for their part in a successful hunt; the pies made from these umbles would feed the workers’ families.

To eat umble pie was literally to ‘know your place’ as you were eating the entrails of the beast whilst (no doubt at a much grander table) your master sat down to a juicy, thick cut of choice loin. The meaning of the idiom ‘to eat humble pie’ thus has its origins in this sense of knowing your place and acknowledging your betters. The word humble, meaning lowly or modest, has different origins: it derives from the Latin word humilis meaning literally ‘low’ or ‘on the ground’. So to properly understand the phrase ‘to eat humble pie’ you have to see how both the umble and humble have converged to form a greater sense of meaning.

The Recipe…

Today’s recipe is adapted from The Accomplisht Cook of the Art & Mystery of Cookery by Robert May, which was published in 1660. May wrote what some consider the first ‘modern’ cookbook; it was certainly the first one published with illustrations!

The frontispiece to the 1695 edition
The frontispiece to the 1695 edition

Lay minced beef-suet in the bottom of the pie, or slices of interlarded bacon, and the umbles cut as big as small dice, with some bacon cut in the same form, and seasoned with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, fill your pyes with it, and slices of bacon and butter, close it up and bake it, and liquor it with claret, butter, and stripped tyme.

Figgy Pudding’s version…

For the pastry:

200g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
100g butter  (cut into small, rough cubes)
large pinch of saffron
1 egg yolk
cold water (about half a mug of cold water will be needed)

For the filling:

6 strips of streaky bacon 
100g bacon lardons
200g venison offal  (kidneys, liver & sweetbreads work best; chopped & boiled for around 20 minutes until tender, then cooled)
1/4 tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
100g butter
100ml red wine
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Boil the offal for 20 minutes and then leave to cool for 40 minutes. At the same time as you begin boiling the offal, If you’re using saffron to give your pastry a warm golden-hue, steep the saffron in a tablespoon of hot water for 30 minutes or so. By the time you come to use the water, it should have completely cooled.
Sift flour and salt into a large bowl; a metal bowl works best as it keeps the pastry cool. Put the cubes of butter into the flour, and with your fingers, rub the butter into the flour.  Keep rubbing until the mixture has the texture of fine, small breadcrumbs. Drop the egg yolk into a well and add 2 tablespoons of cold water and the (now-cooled) saffron water. Mix with a butter knife. Mix everything together, adding more cold water if necessary and keep mixing until a ball of pastry is easily formed.  Wrap the pastry in cling film and put in the fridge for around 30 minutes.
 Roll 2/3 of the pastry out until it is thin enough to cover the base and sides of the pie dish. Then line the dish with the pastry and arrange 3 bacon rashers one way and make a criss-cross pattern by laying the other 3 slices in the opposite direction. Put the pie funnel in the centre of the pie and around this put the cooled, cooked offal and the bacon lardons. Add the pepper, salt & nutmeg. Roll out the remaining pastry and use to cover the pie. Crimp the edges closed, using a little water to join the pie lid to the edges. You can use any leftover pastry to make leaves or more intricate designs! Brush the top of your pastry with a little milk or cream, just before placing in the oven.
Bake in  an oven at 180°C for 40 minutes. While the pie is cooking In the meantime, mix the wine, butter and thyme leaves in a saucepan. Heat until the butter melts then bring to a slow boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook down for about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened.
When you remove the pie from the oven pour in the wine sauce (if you have a pie funnel that allows this to be poured into the pie – even better! Serve hot with peas or other green veg.
Fresh from the oven...

Fresh from the oven…


The Results…

If you like liver, this won’t disappoint (but does anyone really like liver these days?). The liver and kidneys give a lovely flavour to the bacon and those juices seep into the pastry below. I think it would be better in future if the liver, kidney and lardons were all the same size, cut up very small, so that the flavours mix together far better. If all three meats placed within the pie resembled a large mince, I think the outcome could be quite delicious.

See the video for pictures and a video showing how I cooked it at home:

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