How to Make a Pigeon Pie
Friday 27 July 2012
Authors tend to like research as it takes them away from the much more onerous task of writing. I particularly enjoy research that requires my having to eat something. There’s a chapter in my first novel, The Matchmaker of Périgord, in which a couple polish off a five-course truffle menu at the Auberge de la Truffe in Sorges, south west France. I decided it was absolutely impossible to write the scene without having tasted it.
Convinced that the calories wouldn’t count as it was all in the line of duty, I pitched up at the restaurant in question, and valiantly stuffed down truffle consommé, truffled scrambled eggs served with a foie gras in truffle sauce, cod stuffed with slices of truffle, truffle en croute sliced with potato, and truffle ice cream. Never once did I falter, and my only regret was that I couldn’t eat again for three days.
Despite having just written a novel called The Pigeon Pie Mystery, I regret to say that I haven’t actually eaten one. I first came across them in a Victorian etiquette book advising what food to take on a picnic. Pigeon pie struck me as such a quaint notion I decided to set my mystery around one. I’ve had pigeon in a variety of other ways. In Egypt, where it’s an unofficial national dish, they stuff it with either rice or a toasted grain resembling cracked wheat.
At the Fentiman Arms, a wonderful pub near the Oval in London, it’s served in a salad with black pudding. And just this month, I had two breasts (they’re tiny) served with peas and pancetta at Donostia, the fabulous new Basque restaurant in Marylebone, also in London. I have never, however, seen pigeon pie on a menu.
For those of you who, like me, are now desperate for a bite, but who, unlike me, can cook, I have reproduced below the full recipe that Pooki follows in the novel. It’s taken from the first edition of the Pears Shilling Cyclopaedia, published in 1897. The handy household manual offers guidance on everything from slang terms for money (£500 was known as ‘a monkey’), to the correct number of leeches to treat a sprain (four or six, since you’re wondering).
The recipe suggests using the pigeons’ feet as a garnish after boiling and skinning them. However, you may very well struggle to find a slaughtered pigeon still in possession of its legs. According to my local butcher, the only birds that come complete with limbs these days are grouse.
As they cost £22 each, their feet are left on in order to distinguish them from the humble pigeon, which will set you back a much less eye-watering £3.50. Let me know how you get on. Bon appetit!
Make your own Pigeon Pie!
Pick, singe, draw, and wash as many pigeons as you require. Cut off the points of the wings, necks, and feet, and truss them as for stewing; put a little pepper and salt in the inside. Season the giblets and put them in the bottom of the pie-dish, with one slice of tender beef. Lay the pigeons neatly in the dish, with their breasts up, add black pepper and salt, and put in a pint of good stock. Boil three or four eggs very hard, take out the yolks, cut them in two, and put them in the dish amongst the pigeons, with a tablespoon of ketchup, one of Chili vinegar, and a glass of port wine. Make a paste of half a pound of butter and a pound of flour; egg the edge of the pie-dish, put a border of paste round it, lay the cover on it, and notch it round the edge. Cut a small bit out of the centre of the pie, put in a rose cut out of the paste, and arrange round it four of the pigeons’ feet. With a small knife, draw some leaves on the top of the pie, brush it over with egg, put it into a quick oven, and, when the paste is done, fold some paper and put over it. Open the over door, and let it stew for one hour longer.