A pork pie is a meal fit for a king- as fans of pork pies, we should thank King Richard II’s kitchen for the first recorded recipe for a pork pie in 1390. Richard II became King aged 10 in 1377 after his brother Edward of Angoulême died when Richard was three- making him second in line to the throne after his father. Richard’s legacy has been shaped hugely by Shakespeare’s portrayal of the King in ‘Richard II’ which gives the lasting impression he was a cruel and irresponsible king however as a work of fiction, we must remember Shakespeare took many creative liberties.
Regardless of the history of Richard II (which is really interesting if you take a look- becoming the King of England at 10 years old leads to lots of interesting ups and downs- leading to his eventual downfall) in this blog we’re more interested in why his kitchen created a pork pie! Like many traditional British dishes, the origins of the pork pie comes from the intention of preserving meat. Differing to other methods of preserving i.e. salting, curing or air drying, it was instead simply a way to extend the time the meat could be eaten after the pig was slaughtered. During this period even the very poor had a pig in their garden for meat, and so it was a very accessible dish for everyone and ensured all the pig could be consumed in some way over a longer length of time, reducing waste. The hot water crust is made from boiling lard and salted water, tipping this into flour and after mixing and molding, filled with pie meat- once cooked it kept the meat fresher for longer and ensured that if it was being transported it stayed in good condition.
These days, we have modern machinery to ensure our pies are top quality and all uniform, however back then many were made molded around a jam jar or pie dolly (which if you’re hand making your own pies you might still use!) Once the pastry is the required height, it was removed and the casing filled with the pork and seasoning, finished with a pastry lid with a hole in. Centuries ago, clarified butter was poured into the hole to ensure the butter when solid protected the meat from the outside air which kept it fresh for much longer.
Today, we eat pork pies for less practical reasons and instead simply because they’re delicious; as Delia Smith said, “The thing I can’t resist is a pork pie. That’s my idea of a lovely treat.” Clarified butter isn’t still used, but since the meat shrinks as it cooks, to ensure the pie is still full and to add more flavour a rich stock setting into a jelly is usually used.
Personally, as many will agree, nothing will beat a proper Yorkshire pork pie. We began baking and brewing over 2 centuries ago in 1795 and ever since have been perfecting our pies to achieve the perfect pie.