Friends gathered in my Kitchen on a Sunday afternoon and I read a story about Pies with suprises hidden in them. We ate a Chicken and Leek Pie (no suprises) and my  guests gave me a recipe each. 

Below is the story I read to my friends and the recipes they gave in return can be found in the recipe section of the website under “Oh the Things You Can Find in a Pie!”.

Oh the Things You Can Find in a Pie!Birnbaum, C., Näher, C. and Grindell, N. (2013) Pies, pâtés, and pastries Secrets old and new of the Art of Cooking. Berlin: Sternberg Press.

From the Middle Ages through the Baroque period, pies and pastries were the crowning glory of any banquet, allowing food and spectacle to be combined on a high level, creating a total artwork with which to surprise and impress one’s guests. Entire theatrical allegories were created in this way, with courses as the acts and individual dishes as the scenes. And what could be better suited to such menus than the culinary chameleon par excellence, the ultimate in artificiality-the pie!

Entire castles, fortresses, and cathedrals would be erected on the table. There were exotic beasts, so true to life that they seemed to move. There were even hunting parties and naval battles. Beautiful naked boys peed rose water, and a crib with the baby Jesus was rolled in on a huge trolley.

Probably the most popular dishes of th`zis kind were the living pies. When their pastry was cut open, the assembled company would be baffled and amused by the dramatic appearance of brightly coloured birds, slithering eels, croaking frogs, or scantily clad beauties. In Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook, or the Art & Mystery of Cookery, published in London in 1685, we find instructions for a lavish banquet, including, as the finale of a preprandial fake-food extravaganza, and after much spectacular action including a battleship firing canons with gunpowder and a stag bleeding red wine from its arrow wound, a pair of pies: “Lifting first the lid off one pye, out skip some Frogs, which makes the Ladies to skip and shreek.” This offered the gentlemen present a marvelous opportunity for gallantry while the frogs hopped over the tables and under the ladies’ skirts. The lid is then removed from the second pie “whence come out the Birds, who by a natural instinct flying in the light, will put out the Candles.” No feast is complete without a few surprises! One amusing leftover from this period is Cornwall’s “stargazey pie” that contains whole herrings, their heads protruding through the pastry crust-as if trying to escape.

Around 1600, it is said to have been customary to hide dwarves in pies. At a banquet given by Charles I of England and his wife Henriette Marie, for example, the king asked for a piece of pie and when the crust was cut open-out leaped a heavily armed dwarf! And the dwarf danced so beautifully and jumped about so gracefully over the many dishes spread out on the table that the delighted queen immediately made him her pageboy. Or as Johannes Praetorius recounts: “At the banquet given by Duke Wilhelm of Bavaria and Miss Renate of Lorraine in February 1568 the spectacular dishes included a pie inside which was hidden a dwarf belonging to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, in shining armor with a ceremonial flag, a man no taller than three spans. When the pie was placed on the royal table and opened, the dwarf jumped out and ran around on the table, singing songs and politely shaking hands with the royal persons present. Such pies contained as many as forty dishes. One of the most spectacular pies in Western history is alleged to have been served in Lille in 1453. This pie contained a twenty-eight-piece orchestra, and in this fantastic creation, a whole opera was performed! (Of course, neither orchestras nor dwarves were actually baked in such pies.)

The publication below was made after the meal. The stories that were read to guests wrap a series of postcards with recipes the guests gave on 
Chicken and Leek Pie

Sides of Peas and Cabbage


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