#445 To Make a Yorkshire Christmas Pye: Part 2

And so here we have my interpretation of Hannah Glasse’s Yorkshire Christmas Pye I made for the Channel 5 show Our Victorian Christmas (click here for part 1: history) Before I go on though, I found that the Christmas pye sequence had to be cut out for time – the show having to be cut down last minute to just one episode of an hour’s length. Boo!

I am still in the episode though: I also made Wassail and did a few to-camera bits about Victorian Christmas food. It’s on Channel 5, 9pm, 22 December (I’ll post a link when one becomes available).


1 turkey

1 goose

1 chicken

1 partridge

1 woodpigeon

2.5 kg salted butter

1 hare

A selection of oven-ready small game e.g. woodcock, grouse, teal, snipe

2 eggs

Spice mix:

15 g each ground mace, nutmeg and black pepper

8 g ground cloves

50 g salt

Hot water pastry. Approximately 15 batches of the following:

500 g plain flour

500 g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

350 g lard

350 ml boiling water

First make the hot water pastry: mix the flours and salt in a bowl, then place lard and boiling water in a saucepan, put on a low heat and let the lard melt – don’t let it boil as it might erupt, so be careful. As soon as the lard has melted, make a well in the centre and pour in the water and fat. Mix with a wooden spoon to make a dough. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, knead slightly. Cover and cool. This can be done a couple of days in advance – simply store in the fridge.

Using a very sharp knife and poultry shears bone the turkey, goose, chicken, partridge and woodpigeon. Begin by cutting out the birds’ spines with the shears, then cut away from the carcass. Don’t worry about keeping the drumstick or even thigh meat of the partridge or wood pigeon.

Lay out the birds cut side up, then make the spice mix by mixing together the ingredients and scatter it over the birds. Now wrap the partridge around the woodpigeon, so that the pigeon fills the cavity inside the partridge, making the partridge look whole. Wrap the chicken around the two birds and so on until you have what looks like a whole goose, albeit a somewhat gory one. Refrigerate.

Now make the base of the pie. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper. Knead together two or three batches of pastry and roll out, making sure you flour your worktop. The pastry needs to be 5 or 6 cm thick. To get dimensions, use the whole goose as a template: it needs to fit inside snugly and there needs to be a border wide enough to build up a 5 to 6 cm thick wall. I built up the sides by rolling thick bricks of pastry and glued them on by cross-hatching the pastry and brushing with water. Then I smoothed the pastry. I needed a final height of around 30 cm. If possible, refrigerate to firm up the pastry.

Sir the 5 birds in the pie, then joint the hare (ask your butcher to do this) and tuck in pieces, along with your small game: I used 2 grouse and 2 teal, but snipe and woodcock would also work. Scatter over any remaining spice mix and then pile on large cubes of salted butter, tucking it inside and between the game.

Roll a lid with more pastry, cut a large steam hole and place on top of the pie. Decorate with a pastry rose and leaves. Glaze with egg wash.

If you can allow the pastry to firm up in the fridge or somewhere cool. Preheat the oven to 230°C.

It needed two people to get the pie safely in the oven. It’s important to have a high heat at first, so the pastry can seal up. My pie started to collapse as the front and leak butter because the heat couldn’t get round. (I found out later that that was prevented by tying card or metal around the pie, rather like a corset, keeping things from oozing out.)

It took 8 hours to cook the meat inside to a safe temperature – a meat thermometer should read 74°C. The pastry will be very black by this point – remember it isn’t for eating, it is for protection.

Not looking very impressive is it? Hm

We let it cool for a little while, packed it up and drove to a local restaurant so we could place it their walk-in fridge. The next morning it was whisked away – not by coach or train, but by car.

#445 To Make a Yorkshire Christmas Pye. A recipe I really thought I would ever cook, and what an experience! In all it took me 5 days (on and off) to make the pie. When it started to collapse in the oven I thought all was lost, but when we took it out of the oven, I saw the side closest to the back of the oven was absolutely fine. I just wish I could have tried some of the contents: the poor old bits of game on the top got a bit blackened, but the 5 birds together looked well protected. I don’t know how it turned out, and I can’t seem to get a photo of the contents. I am going to attempt this again one day, but I shall use a different recipe. My score? It’ll have to be a ?/10!

If you like the blogs and podcast I produce, please consider treating me to a virtual coffee or pint, or even a £3 monthly subscription: follow this link for more information.

#445 To Make a Yorkshire Christmas Pye: Part 1

Oh my goodness! Here is a recipe in Jane Grigson’s book, English Food that I never expected to make because it’s so big, expensive and complex: Hannah Glasse’s Yorkshire Christmas Pye. These huge raised pyes were choc-full of meat, usually several species of poultry and game. They were very popular in the nineteenth century, but the first ever recipe appears in Hannah Glasse’s classic cookery book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, published in 1747. Here it is:

Jane Grigson simply transcribes the recipe, and her advice on its preparation is simple: don’t bother. Hannah’s rather grotesque sounding pye is present in the book to let us know something about the impressive pyes of our past. Instead she suggests making Hannah’s slightly less ostentatious Goose Pye.

The recipe requires 5 birds, deboned, heavily seasoned and stuffed inside the other in order of size, popped into a pastry case with pastry made with a bushel of flour (that’s around 27 kg). Any gaps are filled in with hare, small game birds and a huge amount of butter.

Every Christmas I look at this recipe and wonder how on earth I could make it, but this year I was asked, because I received an email from the folk at Channel 5 who enquired as to whether I would have a go at making a Yorkshire Christmas Pye for their show Our Victorian Christmas. Not only that, but they wanted me to make Hannah’s original recipe – what are the chances of that? The show is due to be broadcast on 22 December at 9 pm, or you can watch it on their streaming service afterwards (I’ll leave a link once its live). I also made some Wassail. Anyway, back to the pye…

The Foods of England website gives us a definition: ‘An extremely large, highly decorated, raised hot-water crust pye filled with a mixture of meats or game in jelly. A celebration pye. Repeatedly mentioned in 18th and 19th Century literature as an indication of good times and full bellies.’1

As we go into the Victorian era, the Yorkshire Christmas Pye becomes more refined, with forcemeat stuffing and gravy being introduced, they also became bigger and more ornately decorated.

If you look at the end of Hannah’s recipe, she says the pyes were actually meant as Christmas gifts to friends and family living in towns and cities. The get there, they would have to travel by coach, and later train, so you can see why huge amounts pastry were required: protection. These huge pyes took a long time to cook, and the pastry would end up being scorched, but its job was to keep in the meat inside well protected, sterile and appealingly moist. Here’s a description of Earl Grosvenor’s Christmas Pye as reported in the Stamford Mercury on 15 January 1808:

At Earl Grosvenor’s second dinner at Chester, as Mayor of that city, on Friday the 1st instant there was a large Christmas pie, which contained three geese, three turkies, seven hares, twelve partridges, a ham, and a leg of veal: the whole, when baked, weighed 154 lbs [70 kg].!2

This was not an isolated case: Queen Victoria had a Christmas Pye so large, it required four footmen to carry it into the dining room!

Queen Victoria’s Christmas pye

Pyes such as these were kept for Boxing Day, aka the Feast of Stephen. ‘The concept was to cut off the crust lid, chop up the cooked meat within [and] serve everyone’3 or the meat could be sliced and served with the jellied stock of the meat and spiced butter – delicious! In making a pye like Hannah’s, all one is doing is making a giant version of a classic potted meat or fish (e.g. #268 Potted Shrimps); a layer of meat cooked and sealed in butter – a delicious preservation method.

If you like the blogs and podcast I produce, please consider treating me to a virtual coffee or pint, or even a £3 monthly subscription: follow this link for more information.

Hannah’s recipe must have been a good one – it was heavily plagiarised: I found her recipe in John Farley’s classic The London Art of Cookery (1783) and even an 1882 edition of the Ohio Practical Farmer.4 Neither credit their source.

Hannah didn’t invent the pye though, in fact it seems to be of medieval origin. Raised pyes themselves go back to time where it was much easier and cheaper to form a tough pastry shell rather than purchasing some expensive earthenware in which to cook your meat and vegetables. These pyes appear in medieval manuscripts as ‘coffyns’. This may seem wasteful, but often the flour was stale or was made up of bran and grit, left behind after sifting ground wheat. But the practise of making pyes with a vast array of different meats seems to go back to at least the 14th century, when a special festive pye was made by the Salter’s Company as a gift to the City of London in 1394. It contained – amongst other things – pheasant, hare, capon, rabbit, kidneys, forcemeat, spices and mushrooms.5

So there we have it – a history of the Yorkshire Christmas Pye, but how did I go about making it I hear you ask? Well, I’ll publish the recipe – or my interpretation of it – in another post when the programme airs.


1.           Yorkshire Christmas Pie. The Foods of England Project http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/yorkshirepie.htm.

2.           Quote via Sanborn, V. Christmas Pye, Georgian Style, and other British Holiday Foods. Jane Austen’s World https://janeaustensworld.com/2020/12/08/christmas-pye-georgian-style-and-other-british-holiday-foods-by-vic-sanborn/ (2020).

3.           DeVito, C. A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons and Mistletoe. (Cider Mill Press, 2015).

4.           Ohio Practical Farmer, vol. 61, p.14 (1882).

5.           Shanahan, M. Christmas Food and Feasting: A History. (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2019).