Chicken Pye; or, Not the Strangest Chicken Pie I’ve Made For This Blog

Mrs Hindle is back from holiday! Did everyone behave themselves? Did you cook something odd, something delicious, something ancient, or a mixture of all three? Don’t hesitate to tell me all about it!

Today we’re off to Scotland. “A New and Easy Method of Cookery” was a nifty title for a book back in 1755, but now it’s just a thoroughly misleading name. The author was one Elizabeth Cleland, and apparently she, like many other women who wrote cookbooks in times gone by, ran a school for young ladies in Edinburgh. The school would have catered to students from an upper class background, and so it’s safe to assume that Cleland’s book gives us a fair measure of insight into what the gentry of Scotland ate in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Sir Walter Scott’s library holds a first edition of Cleland’s book, probably brought there by Scott’s mother who may well have been a student of Cleland’s.

I’m not going to go into more detail about Elizabeth Cleland or her book this time, because today’s recipe is quite extensive. I will point out an interesting side-note, though. I’ve mentioned before how many authors of cook books in the 18th and 19th centuries were unsqueamish about copying recipes from previous books.  Cleland borrowed freely from Eliza Smith’s “Compleat Housewife” and Hannah Glasse’s “Art of Cookery”. I was not, then, particularly surprised to find that the almond puffs I prepared for my previous blog entry had been copied verbatim from Elizabeth Cleland. And who knows, she may have copied them from somewhere else!

But now, it’s time to make chicken pye. Here’s what you need:

 Yes, all this.

That adds up to:

  • 400g mince meat
  • ca. 800g chicken breasts
  • artichoke hearts (I used tinned)
  • a lemon
  • a mess of eggs (two for meatballs, two for caudle, five or six for the pie)
  • salt, pepper, nutmeg, mace and cloves
  • fresh herbs
  • 1,4dl white wine
  • not pictured: 1,4 dl gravy, pie dough

Now, you actually have to start with making some “forc’d-meat balls”.

A tip on reading this: An “f” at the beginning of a syllable is actually an “s”, except when it’s not; and, as was common in 17th and 18th century English, Cleland capitalizes nouns in the German fashion, which makes me all tingly and excited for some reason.

Forced meat is a mixture of lean meat and fat, ground up into a smooth paste. Mince meat will do just fine. This is a pretty basic meatball recipe, and I was a bit surprised by the lack of onion. Onions has been a well-known ingredient in Europe for centuries and in my mind meatballs always have onions in them. But not so here. Instead, just season your mince to taste with salt, pepper, nutmeg, cloves and the zest of a lemon. Nutmeg and cloves can be a bit overpowering so go easy on those if you’re uncertain – I used about half a teaspoon of each. The instructions call for “sweet Herbs”, where I assume “sweet” to stand for “fresh”. All I had available was mint, but take what you can find, I’m sure it’s all good. Mint was nice. Mix in two eggs, roll into balls and fry.

Tasty little things.

The mixture was pretty loose so my meatballs were more square than round, but turns out they tasted fine, and with the interesting mixture of spices and lemon zest these meatballs could be straight out of a modern cooking magazine. The article would have a title like “Give traditional meatballs a Levantine twist with these exciting flavour combinations!”

I took the opportunity to make some terribly lumpy gravy from the frying juice, since gravy was required further down the road. And now, to the pye!

I’ve been trying to track down mace for a while, and I finally found some for this recipe. It’s not a commonly used spice in Finland. I kept reading online about how you can easily replace it with nutmeg, but now that I’ve got both side by side I’m going to respectfully disagree – mace and nutmeg are not interchangeable. So grab your chicken, everyone, and season it. I wasn’t brave enough to get a whole chicken and take it from there, so I just got some nice pre-cut chicken breasts. So far so good.

But now I got a bit confused. A pie, in my opinion, is when you have a pastry-lined dish which you fill with something and then you may or may not put a pastry lid on top before cooking. Turns out I had a narrow-minded opinion about pies, and there is such a thing as a top-crust pie which doesn’t have pastry lining the dish. And that’s what we’re making here, so take a deep dish and fill it with seasoned chicken, meatballs, the yolks of hard eggs (I fed the whites to my kids – they were delighted since they never want the yolks and I always force them to eat them) and artichoke hearts. And eclectic mix, but if Mrs Cleland says that’s what goes in her pye, then that’s what Mrs Hindle puts in the pye. Top it off with a few dollops of butter and a few spoonfuls of gravy.

Not the stuff I usually put in a pie.

Cover with a lid and cook. I was distracted and didn’t time my cooking very well, but I think a good 45 minutes in 200 degrees C. But wait! We’re not done yet! The last lines of the recipe tells us to make a caudle.

What the heck is a caudle and what’s it doing in our pye?

Well, dear readers, a caudle is apparently originally a warm thickened drink, alcoholic in nature and usually sweet. The first recipes are for a wine-based drink, but later on it also gets made with ale. Similar to eggnog, I suppose, and now I will make a note to myself to look up a recipe and make it as a drink some time.

In this recipe, though, the caudle is not for drinking but for pouring into your pye. These instructions are found elsewhere in Cleland’s book:


A gill is about 1,4 dl. Equal parts gravy and white wine heated up get thickened with two egg yolks and seasoned with nutmeg and sugar. To thicken a warm sauce with egg, whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl, take a bit of the warm sauce and rapidly stir it into the eggs, repeat a few times until the eggs are warm, then pour them into the sauce and stir briskly again. I’d never done this before, but it worked nicely and I quickly got a thick, pale sauce. Lift the lid of the pie, pour the caudle in, lower the lid again and shake the dish so the caudle distributes evenly.

I will admit to some confusion again over the use of the word “sweet” here. “This caudle will serve for any sweet pye.” Fresh pie? Sugary pie? But these pies aren’t sugary. I don’t know. I remain confused.

In the end, after much preparation, I got this bowl full of chicken, meatballs, artichokes and whatnot, with a pastry lid. It’s not what I recognise as a pie, but it was delicious.

What I’m left wondering is how it’s supposed to be served. It was obviously impossible to cut slices from it, and we were left with no choice but to cut away a piece of the lid and then unceremoniously scoop out the filling and plop it onto a plate. Serving would have been even more difficult if, as in the original recipe, the chicken had been in larger pieces, bones and all.

Very tasty, but not something that would make a pretty picture and so all you get is a shot of the pie with the lid still intact.