A brief history of the humble pork pie

Ah, pork pies, my first and only true love. I have so many fond memories of pork pies as, not unlike a bad smell, they seem to have followed me through life. I remember every family holiday would end with us going to a small cutesy village where they sold, and I’m not exaggerating here, pork pies bigger than my head. I would insist to my mum that I could definitely manage the whole thing, but then, alas, like many times in my life, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I ended up on a sort of pie-eating mission as I was given the task of eating up the pork pie before it went off, a task which, I don’t mind saying, was rather enjoyable.

Now, I think about pork pies pretty regularly, but for the average pie-eating joe, I imagine that you may be wondering why I have chosen to write this article now; what is it about this week that made me leap towards my laptop with the veritable vigour of a woman with a pork pie filled mind. To you, I say, sit down, my friend, lean in close, and enjoy as I introduce you to the best week in the calendar, British pie week. First established in 2007, British Pie Week is celebrated every year during the first week of March. It was originally created as part of a marketing campaign, but since then, it has taken off and has become a popular celebration in restaurants, pubs, and food suppliers across the UK. To help mark this special occasion, in this article, I am going to talk you through the history of the pork pie and share a traditional recipe for a delicious hand-raised pork pie. You might be thinking, if this is pie week, why are you specifically looking at pork pies? To answer that question, I would simply say, because I say so and, sadly for you, I’m in charge here, so let’s get started.

Arguably the first recorded pork pie appears in the medieval manuscript, The Forme of Cury, published around 1390 by royal cooks in the court of Richard II. I say arguably here because, although this pie certainly contained ground pork and had a pastry shell, it also contained other ingredients such as cheese, eggs, and saffron which make me wonder if this was more of a pork quiche than a pork pie. Despite this, we can certainly see the basic structure of the pork pie here, which I’m sure shook the very foundation of the earth, causing all mankind to stop and appreciate this pork pie quiche concoction in all its glory.

Later, published in Dorothy Hartley’s 1954 book Food in England, some historians argue we see the true beginning of the pork pie narrative with the 14th-century recipe for ‘Pig Pye’. Like our present-day version, this pork pie recipe calls for seasoned pork in a pastry case and could be enjoyed hot or cold, which sounds fairly familiar. However, this pie suggests the use of currents, which would indicate that perhaps we are still not quite there in the evolution of our present-day pork pie.

Now, once we get to the eighteenth century, we start to see clear signs of our beloved pork pie taking its modern-day form with the popularity of the Melton Mowbray pork pie. Named after a town in Leicestershire, this pork pie allegedly gained its popularity first among fox hunters and then grew, dominating the local market and being sold in bakeries all around the town. The main distinction of a Melton pie is that it is made with a hand-formed crust and baked free-standing, which produces a bowed side rather than the supermarket straight sides you get from moulds. These charming features and its famously delicious flavour make this pie incredibly popular to this day, to the point that the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association have protection under the EU, meaning that only pies made within a designated zone around Melton and using the traditional recipe are allowed to carry the name on their packaging.

The British passion for pies is clearly coursing through our veins, as demonstrated by this ode to the Melton pie, published in 1961 in Eating and Drinking- An Anthology for Epicures.

“A Melton Mowbray Pork-pie

Strange pie that is almost a passion!

O passion immoral for pie!

Unknown are the ways that they fashion

Unknown and unseen of the eye.

The pie that is marbeled and mottled,

The pie that digests with a sigh:

For all is not Bass that is bottled,

And all is not pork that is pie.”

– Richard Le Gallienne (a man after my own heart)

To celebrate Richard the Melton enthusiast and all things pie, I am going to share with you a recipe for traditional hand-raised pork pies from the Spruce Eats. This recipe is certainly time-consuming, taking over 5 hours to make, but I truly think if, like me, you enjoy these little slices of history, it will certainly be worth it.

Traditional Hand-Raised Pork Pie

Makes 4 individual pies.


For the Hot Water Pastry:

  • 200ml water
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 75g lard
  • 450g all-purpose flour, plus extra for the work surface
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1tsp vegetable oil

For the Pie Filling:

  • 400g ground pork shoulder
  • 100g belly pork, minced
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1/2tsp black pepper
  • 1/2tsp ground mace
  • 1/2tsp grated nutmeg

For the Egg Wash:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1tsp water
  • 1 pinch of salt

For the Jelly:

  • 3 gelatine leaves
  • 1 cup chicken stock, warmed
  • Salt, to taste
  • Ground white pepper, to taste


Make the Hot Water Pastry:

  1. Put the water, butter, and lard into a saucepan and gently heat until melted. Bring to a low boil.
  2. Put the flour, salt, and egg in a large heatproof bowl. Blend together with a knife.
  3. Add the hot butter-lard-water mixture and combine thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
  4. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough becomes smooth and shiny.
  5. Take your small jam jars, invert them, and brush the outside and bottom with a thin layer of vegetable oil.
  6. Take 2/3 of the pastry and roll out to ¼-inch thickness (keep the remaining 1/3 of pastry wrapped in plastic).
  7. Cut a 6-inch circle and lay it centred over the jam jar bottom, and gently ease it up the side of the jar. Be careful not to stretch the pastry too thin. Your pastry should be even all over and without any holes or tears. If the pastry does tear, simply remould using your fingers. Hot water pastry is very forgiving.
  8. Cover the pastry with a strip of parchment paper cut to the depth of the pastry lining the jar. Tie the parchment kitchen twine to secure. Trim the top edge to create a neat edge. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill and firm up.

Create the Pork Pie Filling:

  1. Position a rack in the centre of the oven and heat to 325 F/ 160 C/ Gas 3.
  2. Place both types of meat in a bowl and season with the salt, pepper, mace, and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Carefully remove the pastry moulds from the jam jars (the dough will be very stiff).
  4. Pack the meat almost, but not completely, to the top of the pastry moulds.
  5. Cut lids to fit your pie from the remaining pastry roll.
  6. Put the lid on top and crimp to create a tight seal.
  7. Using a skewer or chopstick, pierce the centre of the lid to create a tiny air hole.
  8. Create your egg wash by beating together the egg, water, and the pinch of salt. Brush liberally, all over, with the egg wash.
  9. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until the temperature in the centre is 80C.
  10. Remove from the oven and egg wash again.

Make the Jelly:

  1. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 15 minutes.
  2. Squeeze the leaves and add to the warmed chicken stock.
  3. Leave to cool, then season with a little salt and white pepper.
  4. Pour the jelly into the centre of the pie through the tiny air hole (use a small funnel for accuracy).
  5. Leave in a cool place to set.

Featured Image: Terry Kearney on Flickr with Licence

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