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Charter pie

"the 'Charter'. Was it sweet or savoury? Was it in fact food at all?"

Jane Grigson

It begins with this man - Parson Woodforde a Norfolk cleric of the eighteenth century. Well no, it's probably all down to Jane Grigson really. These days in pubs in England you can find the odd Charter pie, which from a very brief exploration seems to be just about any kind of meat pie at all - I even saw a vegetarian one. Completely enclosed or in a dish with a pastry crust as well. There seemed to be no standard that was even vaguely followed.

Why Parson Woodforde? Well cooks are interested in him - particularly those with a historical bent, because he kept a diary of what he ate, every day. On 13th July 1785 he wrote:

"We had for Dinner some Pyke and fried Soals, a nice Piece of boiled Beef, Ham and a Couple of Fowls, Peas and Beans, a green Goose roasted, Gooseberry Pies, Currant Tarts, the Charter, hung Beef scraped and ..."

Well probably like me the first thing you think when you see that is - all that food in one meal!!! And he doesn't even look very fat in that picture. Plus he's only a parson so how could he afford all of that? Who is 'we' one wonders? Did he dine with the Lord of the Manor?

Anyway the thing that bothered Jane Grigson was 'the Charter', which is situated tantalisingly after a couple of sweet dishes and some 'scraped' beef, (what is 'scraped Beef?) leading her to write those words at the top of the page. Apparently, she later discovered:

"on another occasion the Parson helped his niece Nancy to make the Charter, this time for a party at his brother's house in Somerset. They put the Charter into the cellar to cool, the dog got into the cellar, and the dog ate the Charter. This suggests something meaty, unless it was an especially greedy dog which guzzled anything it could get hold of." Jane Grigson

Well dogs will eat almost anything - at least our dogs would, so it could have been sweet - well so thinks Neil of Neil Cooks Grigson - me too. Mystified, Jane was delighted one day to discover in a small Victorian cookbook called Choice Recipes, a recipe for Cornish Charter Pie. The name of the author is a rather nic sounding name but she looks rather grim in the photograph below. However, she was apparently popular. She was actually a daughter of the Earl of Mexborough wherever that is but married Lieutenant-General Sir James Lindsay who spent some time, with his wife, in Canada - which explains my own mystery. The photograph below is now in the Ontario Art Gallery. He was the Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces in North America. Why Canada I wondered? That's a long way from Cornwall. Surely she was British. And she was, and she died in England in 1891.

But back to Jane Grigson. Having discovered this recipe she included it in both Good Things, and English Food. These days when you search for Charter Pie on the net just about all of the few search results - reference Jane Grigson, Parson Woodforde and Lady Sarah Lindsay. Nobody else has any other source, although the writer of The Old Foodie website has this to say about the name:

"Is the name a corruption of “charlet”, from which we get “charlotte”? The OED says charlet is “ A kind of custard containing milk, eggs, braysed pork, and seasoning, boiled to a curd” (which means the first source may not be so wrong after all), and this name probably derives from the old French word for minced meat. By the time “charlet” gets to be “charlotte” it is a thoroughly modern, and absolutely meat-free dessert." The Old Foodie

Apple charlotte and all that.

All very intriguing. The Cornish certainly don't seem to be making a big thing about it.

Those who have made it however, do seem to think it is worth making:

"Cornish Charter Pie. What a great pie! The ingredients made a thick creamy chicken soup that is delicious in itself and the chicken was wonderfully tender from being cooked in all that milk and cream. Much better than the last chicken pie from the book, which was insipid by comparison. This will be my staple recipe for chicken pie in the future (unless anyone has one that can beat it). 8.5/10." Neil Cooks Grigson

Fundamentally it's a chicken and leek pie, although in one version Jane only uses onions, and in the other she says a leek or some spring onions. The real thing about it though is the fact that it has milk and cream and vast quantities of parsley. Well a lot of parsley.

Which leads Diana Henry writing in The Telegraph to say"

"It’s the parsley that makes this different from other chicken pies." Diana Henry

An ingredient not a garnish.

Just one more thing from Neil Cooks Grigson

"This is perhaps a good point to mention the proper English way of serving up a pie like this. Using a knife, cut away the piece of pastry you would like to serve and place it on the side of the pie. Next, spoon out the filling onto the plate and perch the pastry on top of it. Do not go digging straight in there with your spoon messing up the pastry and getting all mixed up with the filling. This is a deadly sin at the Buttery residence and you will be thrown out should you attempt it."

Good advice. His photographs are not that great - I don't think I would be dumping a sort of salad on the side of the plate here - but he is always entertaining to read on anything Jane Grigson.

I guess, fundamentally, it's just a variation on the old Chicken and Leek pie - a version of which is shown here - rather more professionally - but I do like the idea of all that cream and all that parsley.

It was also, in a way, quite an enlightening trip around historical foodie books and how one reference can lead people down strange paths that lead to a renowned English cook, possibly reinventing a Victorian recipe. The real mystery is not Parson Woodforde, but where did Lady Sarah Lindsay find it, when the Cornish have obviously forgotten all about it?

Or does it have anything to do with Charterhouse School? Several classic English recipes are associated with public schools after all.

Questions for a rainy day.


After yesterday's possibly unkind comments about David's stuff on the kitchen bench he has been busily clearing it all on and off during the day. I feel bad now, but thank you ...

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