According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word beatilles originally applied to small pieces of needlework embroidered (by nuns in convents, of course) with images of sacred subjects. At some point in time (the seventeenth century?), it came to refer to pies filled with such small blessed ingredients as ‘Cocks-combs, Goose-gibbets, Ghizzards, Livers, and other Appurtenances of Fowls’ (1706.)
It seems that pie-bakers and pie-consumers in the English-speaking world did not have a thorough knowledge of the Latin language however, and the process of folk etymology came into play. The word beatilles as it was spoken by pie enthusiasts became confused with the similar words with military references – and beatilles became battalia. It was a logical next step in the evolution of Battalia Pies that sometimes they were constructed in the shape of castles or other fortifications.
I give you a wonderful version of Battalia Pie from John Nott’s The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary: or, the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion (1723.) This is a fish pie of complex construction, complete with towers and battlements, and the small blessed objects include a variety of fish heads.
To Make a Battalia Pye of Fish.
Make a very large Pye, and cut with Battlements, garnish the Coffing with as many Towers as will contain your several sorts of Fish; dry your Coffin well, and wash it over on the inside with Yolks of Eggs, and flour it in the bottom; then having either broil’d or fry’d your Fish brown, place the Head of a Salmon, cut pretty large beyond the Gills, in the middle of your Pye, forc’d, and bak’d in an Oven: Set the Heads of your other Fish upon forced Meat, and place your several sorts of Fish one opposite to the other in their several Partitions, and pour all over your Fish, Cockles, Prawns, Oysters, and Periwinkles boil’d up in their proper Lairs,* and thicken’d with drawn Butter. Remember to lay your forced Heads over the Battlements.
*Lears = sauces (see yesterday’s post.)