In the days long before refrigeration, one way of keeping meat for a prolonged period was to bake it in a pie – a particular sort of pie that could be kept as long as “a twelvemonth” and was especially useful for provisioning long voyages and so on. It strikes horror into our hearts today, to think of a pie being kept without refrigeration for a year before being eaten, but it was an everyday practice for centuries, and most consumers presumably survived. One of the features of pies intended for long keeping was that they had an extremely thick, hard, rye-flour pastry shell which, if it was properly sealed and did not become damp or cracked, functioned as an air-tight container. The recipe below describes the process of making such a pie in some detail. It is from a book I have used as a source several times in the last week - Thomas Dawson’s A Booke of Cookerie. And the order of Meates to bee served to the Table … (1620.)
To make a pye to keep long
First perboyle your flesh and presse it, and when it is pressed, season it with Pepper and salt wile it is hot, then larde it, make your paste of Rie flower, it must be very thick or else it will not holde, wen it is seasoned and larded, lay it in your Pye, then cast on it before you close it a good deale of Cloves and Mace beaten small, and throw upon that a good deale of Butter, and so close it up, you must leave a hole in the top of the lid, and when it hath stood two houres in the Oven you must fill it as full of Vineger as you can, then stop the hole as close as you can with paste, and then set it into the Oven again, your Oven must be very hote as at first, and then your Pyes will keepe a great while, the longer you keepe them, the better they will bee: when they be taken out of the Oven and almost cold, you must shake them betweene your hands, and set them with the bottome upward, and when you set them into the Oven, take great heede that one pye touch not another by more then one hand bredth: Remember also to let them stand in the Oven after the Vineger be in two houres and more.