In the English town of Painswick in Gloucestershire, on the first Sunday after the nineteenth of September, a very ancient festival is held. Associated with this day is a special, rather confronting dish. The origins and meaning of this special dish are lost in the mists of antiquity, and its actual form appears to have morphed and mutated over the centuries. Nowadays, ‘Painswick Dog Pie’,(aka ‘Painswick Bun, or ‘Bow-Wow Cake’) does not contain dog meat, but merely a china dog in recognition of a longstanding local traditional tale.
The details of the story are disputed, but appear to relate to enmity between Painswick and the adjacent parish of Stroud. One version of the story has it that a Painswick man, having promised venison for some visitors from Stroud, on being unable to source the game, substituted with dog meat. Naturally, the deceit, when discovered, caused normal parish rivalry to escalate into name-calling and open hostility.
Whatever form it takes, the pie/cake/bun is enjoyed following the ceremony of ‘clypping’ or embracing the church, in celebration of the Nativity of the Virgin. The children of the parish of St. Mary, with flowers in their hair, join hands and form a ring around the church – which sounds like a wonderfully picturesque occasion.
I am unable to give you a recipe for this day’s special dish – as mentioned, there is no consensus as to the form (pie? cake? bun?) or the primary ingredient (dried fruit? almond meal? – certainly not actual dog flesh.) But I must give you a recipe with a Gloucester connection, must I not? Gloucestershire was famous in the past for its lampreys, for a traditional pudding called HegPeg Dump, and also for a wonderful breed of pig called the Gloucester Old Spot. Probably the county’s most famous food product however, it its cheese, and Gloucester cheese has always been a favourite for toasting.
To Toast Cheese.
Cut some double or single Gloucester cheese into small shavings, and put it with a bit of butter into a cheese-toaster; place it before the fire till the cheese dissolves, stirring it now and then. Serve with a slice of toasted bread, divided into four, and the crust pared off. It is generally eaten with mustard, salt, and pepper.
The Practice of Cookery: Adapted to the Business of Every Day Life (Edinburgh, 1830)
by Mrs. Dalgairns.