As I was preparing to write up how I make Shepherd’s Pie my innate curiosity about the history of the dish got the better of me and I ended up spending a good 3 hours doing research. If you know me, you know I adore all things of a historical nature and this subject happened to fit right in with my current historical romance novel work-in-progress (aka wip). Okay, so apparently, there is a difference between Cottage and Shepherd’s Pie, but most peeps are using the names interchangeably.
British and/or Irish in origin, the term Cottage Pie came about long before Shepherd’s,1791 vs. 1870. Centuries before these–in medieval times–pyes were made using a pastry crust with whatever ingredients one had on hand to make pockets that held minced meat and vegetables as a way to stretch out foodstuffs to feed more mouths. I think this is ironic since I make my version for the very same reason. It’s quick and easy, and definitely fills the bellies of my crew.
Now, the difference between the two is, Cottage used minced beef while Shepherd’s used minced mutton (lamb). In the former, sliced potatoes were layered on top which made it look like the shingles on a cottage; the latter used mashed potatoes spread on top. In the original recipes found in very old cookbooks, the mashed potatoes also lined the bottom of the dish for a crust they called a coffyn. Both dishes were typically made using leftover meat and vegetables. I thought this one from 1747 was a doozy!
“To Make a very fine Sweet lamb or Veal Pye.
Season your Lamb with Salt, Pepper, Cloves, Mace and Nutmeg, all beat fine, to your Palate. Cut your Lamb, or Veal, into little Pieces, make a good Puff-paste Crust, lay it into your Dish, then lay in your Meat, strew on it some stoned Raisins and Currans clean washed, and some Sugar; then lay on it some Forced-meat Balls made sweet, and in the Summer some Artichoke-bottoms boiled, and scalded Grapes in the Winter. Boil Spanish Potatoes cut in Pieces, candied Citron, candied Orange, and Lemon-peel, and three or four large Blades of Mace; put Butter on the Top, close up your Pye, and bake it. Have ready against it comes out of the Oven a Caudle [thick drink] made thus: Take a Pint of White Wine, and mix in the Yolks of three Eggs, stir it well together over the Fire, one way, all the time till it is thick; then take it off, stir in Sugar enough to sweeten it, and squeeze in the Juice of a Lemon; pour it hot into your Pye, and close it up again.Send it hot to table.”
—The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, Hannah Glasse [London:1747]Chapter VIII, “Of Pies.”
There are many variations of ingredients found in different countries with their own unique names, no doubt handed down from their immigrant ancestors who originated in the British Isles.
2 lbs. very lean ground beef – OR shredded roast beef (that’s what I used in last time and the family said it was the absolute best I’d ever made)
2 medium onions, chopped
3-4 lbs. carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 whole bunch of celery, washed and thickly sliced (this batch had green beans instead of celery)
1 cup of water
Salt & pepper
4 Beef bullion cubes
1 Tbsp. + a couple of dashes Worcestershire Sauce
5 lbs. potatoes, made into mashed potatoes, or use instant
Brown the ground beef with the onion, carrots, celery, water, and bullion cubes in a large pan. Do not drain off any liquid.
Stir in the Worcestershire sauce then spread the mixture in a large baking dish.
I make a double batch of this recipe and use a large roasting pan. (My family loves the leftovers if there are any.)
Whip the 2 eggs into the prepared mashed potatoes, then spread them over the top of the beef mixture to the very edges of the baking dish to seal the contents under them. Use the back of a spoon or fork to make rough peaks on the top of the potatoes. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 1 hour, or until potatoes are nicely browned and crusted on top. Serve and enjoy!
Alternatively, you can add whatever vegetables you have on hand or strikes your fancy. However, I wouldn’t recommend asparagus! I tried that once and it fairly ruined my Cottage Pie.
Do you make a Cottage or Shepherd pie? How does yours differ from my version?
- 2 lbs. lean ground beef – OR shredded roast beef
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 3-4 lbs. carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
- 1 whole bunch of celery, washed and thickly sliced (this batch had green beans instead of celery)
- 1 cup of water
- Salt & pepper
- 4 Beef bullion cubes
- 1 Tbsp. + a couple of dashes Worcestershire Sauce
- 5 lbs. potatoes, made into mashed potatoes (plus milk or cream, butter, salt & pepper to taste)
- 2 eggs
- Salt & Pepper
- Peel and cut up potatoes, cover with water in a large pot, add approximately 1 tbsp. salt, bring to a boil then reduce to medium-low until tender. Drain well, add milk or cream, butter, salt & pepper to taste. Do not make them overly creamy.
- Meanwhile, brown the ground beef with the onion, carrots, celery, water, and bullion cubes in a large pan. Do not drain off any liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste (after the ground beef is fully cooked).
- Stir in the Worcestershire sauce then spread the mixture in a large baking dish.
- Whip the 2 eggs into the prepared mashed potatoes, then spread them over the top of the beef mixture to the very edges of the baking dish to seal the contents under them. Use the back of a spoon or fork to make rough peaks on the top of the potatoes.
- Bake at 350F for 1 hour, or until potatoes are nicely browned and crusted on top.