A ‘Christmas Standing Pie’ is called this because these pies are always made with a hand-raised, self-supporting pastry crust, and were once very popular at Christmas. However, another explanation given is that these pies are eaten cold, and were left to mature, hence they ‘stand’ around waiting to be eaten. Although ‘Standing Pies’ go back hundreds of years, with various recipes from the 1700s, this particular version is from the 1800s, and is made with lamb.
The recipe comes from Cumbria (the Lake District). The recipe makes 4 smaller pies, but if you would like to take inspiration from the description below you could make it as one large pie …
Descriptions of Christmas Standing Pies are truly enlightening and inspiring. From, ‘Lady’s Magazine’, published in 1843: “The host and hostess of an hotel in Whitby, have provided a Christmas standing pie—for their friends, and those commercials, who may be destined to spend their festive season under their hospitable roof—of the following prodigious dimensions and contents:—
“It is oval shaped, beautifully illustrated with devices cut in pastry, emblematical of the season: measures 84 inches round— extreme length, 30 inches; width, 21 inches; and height of the crust, nine inches. It contains four stones of flour, and twelve pounds of butter and suet, a brace of pheasants, a brace of partridges, two geese, two rabbits, ten chickens, six ducks, two tongues, one turkey, and six pounds of ham”.
The ‘standing’ crust is shaped while the stiffened hot-water crust pastry is still warm, which makes it pliable enough to mould into a raised pie, which will also hold its shape as it cools, and also during the baking. It is a ‘strong’ pastry, fit to withstand the extra handling that it must receive during the shaping, and also the weight of the pie filling it must hold. In the 1857 recipe below it recommends ‘blind’ baking the pie case first.
‘Mrs. Hales New Cook Book’, By Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, Published 1857
Raised Pies may be made of any kind of flesh, fish, fruit, or poultry, if baked in a wall of paste instead of a baking-dish; but they are generally eaten cold, and made so large and savoury as to remain a long time before being consumed, for which reason they also bear the name of “standing pies”.
Making A Raised or Standing Pie
To raise a pie well requires considerable practice; it is best done by putting one hand in the middle of the crust, and keeping the other close on the outside till you have worked it into the round or oval shape required: the lid is then to be rolled out. An unpractised hand will, however, do better to roll the paste of a good thickness, and cut out a long piece for the circle of the pie, to be joined with egg as a hoop, then cut two pieces for the top and bottom: these are to be cemented with egg, the bottom being brought out and pinched over: fill the pie, and pinch on the lid: or, if the crust be for a standing pie, line it with paper, fill it with bran, and bake it and the lid separately.
Christmas Standing Pie Recipe
Makes 4 Christmas Standing Pies – however you could make it as one very large pie
For the hot water crust
- 900g Plain White Flour
- 140g Lard
- 140g Butter
- 200ml Water
- 200ml Milk
- 2 tsp Sea Salt
- 1 Egg beaten (to glaze the pie crusts)
For the pie filling
- 1 kg of minced lamb
- 100g of currants
- 100g sultanas
- 200g apples (peeled, cored and chopped small)
- 100g soft brown sugar (demerara)
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp mixed ground spice
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tbsp Rum
For The Pastry: Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, making a well in the centre. Place the water, milk, butter and lard into a saucepan, when the butter and lard have melted bring just to the boil, skim off any impurities from the top. Pour the hot mixture into the centre of the flour.
Working very quickly, mix with a wooden spoon. Then knead with hands to produce a smooth but stiff dough – add more flour if it is a little sticky. Cover and leave to cool for 30 minutes. This pastry must be used whilst still room-temperature, otherwise it will become brittle and hard to mould.
For The Pie Filling: If using lamb or mutton steaks chop them up very small. Peel, core and chop the apples up small. In a large mixing bowl add all the pie filling and mix thoroughly so that there are no clumps.
Making The Christmas Standing Pie
Keep the part of the pastry not being worked on covered to prevent it cooling and hardening before use. Care must be taken during the shaping so that cracks do not appear in the pastry through which the liquid from the pie filling can escape.
We are going to make 4 pies so divide the pastry into 4 equal bits. Take one of the 4 pastry pieces and tear off a third and put it covered out of the way (this is for the pie crust top or pie lid). Make the pastry into a ball and place it on the floured counter. Using the palm of your hand push down on the ball of pastry to flatten it into a thick circle about 10cm across.
Using your thumbs and fore-fingers pull up the edges of the disc to around 4cm high, leaving the base of the crust around 6cm. This can be in a round or an oval shape and the walls of the pie can be straight up or in at an angle (these are hand made pies so no two are going to be exactly the same).
There is a balance to hand-raising a pie crust, the more you work the pastry, the stiffer the pastry becomes, so we need to work quickly, but the harder the pastry gets the easier it is to shape.
Preheat the oven to 200C
When you are happy with the shapes of the pies put them on a greased flat oven tray and add in the pie filling. Make a ‘lid’ for the pie by using the palm of your hand to flatten out the remaining pastry into four lids to around 1cm thick; moisten the edges of the cases with egg wash and seal lid and base together at the top by crimping them together with your fingers.
When the lids are on and sealed the pies are far more stable and you can then use your hands to go around the pies making a much more round shape etc. cleaning the look of the pie up. Add any pastry leaf decorations etc with the remaining pastry. Finally egg wash the outside and the top of the pie case with the remaining beaten egg yolk.
Cut a star shape into the centre of the lids to form a vent, lifting up the points. Bake at 200C for 10 minutes, then turn down the oven to 180C for 60 minutes. Tip – check the pies occasionally; if they are browning too fast, (you want a rich golden colour) cover them loosely with foil. Ten minutes before the end pull the pies out, egg wash the case again and put back in the oven to finish off. When baked remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Serve warm or cold