Passion and Pigeon Pie

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They had a very fine day for Box Hill … Nothing was wanting but to be happy when they got there. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and every body had a burst of admiration on first arriving…”

Yet as fans of  Jane Austen’s Emma will know, this seemingly propitious day ends in tears, after our out-spoken heroine receives a stern dressing down from Mr Knightley. Somewhere between beginning and end, we can only hope that some serious picnicking went on.

By the time Emma was published in 1815, eating en plein air in a picturesque landscape was becoming an increasingly popular pastime, especially amongst those of a romantic disposition. But despite the outdoor setting, and possibilities for unchaperoned fun, Regency picnics remained rather formal affairs: a cold collation of dishes such as pigeon pie and cold lamb, followed by cheese and fruit, eaten at a trestle table with servants in attendance. It was only as the century progressed that picnickers took to sitting on rugs, helping themselves from the newly fashionable wicker hamper.

Cold Pigeon Pie (The Jane Austen Cookbook)

Serves 6

  • 12oz/350g puff pastry
  • 6 pigeons, plucked and gutted
  • salt and pepper 1 large carrot, thickly sliced;1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • spice bundle (some black peppercorns, allspice and juniper berries, 2 cloves) tied in a muslin bag
  • 4 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 4oz button mushrooms, quarted
  • 4 tbs unsalted butter
  • 6oz sliced cooked ham or gammon, cut into small strips
  • 8oz good steak, beaten and cut into small thin slices
  • seasoned flour for sprinkling
  • 4 hard-boiled egg yolks, quartered
    egg wash for glazing


Roll out the pastry to fit an inverted 1¾ pint pie dish with 1½ inches to spare all round. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Carefully separate the pigeon breasts from the carcases. Season the carcases and put them into a fairly large pan with the carrot, onion and spice bundle. Cover with water. Simmer for about 40 minutes, then strain the stock into a bowl and discard the bones, vegetables and spices.

Meanwhile sauté the shallots and mushrooms in about 2 tbsp of the butter until both are softened; use more butter if you need it. Add the ham or gammon. Sprinkle the steak with seasoned flour, then layer the steak, quartered hard-boiled egg yolks, shallots, mushrooms, ham and pigeon breasts in the pie dish with a pie funnel in the centre. Fill up the dish with the stock and leave to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 425°F/220°C/Gas mark 7.

Cut off a 1 inch/2.5cm strip around the edge of the pastry. Moisten the rim of the pie dish and fit on the strip, sealing the join. Moisten the strip lightly and fit on the pastry cover. Knock up or flute the edge if you wish. Cut some triangular slits in the crust to let steam escape, lift the flaps slightly, then brush the crust with egg wash.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F/180°C/Gas mark 4 and cook for about 1½ hours longer. Cover the pie with wetted greaseproof paper (or baking parchment) half-way through to prevent the pastry over-browning and hardening.

Recipe taken from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye, British Museum Press