Kerry Pies

Years ago when my mother-in-law, Myrtle Allen, began to collect old Irish recipes, this was one of the first to arouse her curiosity. Mutton pies, made in Kerry, were served at the famous Puck Fair in Killorglin in August, and taken up the hills when men were herding all day. Traditionally they were cooked in the bastible and reheated in mutton broth, then served in a deep plate with some of the broth over the top. It sounds strange, but the old people who remember them are adamant that they were delicious. Below is our version. The original hot-water crust pastry was made with mutton fat, but we have substituted butter for a really rich crust.

I’ve since discovered that these delicious pies were not just found in Killorglin, they also featured in Listowel. Mary Keane, wife of the late playwright John B. Keane, told me that the tradition of pie making in Listowel came about because the women wanted to go to the horse races, so would make ‘a blast of pies’ a few days before the races so as not to be deprived of their fun. I included Mary’s recipe in my book Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

Mutton Pies were also made on the Blasket Islands and Máire Ní Ghuithín writes of these pies in Bean an Oileáin (Women of the Islands):

‘We thought that there was no food in the world as good as them’.

There is a similarity between these pies and Cornish Pasties, it is possible that a link goes back to the 1800s when a community of Cornish miners and their families lived in a valley near Allihies in West Cork and worked the copper mines. These are the mines Daphne du Maurier wrote about in her book Hungry Hill.

Serves 6

  • 450g (1lb) boneless lamb or mutton (from the shoulder or leg – keep the bones for stock)
  • 285g (10oz) onions
  • 285g (10oz) carrots
  • 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) flour
  • 300ml (10fl oz/1 1/4 cups) mutton or lamb stock
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Pastry

  • 350g (12oz) white flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 175g (6oz/1 1/2 stick) butter, diced
  • 110ml (4fl oz/1/2 cup) water
  • 1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt, to glaze

2 round tins, 15cm (6 inch) in diameter and 3cm (1 1/4 inch) deep, or 1 round tin, 23cm (9 inch) in diameter and 3cm (1 1/4 inch) deep

Cut all the surplus fat off the meat, then cut the meat into small neat pieces about the size of a small sugar lump. Cook the scraps of fat in a hot, wide saucepan until the fat runs. Discard the pieces. Cut the vegetables into slightly smaller dice and toss them in the fat, leaving them to cook for 3–4 minutes. Remove the vegetables and toss the meat in the remaining fat over a high heat until the colour turns. Stir the flour into the meat. Cook gently for 2 minutes and blend in the stock gradually. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Return the vegetables to the pan with the parsley and thyme leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and leave to simmer. If using young lamb, 30 minutes will be sufficient; an older animal may take up to 1 hour. When the lamb is cooked, allow it to cool slightly.

Meanwhile make the pastry. Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Put the butter cubes into a saucepan with the water and bring to the boil. Pour the liquid all at once into the flour and mix together quickly; beat until smooth. At first the pastry will be too soft to handle, but it will become more workable as it cools. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry to 5mm (1/4 inch) thick and use to line the base of your tins.

Fill the pastry-lined tins with the slightly cooled meat mixture. Cut lids from the remaining pastry, brush the edges of the base with water and egg wash and put on the pastry lids, pinching them tightly together to seal. Roll out the trimmings to make pastry leaves or twirls to decorate the pie tops. Make a hole in the centre and brush the pastry carefully with egg wash.

Bake the pie or pies at 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for about 40 minutes.

Serve hot or cold.

Download the Kerry Pies recipe as PDF

Tags: , , , , ,