American Society For Legal History Culinary Union Shepherds Pie – What is the Authentic Dish and How do You Make It?

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Shepherds Pie – What is the Authentic Dish and How do You Make It?

When my sister-in-law and brother-in-law are in town, my husband and I like to take them out for dinner. We decided to go to the local golf club for some comfort food. My brother-in-law ordered Shepherds Pie, a historic dish made with lamb, vegetables, and mashed potatoes.

But this great lesson is not like history; that was for America. “How does it taste?” I asked.

My brother-in-law replied, “It’s meatloaf with mashed potatoes on top.” “That’s nice, but it’s not Shepherd Pie.” His comment made me curious about the history of the food. I learned that Shepherds Pie is not a pie at all, but a meat casserole, or hot dish, as we say here in Minnesota.

According to Cooks.Com, Shepherds Pie is a British dish made with lamb. Its cousin, Cottage Pie, is made with beef. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as cheese. “If you see cheese anywhere near any recipe,” the website says, “put it in the USA to add cheese to everything that moves…”

Mark R. Vogel provides a brief history of the dish in his Food Reference website article, “The Good Shepherd.” Vogel says the recipe comes from “the heart of the Scottish countryside,” which is sheep country, and is a traditional way of using leftovers. They think the recipe goes back to the 1870s. Although vegetables are added today, the original food was meat, gravy, and potatoes.

Vogel uses lamb for his recipes and adds onions, carrots, and celery. He tells us how to make a homemade soup with beef broth, mashed potatoes and heavy cream. Now that’s comfort food!

Paul Merrett’s recipe for the classic dish is posted on the BBC website. The recipe calls for garlic, fresh rosemary, parsnips, peas and chopped tomatoes, and it’s more of a modern pie. Some websites say the recipe is British and others say it’s Scottish. While researching more about the historic dish I found a recipe for Ratatouille Shepherds Pie, which is as close to a meat pie as you can get.

I make Shepherds Pie the old fashioned way. My translation is based on the recipe from “Fannie Farmer Cookbook: A Heritage of Good Cooking for a New Generation of Cooks.” Like most dishes that come from leftovers, there are no exact measurements. For starters, I have about 3 cups of cubed lamb. If I’m running low on gravy, I put the meat in a cast iron pan, take it out, and make a lot of sauce from the juices and the meat in the pan.

I put the gravy, meat and a box of thawed carrots and peas in a casserole dish and add to the mixture with mashed potatoes. You can make mashed potatoes from scratch or use them without water. Bake the casserole in a 375° oven for 35-40 minutes. A Shepherds Pie – comfort food – has stood the test of time and new varieties will appear.

Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson.

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