Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Little Bird Told Me

Pie Birds

I'm sure that everyone has heard the nursery school rhyme about "four and twenty blackbirds baked into a pie" that references the live birds baked into a trencher released unharmed as an amusement for the lords and ladies, but what about a pie bird? Pie birds are ceramic objects that can be baked into the upper crust of a pie that vent steam during cooking.

They evolved over time from simple pie funnels that originated during the Victorian period. 

Shapes now range from the simple black bird shape to complex tableaux. I've got a few. Some of them are collectable including those of Stuart Blass. 

Stuart Blass Pie Birds


Here's a great-looking meat pie that I found while looking for images of pie birds:

Four & twenty chicken & ham pie 

Four & twenty chicken & ham pie

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(7 ratings)

Cooking time

Prep:30 minsCook:1 hr45 minsPlus cooling and chilling

Skill level

For the keen cook


Cuts into 12-15 slices


  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 tbsp chopped sage
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • 300g boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3)
  • 1kg cooked ham, trimmed of fat and thickly sliced
  • 50g shelled pistachios
  • 50g cranberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 50g dried apricots, diced
  • 3 tbsp chopped parsley
  • good grating nutmeg
  • 700g skinless chicken breasts, halved to thin
  • chutney and salad to serve, (optional)

For the pastry

  • 375g plain white flour
  • 375g strong white flour
  • 140g butter
  • 175g lard
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the jelly

  • 3 gelatine leaves
  • 500ml strong chicken stock, heated


  1. Soften the onion in the butter with the sage and mace. Cool for a few mins while you whizz the chicken thighs and 300g of the ham in a food processor until minced. Scrape into a large bowl and stir in the softened onion, pistachios, cranberries, apricots and parsley. Season with nutmeg, lots of black pepper and some salt.
  2. Grease a deep, 20cm round springform or loose-bottomed tin, then line with baking parchment. To make the pastry, mix together the flours and 2 tsp salt in a large bowl, then make a well in the centre. Put the butter and lard into a small pan with 200ml water and very gently melt. Once melted, turn up the heat and when just bubbling, pour into the well and stir with a wooden spoon to a dough – don’t worry if some powdery bits remain.
  3. Once cool enough to handle, knead in the bowl until the dough comes together, then tip onto your work surface. Set aside a third, wrapped in a clean tea towel to keep it as warm and pliable as possible, while you quickly roll the remaining dough into a large circle – big enough to line the tin with a little overhanging.
  4. Ease the circle into the tin, pressing evenly into the corners and side – you can be rough with it. Evenly cover the base with half the remaining sliced ham, followed by half the chicken breasts and half the mince mixture, pressing firmly to pack. Repeat with the remaining ham and chicken, then a rounded dome of mince. Put a pie funnel, if you have one, on the top.
  5. Roll the reserved dough to a circle large enough to easily cover the pie, cutting out a hole (if using a pie funnel). Brush the edge of the pie with some beaten egg and top with the pastry lid. Press to seal the edges before trimming the excess. Crimp the edges between your thumb and forefinger to seal thoroughly, then make a small hole in the middle to let steam escape (if not using a pie funnel). Brush the top of the pie with more beaten egg.
  6. Heat oven to 200C/180 fan/gas 6. Bake the pie for 1 hr. Very, very carefully remove the pie from its tin, brush the top and side with more egg and bake for another 30 mins until browned and crisp. Leave to cool completely before chilling.
  7. To make the jelly, soak the gelatine in cold water for 5-10 mins until soft. Squeeze out any excess water from the gelatine, then dissolve in the hot stock. Once cooled, carefully pour into your chilled pie through the small hole, using a funnel, until full – you may not need all the stock. Chill the pie for a few hrs. Serve with chutney and salad, if you like.
Recipe from Good Food magazine, December 2012

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