Sweet lamb pie

Sweet Lamb Pie

The Sweet lamb pie from Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife from 1727 is a good example of the old style of flavouring food using sweet, sour and savoury in harmony. The flavours come through in layers. The pie isn’t sweet but the spices used—nutmeg, mace and cloves—were once considered sweet spices and used as sweeteners. In addition to these spices, dried fruits and candied peel are added to give extra warmth. The original recipe calls for Spanish potato, which is sweet potato, and artichoke hearts. If they’re not in season, use a handful of scalded grapes instead.

The pie can be made in a springform tin or a game pie mould, or you can just make a pastry lid and make the pie in a dish. In this case, the pastry crust does still act as the baking dish as the content is like a stew, scooped out and divided among guests. When I was a guest at food historian Ivan Day’s house, he made his version of this pie for an extraordinary dinner and cut the pastry lid into wedges so that everyone had a piece of the crust. This is an elegant way to serve the dish and I encourage you to do the same. I like using barberries in combination with currants for some extra tartness.

Serving Size

Serves 4


For the Hot Water Crust 

1 quantity Hot water crust pastry

For the pie

400g (14oz) leg of lamb, deboned
1 tsp ground nutmeg
4 cloves, ground
¼ tsp ground mace
¹⁄ 8 tsp ground black pepper
300g (10½ oz) minced lamb neck
1 tbsp chopped parsley
50g (1¾ oz) dried barberries and/or currants
300g (10½ oz) sweet potato, peeled and cooked, cut into 1 cm (½ inch) dice
150g (5½ oz) artichoke hearts, cooked, cut into 1 cm (½ inch) dice
10g (¼ oz) candied citrus peel, finely chopped

For the sauce

juice of 1 lemon
the same amount of white wine
1 tsp sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp butter


For an 18cm (7-inch) wide, 7-cm (2¾ inch) high springform cake tin or a 2kg (4lb 8oz) game pie mould:

Cut the lamb into 2cm (¾ inch) chunks and dust with half of the spices. Add the other half of the spices to the minced meat and use your hands to mix the spices with the meat. Mix in the parsley and 2 tablespoons of the barberries or currants and roll the mixture into meatballs.

Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F) and line the base of the springform tin with baking paper.

Follow the method for the Hot water crust pastry on page 194. Set aside a third of the pastry to make the lid (if possible, keep it warm on a radiator or stove).

Roll out the remaining pastry until 8mm (3⁄ 8 inch) thick. Place the pastry in the tin, mould it up the sides and make sure that there is some dough overhanging the edge to attach the pastry lid later. If you have cracks or holes, you can repair them with some leftover pastry. If using a game pie mould, follow the instructions for shaping the pastry in the Yorkshire Christmas pie recipe on page 197.

Put some chunks of meat, meatballs, sweet potato and artichoke into the pastry crust and sprinkle some barberries or currants and candied peel over the top.

Continue making layers of filling until the tin or mould is full. Roll out the pastry for the lid until 8mm (3⁄ 8 inch) thick. Brush the edge of the crust with the egg wash and place the pastry lid on top. Cut away the excess pastry and crimp the edges together. Make a hole in the top for the steam to escape. Decorate the pie as desired with the excess pastry and egg wash.

Bake the pie in the middle of your oven for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven to

160°C (320°F) and bake for another 1¾ hours.

When the pie is ready, make the sauce. Bring the lemon juice and wine to the boil with the sugar. Beat the egg yolk in a bowl and add the warm sauce as you would for a custard. Finish with a little butter and gently reheat. Pour the sauce through the hole in the top of the pie. Serve by cutting around the lid and slicing the pastry into wedges. Scoop out the filling and divide it among your guests.

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