The pastry room – what was it like to work there? And a recipe for artichoke pie
A small dark room lies behind the meat safe in the Town House’s basement annexe
This room is always cold, even in the middle of the summer. The sun is never allowed to get in. It’s a simple room. A sturdy table covered in a marble slab, with two drawers underneath. Above the table there are shelves and below there is a cool flagstone floor.
A Pastry-larder, Pastry-room, or Pastry, is especially useful in any considerable establishment. It will open out of either the Kitchen or Still-room, or be conveniently at hand; so as to be used for making the pastry and storing it, the baking being done in the Kitchen oven.
from The Gentleman’s House: Or, How to Plan English Residences, from the Parsonage to the Palace; with Tables of Accommodation & Cost, and a Series of Selected Plans by Robert Kerr published in 1865
It was pastry that was made there. It’s a dedicated pastry room. The best pastry was made in the coolest conditions.
But imagine, also how this small room could have acted as a place of refuge. It was one of the few places where kitchen servants could escape the noise and the heat of the main kitchen. This dark space would have been peaceful. You could retreat from busy kitchen life with candle and make pastry.
Pastry room – function and design
The main function of this pastry room was to produce pies which from the sixteenth century formed a substantial part of the diet of all households, rich and poor.
Pastry rooms often have white marble slabs set on solid wooden or masonry bases. Marble is cool and easy to clean. There are drawers to keep utensils such as rolling pins and pastry cutters. Underneath there would have been sliding flour bins. On the shelves above pastry boards and baking trays.
In larger houses there was a dedicated pastry maid and in even larger houses there was a pastry room. Although the Town House’s annexe is not large, it’s noticeable that it does has a pastry room.
The pastry was mixed in pottery bowls and rolled out on that marble slab with rolling pins made from sycamore, beech, ash or fruitwood. It was worked over with brass pastry jiggers and there would have been a large pile of white writing paper to use to line the tin or ceramic pie dishes.
A fashionable vegetarian pie
Although most pies made in that small, dark space would have meat in them, I want to highlight a vegetarian pie that was fashionable both in 1732 and in 1747. I like to think that this pastry for this pie could have been made in the Town House’s pastry room in the late 1820s.
Historic recipes for artichoke pie
Boil twelve bottoms very tender, then force six and at the Bottom of your Crust, put in some lumps of marrow and dic’d Sweetbreads, and then put in half a Pint of Cream, season with Nutmeg and Salt, so bake it.Charles Carter, 1732
BOIL twelve artichokes, take off all the leaves and choke, take the bottoms clear from the stalk, make a good puff-paste crust, and lay a quarter of a pound of good fresh butter all over the bottom of your pie; then lay a row of artichokes, strew a little pepper, fait, and beaten mace over them, then another row, and strew the rest of your spice over them, put in a quarter of a pound more of butter in little bits, take half an ounce of truffles and morels, boil them in a quarter of a pint of water, pour the water into the pie, cut the truffles and morels very small, throw all over the pie & then have ready twelve eggs boiled hard, take only the hard yolks, lay them all over the pie, pour in a gill of white wine, cover your pie, and bake it. When the crust is done, the pie is enough. Four large blades of mace, and twelve peppercorns well beat will do, with a tea-spoonful of salt.Hannah Glasse, 1747
A modernised recipe for artichoke pie
For the pastry
- 250g unsalted butter
- 500g plain flour
- Some water
For the filling
- 6 artichokes or 1 tin of artichoke bottoms
- 3 tbsps lemon juice
- 2 sweetbreads, soaked (in milk), cleaned and chopped (optional)
- 250g morels or any other wild mushroom with a meaty texture
- 3 tbsps beef bone marrow, chopped (optional)
- 500ml double cream
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp mace
- 3 eggs and 2 extra egg yolks
To make the pastry
Weigh out the flour into a bowl, add a few pinches of salt. Grate the butter, cold from the fridge or a cool larder, into the flour. Now with equally cool fingers work the butter into the flour by rubbing gently your fingers and thumbs together. Books tell you that the mixture should resemble breadcrumbs but usually I stop before this stage. You’ll find you will produce a lightly flaky pastry if you do this. I urge you to try.
At this stage add cold water, tablespoon by tablespoon into the butter & flour mixture. Very lightly with your hands bring the pastry together by rolling it around the sides of the bowl. Keeping add water until a ball is formed. It’s important not to overwork the pastry or it will become tough.
Put the ball of pastry into a bowl and cover and put in a fridge or cool larder for at least 30 minutes.
Remove from the fridge. Roll out the pastry onto a floured surface. If you happen to have a marble surface please do use it.
Line a 23cm pie tin with half the pastry, save the other half for the lid
For the filling
You can either boil the artichokes until they are done and remove the bottoms, or use tinned artichoke bottoms. No one will judge.
Put the artichokes into a bowl. Add the lemon juice. Either pound with a pestle and mortar or puree in a blender or with a stick blender.
Chop the morrels/wild mushrooms roughly. Soften them in a pan with oil until just tender. Don’t overcook as they will be cooked again in the pie. Add them to the pureed artichokes.
If you are using bone marrow now is the time to add it to the bowl of artichokes and mushrooms.
Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
To make up the pie
Spread the mixture over the bottom of your prepared pie shell.
Beat the cream and the eggs and the egg yolks together. Pour over the pie filling.
Wet the edges of the pastry and carefully place the prepared pastry over the pie. Squeeze the pastry edges together and decorate how you see fit. I like to use my thumb to produce a scallop design. You are lucky, I hope to be able to do this in with more light than just a candle.
Slash two slits on the top of the pie.
Beat an egg and use a pastry brush to paint egg all over the pie crust. Our servant in the pastry room may have still used a feather or she might have been an early adopter of the newly fashionable pastry brush.
Bake the pie for 35 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius until nicely browned.