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Shepherd's Pie, Cottage Pie


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... pretty much all the early (1870-1900) recipes use whatever meat was leftover. The name was ment to add a bit of romance to essentially a way of using up leftovers, not actually refer to anything that Shepherds actually ate. Before the 1870's the same thing was called a Cottage Pie.

People have only got worked up about Shepherd = lamb, Cottage = Beef in the last few decades as far as I can determine.

Adam, you seem to be slightly at odds with the esteemed Alan Davidson!

He said (in the Oxford Companion to Food, first 1999 edition) that "in keeping with the name, lamb or mutton should be used" for Shepherd's Pie.

He believed that this name only originated in the second half of the 19th century (late 1800's), with mechanical mincing machines (US grinders), however a similar (lamb/mutton) dish had its origins long before, in sheep-rearing parts of the UK. "So the common idea that shepherds ate the dish back in, say, the 18th century is probably right."

Further, he writes "The term Cottage Pie, often confused with Shepherd's Pie but properly denoting a similar dish made with minced beef, has a somewhat longer history ... "

(The emphasis above is mine alone.)

Now, as to whether the great man might only have been engaging in a bit of whimsical pot-stirring ... well, it does have to be recognised as a possibility!

He also suggests that a pastry topping was prevalent in Scotland in former times.

Which does seem somewhat wilfully provocative ... :smile:

The essential element however is that using precise nomenclature does provide a simple distinction between (visually) similar dishes.

I don't see any advantage to the sloppiness of using either name to denote both fillings. (Other than to caterers wanting flexibility of use of leftovers, while minimising menu-printing costs, of course.)

But equally, I don't (usually) feel any need to go making complaints to Trading Standards Officers ...

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Hi Dougal, not at odds with Davidson as in this case he is making a guess, rather then offering anything evidence based. As it happens the recipe I have given above is from Scotland and as you can see it doesn't requirer a mechanical grinder/mincer. The recipes remained grinder free for about 40-50 years in many cases.

Basically Shepherds were some of the poorest members of the community and by and large were looking after somebody elses sheep (with some exceptions like Farmer-Shepherds in Cumbria). The sheep are not their's to eat. There are some few accounts of shepherds diet, it is pretty simple and when mutton is mentioned it is mostly braxy mutton (meat from sheep that had died of disease or exposure in the field, not butchered). Essentially if you were a shepherd and were offered meat then you would have taken up the offer, not said, "Sorry sir I couldn't possibly eat beef as I am a shepherd and by etymological association that just doesn't make sense".

On special occasions (like the Shepherd's Meet in Cumbria) you see dishes like Tatie-Pot being mentioned, but essentially there is no evidence that the modern Shepherd's pie is related to this. There is plenty of evidence that Cottage Pie was a way for well to do households to use up leftovers since the 18th century at least, at some point in the middle of the 19th some people started calling the same thing a Shepherd's Pie (mostly in Scotland), by the early 20th century it had settled on the dish of minced meat and potato. Now there is a stage where a dish that is recognised as a "Classic" has to have an appropriate backstory, as part of this Shepherds and Cottage Pie has diverged as dishes, which is interesting.

I should think that the next thing to happen is for some people to insist that it can't be made from fresh mince, as the traditional classic humble dish is made from minced left over roast and therefore making it into a purely middle class event :wink:

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