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  Recipe Number Thirty Four March 2006  



Steak Pie


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Shock and horror can only describe the news that hit Heacham a few weeks ago.  This news was so devastating it almost brought grown men to their knees and tears to their eyes.  Yes the news was that our well loved local barber was retiring. The thought of not being able to get a trim any more from Albert's Gents Hairdressing Emporium sent shivers up my spine.   It begs the question of “Would I have to grow my hair hippy style and revert back to the nineteen sixties, or will I have to find a new barber?”  This may not be such a great problem but my head, according to Albert, has three crowns and over the years he has trimmed my hair in such a way that the hair lays down at the back.  On the very odd occasion when I have had to visit another barber because he has been away on holiday I normally come out looking like a roasters tail.  All I can say is “You are a very well respected person in the community, so enjoy your retirement Albert - you will be sadly missed.”

Sadly, barbers in latter days were not so kind to their customers as Albert has been.  Let me take you back a few hundred years to the days of the late 1700s.  If you had lived in London at that time and sadly made a visit to a certain barbers - it may have been your last - namely a barber by the name of Sweeney Todd. Barbers in Sweeney Todd's day were not just there for trimming your hair and for giving you a shave, but their trade extended into all sorts of medicinal acts as well.  So, as you were having your morning shave, you might be tempted to ask his advice on the large boil that had appeared on your bottom.  This problem could often be rectified by the dropping of your pants and the razor sharp cut throat that he was just using to give you a shave with would be brought into action.

It appears that Sweeney had a lady friend, by the name of Mrs Lovett, who ran a pie shop at the time and at some point of time the two must have come to their secret arrangement. Todd was the butcher and killed his victims and his friend, Mrs Lovett, made it into tasty meat pies.  Not a bad arrangement.  How he selected the victims it is not clear.  Maybe you had to be the last customer of the day to be in with a chance of having your throat cut as Sweeney Todd said to you as you sat in the barbers chair: “Do you mind Sir if I just lock the door?  I think you will be my last customer of the day.  Won’t keep you waiting too long Sir.  You will feel a lot better after I give you your shave.”  It was then Todd would sharpen his cut throat on his leather strop and then he would soap your face ready for your shave.  As he stood beside you he would lift your chin as to get a clean cut, and so with an almighty swipe the deadly deed was done.

Having killed his victim, Sweeney would heave the body from the barbers chair and drag it down through a trap door into the basement of his shop.  First job would be to remove any valuables from the body and all the clothing.  Working as fast as he could, he would disjoint the body and remove all the flesh from the bones.  As the flesh came off the body it fell onto the floor in a large pile.  Then he set about taking the skin off the joints of his victim as Mrs Lovett had told him that she could not use it in the pies. I wonder why?

All this, you have to remember, was done by the light of oil lamps and candles. Sweeney, once his butchery had been done, would box up all the flesh and have it sent to his friend Mrs. Lovett

To cut the story short, Sweeney Todd was actually put on trial for just one murder - that of a seaman, Mr Francis Thornhill, despite - it was said - that clothing found in the basement was sufficient for 160 people.  Attorney General representing King George III proved that a string of pears that Thornhill had in his possession at the time of his disappearance was in fact pawned by Sweeney a few days after his disappearance. The defence for Todd failed to offer much to help his client but began by saying: “Really gentlemen of the jury, human flesh being turned into meat pies I ask you.”  Then a witness was called that was a regular consumer of the said meat pies.  He told the jury, “There was about them a flavour never surpassed and rarely equalled.  The paste was of construction and impregnated with the aroma of a delicious gravy that defied description. “

As the trial came to a close the judge summed up and this took less than 10 minutes, the jury retired from the court but returned a verdict of guilty in only 5 minutes,

Sweeney Todd stood to receive the sentence, the judge placed a black cloth on his white wig and spoke in a loud voice: “Sweeney Todd, you will be taken from here to a place of execution and hanged by the neck until dead  May heaven have mercy upon you.”

So on January 25th 1802 Sweeney Todd was strung up before crowds of thousands.  His body was cut down and handed over to barber surgeons and dissected.  Sweeney finished up like so many of his victims, as a pile of meat and bones.


Ask your butcher for 1lb of good quality beef that has been diced into nice sized cubes.  Tell him its for making a steak pie.  Find a saucepan and put the beef in, and to this add one medium size onion that you have chopped but not too fine.  Then pop in a few mushrooms that have been cut in half.  Next add a bay leaf.  The next job is to cover the meat with water and pop on the stove to cook. The cooking time may be as long as two hours.  You don't want to boil the meat but allow it to simmer.  If you have a bottle of red wine open, add a few drops to the beef as it cooks. As the beef is cooking, start to make your pastry. For just a pie crust you will need 8oz of flour. I normally use self raising flour as this will give a lighter pastry. Next, I normally rub in 2oz of suet and 2oz of lard or soft margarine.  A pinch of salt is to be added before the whole lot is rubbed to a crumb stage.  Next add a little cold water a drop at a time and only just to bind the pastry. Once you feel that the meat is cooked, mix up a gravy powder and add to the liquid.  This will thicken the pie filling.  Check the seasoning and spoon the beef and rich gravy into a pie dish and set aside to cool. Roll out the pastry and cover the dish. I like to have the pastry crust on the thick side.  Lastly, trim the pie dish and poke two holes in the centre of the pastry to let the steam out when cooking. Last job is to brush the pastry with an egg yolk and then pop it into a pre-heated medium oven.  Cooking time will take around 30 minutes.

I have tried Albert's Steak Pie. I don't know where he gets his meat from, but after tasting it, all I can say is there was a flavour about it that will be never surpassed and will be rarely equalled.  The paste was of the most delicate construction, and impregnated with the aroma of a delicious gravy.

Colin Rushmore

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