Be it Umble, Steak & Kidney, Black Bird, Pheasant, or made with leftover waterfowl lazing in the freezer, meat pie happens when pastry meets filling. This huntsman’s delight on a plate can be open, closed, small, large, but almost always savory.
In An A-Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto writes, "The idea of enclosing meat inside a sort of pastry made from flour and oil originated in ancient Rome, but it was the northern European use of lard and butter to make a pastry shell that could be rolled out and moulded that led to the advent of true pie.”
The ancient Egyptians first published a recipe featuring a decadent rye dough filled with goat’s cheese and honey. Now, doesn’t that sound scrumptious for ancient Roman food? A certain shoe in over locusts any day of the week.
Over the course of time and geography, pies evolved into simple, portable pockets designed for individual consumption. Recipes, cooking techniques, meal presence and presentations varied according to culture and cuisine. (This was all “b.s.” of course; “b”efore “s”andwich.) The need for nutritious, long-lasting food that was easy to store and carry seemed be a driving force. Think pierogi, calzones, pasties, or turnovers.
In stark contrast to Roman honey pie is Umble pie made from chopped, or minced deer innards. “Umble” is an etymologicial derivative of “numbles” meaning the heart, lungs, liver and other wobbily bits of a deer. In turn, “numbles” is taken from the Old French word nombles; the plural of “nomble” meaning thigh muscle of deer. Tracing even farther back on the linguistic timeline, “nombles” comes from the Latin “lumulus” meaning loin. Somewhere along the way the an "h" was added to “umble” to indicate the pie was made of insignificant, or inferior parts; what we would now consider offal, or awful depending on your point of view. (So many pun opportunities!)
While I have not made Umble, (or Humble pie), I have made pie from black birds, and so I have quite literally eaten crow! To my surprise the breast meat was quite tender; similar in flavor and physical properties to beef when prepared as a Yankee Pot Roast. The wild crow was not gamey, nor chewy, owing to a hard cider brining in advance, and a slow braise in silky vegetables while nested inside the sealed flaky golden crust. Eating crow had never been so satisfying!
If you’re a culinary braveheart, here is a recipe for an Old World game meat pye suitable for pheasant, various upland birds, or waterfowl. Bon Appetit!