In Praise of Pies

Reminiscing about the good old days with a former shipmate recently I recalled returning to our ship in the wee hours and stopping to grab a meat pie from “Harry’s Cafe de Wheels”, not far from the Woolloomooloo dockyard, Sydney. He told me that so popular with the navy did this eatery become that in 1978 Rear Admiral David Martin – over a pie and a glass of champagne – commissioned it “HMAS Harry’s”!

Pies have a long history, going back to 9500 BC! In the days of sail, a sea pie was a dish much favoured. Depending on what ingredients were available, it consisted of meat or fish and vegetables between layers of pastry representing decks of a ship. Thus you’d have a two-decker sea pie, a three-decker and so on.

Stargazy  pie

Stargazy pie

To this day I’m rather partial to pies and would loved to have sampled a great battalia pie, which Disraeli described as a masterpiece of the culinary art of the time! Apparently the ingredients were chicken, pigeon, rabbit, spices, cock’s combs and other delights, in a rich claret sauce. Not sure about the cock’s combs, though…
And to my shame I haven’t yet tasted a stargazy pie, the famous Cornish dish with the heads of sardines protruding through the crust.

When William Pitt the Younger died in 1806 his last words were widely reported to have been, “I think I could manage one of Bellamy’s veal pies.”

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Pie: ByStar Krista (baked stargazy pie Uploaded by Diádoco) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
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7 Comments on “In Praise of Pies”

  1. Thank you Julian for your never amazing info relating to times i love to read
    about. i like others are not to sure about cocks combs, but being ever resourceful as sailors are ,they use whats at hand . I,m sure chickens were carried onboard whilst at sea. Wally B New Zealand

  2. A true thanks for the info. For years I wondered about those Stargazer pies. It’s like finding a missing piece of history.

  3. Cock’s Comb .. well, guess I’ll pass on that one. To comment on StarGazy pie, I wonder if our intrepid British seamen of wooden ship days would use the term ..’sardine’ or ‘pilchard’. Both seem to be the same name for young, small herring.

  4. I to thank you for revealing the properties of a sea Pie, now I can have a go at making one.


  5. An interesting touch to the palate, Julian! And of some that sound quite worth trying. I have to confess, however, a fondness for my sardines and herrings kippered, myself – I ‘d have a hard time trying to eat something that was still looking at me! The American in me must give way to apple rubarb pie as my favorite, both of which we grow in abundance on our seacoast home property. And my beautiful Wife does a magnificent job of creating! -WKDe Vaney

  6. Thanks for revealing the properties of a Sea Pie.
    I guess the earlier weeks of a voyage produced the best ones.

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