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What Is Pie and Mash?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pie and mash is traditional British cuisine that originated in the 19th century. It consists primarily of mashed potatoes with a meat pie on the side. Down the center is a liquid sauce called liquor that is made from parsley and the water left after eels are boiled. The dish was originally inexpensive working-class food. As the availability of eels decreased and tastes changed, the popularity of pie and mash declined until many of the shops that sold it had closed.

One of the main parts of pie and mash is the pie. It is nothing more than minced meat that is packed, wrapped in puff pastry and cooked. In the early 19th century, there were a great number of eels available from the Thames River. As a cheap and plentiful food source, the pies were originally stuffed with eel and sold as street food to the working class. The pastry allowed them to be held and eaten while walking.

Once the Thames started to become polluted, the eels became less plentiful as their population decreased. Street vendors who sold the pies had a harder time getting fresh eel and started using eels that had been dead for a while, causing food poisoning to become associated with their wares. At the same time, indoor shops started to open and offered more sanitary conditions in which to both prepare food and to eat it.

The owners of the cafes offered the same pies at the same inexpensive prices, along with cooked eels. The shops also offered the opportunity for patrons to sit down and eat instead of walking with their food. They would stuff the pies with mutton and other meats to circumvent the eel shortage. As an additional incentive to keep customers happy, a side of mashed potatoes was served as an inexpensive staple. The dish became known as pie and mash.

The tradition of offering cooked eel or jellied eel in the same shop as the pie and mash continued. The eel liquor sauce, which is non-alcoholic despite its name, became an integral part of the classic recipe. Even though the number of shops declined, the dish continued to be served in large enough numbers to keep dozens of shops open.

The history of pie and mash has brought with it many traditions, some of which have no ready explanation. Although not everyone follows all of the traditions, some still do. The dish is served with the pie on one side of the plate and the mash on the other, with the liquor down the center. It is eaten with a fork and spoon, not a knife. The shops also tend to keep their original furniture, fittings and floor plans.

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