Samuel Pepys, the famous English diarist, is remembered not so much for his recounting of historical events such as the coronation of Charles II or the great fire of London but for his daily accounts of his social and domestic life, including his numerous meals and amorous affairs. A native of London, in 1654 Pepys entered the service of Edward Montague, the future Earl of Sandwich and First Lord of the Admiralty, and shortly afterwards joined the civil ser-vice as a clerk with the Navy Board. In 1660 he started his diary and for almost ten years wrote his vivid daily impressions of seven-teenth century London, at that time a city of half a million people with an abundance of taverns, shops and entertainment outlets.
Due to a decline in his eyesight, Pepys abandoned the diary in 1669. Nevertheless, he continued his active life, and served as Sec-retary for the Admiralty, a Member of Parliament and president of the Royal Society. Upon his death, fellow diarist John Evelyn wrote: "This day died Mr. Sam Pepys, a very worthy, industrious, and curious person.”
In addition to enjoying many dinners at his own home and at the lodgings of his friends, Pepys was a frequent guest at the best of the London taverns of his time - the Swan, the Sun, the Dog and the Leg being among his favorites. In a dinner he had with the Earl of Sandwich, his employer, on 26 January 1660, they ate “a dish of marrow bones; a leg of mutton; a loin of veal; a dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks all in a dish; a great tart, a neat’s tongue, a dish of anchovies; a dish of prawns and cheese." A year later, on 1 January 1661, when entertaining his father, brother and uncle, he gave them "a barrel of oysters, a dish of neat’s tongue and a dish of anchovies, wine of all sorts, and Northdown ale."
One of Pepys' favorite's foods was oysters. They are mentioned sixty-eight times in his diary. In an entry on the twenty-first of April 1660 Pepys writes: “In the afternoon the Captain would by all means have me up to his cabin, and there treated me huge nobly, giving me a barrel of pickled oysters, and opened another for me, and a bottle of wine, which was a very great favor.” He also sa-vored mince pies, and on the sixth of January 1662, celebrating the wedding anniversary of Sir W. Penn, he and his friends had a feast of “chine of beef and other good cheer, eighteen mince pies in a dish, the number of the years that he hath been married.” In seven-teenth century England, a standard recipe of mince pie would in-clude a rabbit, a pigeon, a partridge, a hare, a pheasant, a capon, the livers of all these animals, as well as eggs, pickled mushrooms, dried fruit and spices.
Pepys was also fond of venison pasty, and in an entry from the first of September 1660 he writes, "we dined at the Bullhead upon the best venison pasty that ever I eat of in my life, and with one dish more, it was the best dinner I ever was at.” Following is a modern-ized version of this dish.
For the pastry:
1 cup flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
3 Tbsp butter
2 eggs beaten together lightly with 1 tsp water
For the filling:
1 lb (450 gr) venison meat, chopped finely
1/4 lb (115 gr) fatty bacon, diced
2 medium onions, chopped finely
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 Tbsp parsley, chopped coarsely
salt and pepper to taste
peach or mango chutney for serving
Prepare the pastry dough: Combine the flour and salt and resift. Combine the vegetable shortening and butter and then cut half of this mixture into the flour, working it in gently with the tips of the fingers until it has the texture of cornmeal. Cut in the remaining shortening and continue working with the fingertips until the pas-try is in pea-size bits.
Sprinkle the dough with 2 1/2 Tbsp water and blend the water lightly into the dough. If necessary add more water - just enough to bind the ingredients.
Note: If covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated, the pastry dough can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. Do not freeze, because the pastry tends to become dry.
Prepare the filling by combining all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl, mixing well by hand.
Sprinkle a large working surface with flour and on this roll out the pastry to a large rectangle. Spread the filling in a sausage like shape in the center of the dough. Brush the uncovered edges of the dough with the beaten eggs. Fold over the ends of the dough, fold the sides over the filling and seal by pinching the ends together. Brush again with the beaten egg mixture.
Transfer the roll to an oven that has been preheated to medium and bake until the pastry begins to brown. Cover lightly with alu-minum foil and cook 20 – 30 minutes longer. About 3 minutes before the cooking is done remove and discard the aluminum foil. Remove from the oven, and let cool. Serve warm, ideally accom-panied by peach or mango chutney. (Serves 4-6)
For the marinade:
1 tsp each, allspice, cloves and mace, all ground
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp each cinnamon and salt
6 whole peppercorns
3 onions, peeled and halved
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp Sherry wine
48 oysters, shucked, with the liquids reserved
In a moderate-sized saucepan combine all of the marinade ingredi-ents. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Let cool completely, cover, and then refrigerate until well chilled. Add the oysters and their liquids. Mix well, cover and marinate 8-12 hours.
Return the mixture to the heat and bring to the boil. Let boil for 1 minute and then remove from the flame, let cool and refrigerate until well chilled. To serve, remove the oysters with a slotted spoon. Serve with toasted bread and butter. (Serves 8 as a first course)