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Cottage Pie

“Dinner to day, Cottage-Pye and rost Beef.”
Reverend James Woodford, 29 August 1791
Diary of a Country Parson

Cottage pie and shepherd’s pie are traditional methods for using leftover roasted meat, either beef or mutton, with mashed potato as a convenient pie crust. In early recipes, the pie dish was lined with mashed potato as well as having a mashed potato crust on top. The use of previously uncooked meat is a recent adaptation, suited to the techniques of commercial food processing companies.

Early cookery writers did not use the terms “cottage pie” and “shepherd’s pie” and the terms did not appear in recipe books until the late part of the 19th century. From that time, the terms have been used interchangeably, although there is a popular tendency for “shepherd’s pie” to be used when the meat is mutton or lamb. The first mention of Cottage Pie was in 1791, when the Rev. James Woodford mentions eating it with “rost beef” for dinner.

Cottage Pie
Required: a pound and a half of cooked potatoes, half a pound to three-quarters of cold meat, seasoning and gravy as below. Cost, about 9d. The potatoes must be nicely cooked and mashed while hot…The should be seasoned, and beaten until light with a wooden spoon. A pie dish should then be greased, and the potatoes put at the bottom, to form a layer from half to an inch in thickness. The meat should be made into a thick mince of the usual kind with stock or gravy…or it may be mixed with Onion Sauce, or any other which may be sent to table with meat. The nicer the mince, the nice, of course, will be the pie. The meat doest next, and should be put in the centre of the bottom payer, leaving a little space all around. The crop the remainder of the potatoes on the top, beginning at the sides–this prevents the boiling out of the gravy when the meat begins to cook–go on until all the used, making the pie highest in the middle. Take a fork, and rough the surface all over, because it will brown better than if left smooth. For a plain dish, bake it for fifteen to twenty minutes. Or it may be just sprinkled with melted dripping (a brush is used for this), or it may be coated with beaten egg, part of which may then be used in the mashed potatoes. As soon as the pie is hot through and brown, it should be served. There are many recipes for this pie, or variation of it, and in some, directions are given for putting the meat in the dish first, and all the potatoes on the top. The plan above detailed will be found the better, because the meat being enveloped entirely in potatoes runs no risk of becoming hard, as it wold do it exposed to the direct heat of the oven. Any other cooked vegetables may be added to the above, but they should be placed between the meat and potatoes, both top and bottom. If a very savoury pie is desired, make the mince very moist, and allow longer time for baking. The potatoes will absorb some of the gravy, and found tasty. In this case, the heat must not be fierce at starting, only at the end for the pie to brown well. For a richer pie, allow a larger proportion of meat. For a very cheap one, half a pound of meat will do for two pounds of potatoes.
—Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book
, Lizzie Heritage, 1894


  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 2 tomatoes chopped or one small can of peeled, diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup beef stock or bouillon
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon sage
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 5 medium potatoes (boiled and mashed)
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1 tablespoon butter or bacon fat
  • salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Brown the beef in oil.

Remove from pan and set aside.

Drain most of the accumulated fat from the pan. Sauté onions until tender, and then add chopped tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add broth and stir in herbs and seasonings.

Return brown meat to skillet and continue cooking for 5 minutes.

Transfer all ingredients to an ovenproof casserole.

Top with mashed potatoes (scoring them with a fork.) Dot with butter and bake uncovered in 375-degree oven for 30-40 minutes.

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