Stargazy pie is a Cornish dish made of baked pilchards, covered with a pastry crust. The pilchards are arranged with their tails toward the centre of the pie and their heads poking up through the crust around the edge, so that they appear to be gazing skyward. Along with the fish, a typical stargazy pie would contain hard-boiled eggs, bacon, onion and mustard. Many recipe variations around these ingredients exist, some which include boiled potatoes and white wine. All recipes for the stargazy pie are topped with a shortcrust pastry lid, through which the fish heads and even tails protrude.
The dish originates from the village of Mousehole in Cornwall, and is traditionally eaten during the holiday of Tom Bawcock's Eve.
Hold up, wait a minute! Tom Bawcock's Eve? Pilchards? What?
Okay, I thought it might be a little confusing to those non-Brits among you. Pilchards? What are those?
Pilchards is another word for sardines, and the two seem to be interchangeable.They are several types of small, oily fish related to herrings, family Clupeidae. Sardines were named after the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where they once lived in abundance.
Tom Bawcock's Eve is a festival held on the 23rd of December in Mousehole, Cornwall, UK. The festival is held in celebration and memorial of the efforts of Mousehole resident Tom Bawcock to lift a famine from the village. There are several theories to the origins of this festival, the first recorded description was made by Robert Morton Nance in 1927 in the magazine "Old Cornwall". Nance described the festival as it existed at the turn of the 20th century. Within this work Nance also speculated that the name Bawcock was derived from Beau Coc (French) - , he believed the cock was a herald of new light in Pagan times and the origins of the festival were pre-Christian. The most likely derivation of the name 'Bawcock' is from Middle English use (influenced from French) where a Bawcock is a nickname for a fine or worthy fellow. (An example of this use can be found in Twelfth Night Act 3 Scene 4 "Why, how now, my bawcock!") As the name Tom was often used as a generic description for any man it is likely that Tom Bawcock was a symbolic name for 'any fine fellow' who risked his life in pursuit of fishing. Midwinter celebrations were also common in one of Cornwall's other principal traditional occupations mining. Picrous Day and Chewidden Thursday seem to have similar origins to Tom Bawcock's Eve.
There is an ongoing folk music tradition associated with Tom Bawcock's Eve. Below is one version of Tom Bawcock's Song. The words were written by Robert Morton Nance in 1927, to a local traditional tune called the 'Wedding march'. It is believe that Nance first observed the festivities at the turn of the 20th century.
"Merry place you may believe, tiz Mouzel 'pon Tom Bawcock's eve.
To be there then who wouldn't wesh, to sup o' sibm soorts o' fish.
When morgy brath had cleared the path, Comed lances for a fry,
And then us had a bit o' scad an' Starry-gazie pie.
As aich we'd clunk, E's health we drunk, in bumpers bremmen high,
And when up caame Tom Bawcock's name, We'd prais'd 'un to the sky."
Here's a recipe. It's worth a try - go on, give it a go!
shortcrust pastry made with 285g plain flour
8 pilchards, sardines or small herrings
1 large chopped onion
approx. 3 tbsps chopped parsley
3 hard-boiled eggs
3 rashers streaky bacon
beaten egg to glaze
Roll out the pastry for double-crust plate pie. Cover the plate, brush the rim with water and roll out another piece for the lid. Keep it aside. Preheat the oven to gas 6, 200C (400F) . Clean and bone the fish, leaving their heads in place. Season inside and stuff with finely chopped onion and parsley. Fold back into shape. Lay the fish on the pastry like the spokes of a wheel with their heads on the rim so that they can gaze upwards. Fill the gaps in between with chopped bacon and hard-boiled eggs. Put the pastry lid in place, pressing down between the fish heads so that it meets the pastry of the lower rim, making a wavy effect. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for 30 minutes, though if the fish are on the large side give them 15 minutes more at the reduced heat of gas 4, 180C (350F). Serve hot.
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