A Tale of Two Words

Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie? I’m currently reading Philip Hensher’s marvellous novel, The Northern Clemency, and just reached a passage where a daughter explains to her mother the difference between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie, and I was oddly intrigued.

There is an excellent post from the blog Culinary Craftiness on this exact dispute. The author of the post, Melissa, confirms that ‘Cottage [Pie] used minced beef while Shepherd’s [Pie] used minced mutton (lamb).’ But more interesting is that ‘in the former, sliced potatoes were layered on top which made it look like the shingles on a cottage; the latter used mashed potatoes spread on top.  In the original recipes found in very old cookbooks, the mashed potatoes also lined the bottom of the dish for a crust they called a coffyn.’ She then includes a fascinating recipe from 1747 for those interested:

To Make a very fine Sweet lamb or Veal Pye.
Season your Lamb with Salt, Pepper, Cloves, Mace and Nutmeg, all beat fine, to your Palate. Cut your Lamb, or Veal, into little Pieces, make a good Puff-paste Crust, lay it into your Dish, then lay in your Meat, strew on it some stoned Raisins and Currans clean washed, and some Sugar; then lay on it some Forced-meat Balls made sweet, and in the Summer some Artichoke-bottoms boiled, and scalded Grapes in the Winter. Boil Spanish Potatoes cut in Pieces, candied Citron, candied Orange, and Lemon-peel, and three or four large Blades of Mace; put Butter on the Top, close up your Pye, and bake it. Have ready against it comes out of the Oven a Caudle [thick drink] made thus: Take a Pint of White Wine, and mix in the Yolks of three Eggs, stir it well together over the Fire, one way, all the time till it is thick; then take it off, stir in Sugar enough to sweeten it, and squeeze in the Juice of a Lemon; pour it hot into your Pye, and close it up again. Send it hot to table.
The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, Hannah Glasse [London:1747] Chapter VIII, “Of Pies.”

Sweetened by sugar twice and with a puff-paste crust, it seems much less healthy than the Shepherd’s Pies — sorry, Cottage Pies — I’m used to.

This reminds me of another long-running linguistic dispute: duck tape or duct tape? My guess is that most people, though ignoring the glottal stop and pronouncing it ‘ductape’, would nevertheless say the correct word is duct tape. Wrong!

Duck tape was invented during the Second Worlds War with the use of something called duck cloth, whatever that is. At some point after the war, many started to erroneously call it duct tape as it became commonly used in air ducts. So I implore each of you to restore the correct and much more pronounceable ‘duck tape’.


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