One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner is the leftovers! Turkey and all the fixings warmed up the next day is so wonderful all by itself, although some people end up with so much extra turkey that they have to get creative with new variations on old dishes.
Turkey is a New World bird, meaning it is native to the Americas and wasn’t known in European cuisine until after the Age of Exploration. Unlike some foods like corn that were viewed as being suitable for animal fodder and not much else, turkey was an early addition to English feasting tables.
The now-popular vision of Henry VIII wielding a turkey leg (and scores of turkey legs sold at Ren Fairs) turns out to be somewhat accurate. Henry was a fan of turkey, and it quickly replaced goose and other game birds on tables as a meatier and less greasy alternative.
Why are they called Turkeys?
When they were first discovered in the wilds of North America, they were confusingly categorized with Guinea Fowl. Those birds were also known as Turkey Fowl as they were imported into Europe through Turkey. The name Turkey Birds became the standard for the new imports from the Americas as well.
I started out as an historical recreator at the age of 18, so early on I became accustomed to the combination of fruit and meat, especially in meat pies. I love the sweet/tart addition to a savory meat dish. An early exposure to this sort of meat pie was in the highly flawed “Fabulous Feasts” by Madeline Pelner Cosman that was one of the only readily available resources for a budding medieval cook in the late 70’s. (1970’s, just to be clear) Cosman’s “Galantine Pie” combined beef, chicken, cranberries, currants, and dates in a pie crust, flavored with a spiced sauce that included galingale, cinnamon, ginger, beef broth and wine vinegar. I LOVED this dish, the combination of flavors keeping it very interesting and still savory, even with the fruits.
Going back to medieval and renaissance sources, the recipes for “Grate Pyes” include a variety of meats from beef, venison and partridge to turkey and quail. They also include egg yolks, suet, dates, currants, green onions, artichokes, grapes, gooseberries, etc. Obviously this is a meat pie MEANT to be made with Thanksgiving leftovers!
To create your own “Great Pie”, start with chunks of leftover turkey meat and any other types of meat you would like to add. Roast beef, ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken, hens, game birds, venison, or any other tasty morsels you might have can all be included. Hard boiled egg yolks are found in the original versions, but don’t use the hard boiled egg whites as they become rubbery when baked.
For a vegetarian version, use firm vegetables that roast well: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, scallions, etc. Cut them into 1 inch pieces, roast until browned.
For the fruits: dates, raisins (regular, golden, red), currants, grapes, fresh and/or dried cranberries, prunes, dried apricots, etc.
Crust: Enough pie crust (or gluten-free pastry crust) for a bottom and top cover. This can be made as quite a large pie based in a roasting pan for example, or done in a standard pie pan. Plan on enough crust to cover the entire vessel you plan to use.
For one 9 inch deep pie shell:
Enough pastry to make a bottom and top cover for your pan of choice
1 pound of assorted cooked meats, cut into ½” sized chunks
* or 2 cups of roasted vegetables *
½ cup assorted dried fruits
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ cup fresh cranberries
2 tbsp solid fat: (suet, bacon chunks, butter)
(For veg version, toss vegetables in good quality olive oil before roasting)
2 hard boiled egg yolks, cut into quarters
1 cup beef, turkey or vegetable broth
½ cup bread crumbs (1 slice of regular or GF bread, dinner roll, etc. Or, use my favorite GF breadcrumb solution: ground puffed rice cereal!)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Cut all of the meat into bite-sized pieces. If using suet or bacon, sauté them until they release some fat and crisp up. Coat the meats in the fat.
Toss the dried fruits in the spice blend.
Pre-bake the bottom crust for 15 minutes. Brush the bottom of the crust with some of the fat (drippings or soft butter, olive oil, whatever you’re using).
Cover the bottom of the pie with half of the meat mixture. Next add a layer of the fruits. Nestle the egg yolks in evenly around the pie. Add another layer of the meat, alternating until the pie is full. If using butter or other softer fat, dot small chunks around the pie.
In a small saucepan, combine the broth, vinegar, and breadcrumbs. Heat until the breadcrumbs are soft and start to melt into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the meat and fruit mixture in the pie.
Brush the edges of the bottom crust with an egg wash (1 egg + 1 tbsp water whisked together). Carefully lay the top crust over the bottom. Trim the excess and pinch to seal the edges. Cut a few vents into the top crust and bake in a 350 degree oven until the crust is golden brown, 35 – 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
These are wonderful hot out of the oven, but let them sit for a day or two to really allow the flavors to meld and they are outstanding!
Enjoy your leftovers, and if you have enough, try some interesting variations. We had an entire Thanksgiving dinner once where everyone used traditional ingredients in non-traditional ways. We were just talking about how good the turkey enchiladas with cranberry salsa had been! Get creative and let me know what you come up with.
I am thankful for the suggestion about a year ago that I start this blog, and that I have readers that enjoy it. Have a blessed holiday season!