15 February: Collop Monday

In the early sixteenth century the Mayor and Corporation of Kingston upon Hull paid for extra wine and cakes on Collop Monday which is the day before Shrove Tuesday, the start of the Lenten fast. Presumably they were going to have one last blow out before the enforced abstinence of the season; I’m tempted to say that our masters don’t change much.

If Shrove Tuesday was the day you finished off the eggs in the house then Collop Monday was the day you finished the remaining bits of meat. The word itself comes from the old Scandinavian. The OED says – ‘Collop: 1. an egg fried on a slice of bacon 2. a slice of meat, 3. a piece of flesh, 4. a thick fold of fat on the body’ – I always wondered what that was called.

In 1571 William Kethe a Protestant preacher in Blandford Forum preached a sermon against the ‘great gluttony, surfeiting and drunkenness’ of the last few days before Lent, and in 1621 John Taylor of London said ‘they do ballast their bellies with meat for a voyage to Constantinople’. This all reminds me of the one attempt I had to lose weight through Weight Watchers. I ate my way through the kitchen cupboards the week before my first meeting, no doubt increasing the size of my collops considerably.

I’ve been wondering when the great quiche invasion of Britain took place. I thought it must have been between 1965 and1970 but the OED has it entering the English lexicon in 1960. My copy of ‘Poor Cook’ by Susan Campbell and Caroline Conran which I bought in 1972 has the first recipe for quiche I ever used. I also remember a quiche being served up as a starter at the first posh ‘grown up’ dinner party I went to in early 1974; obviously still regarded as unusual and classy enough to serve at such on occasion.

Before the advent of the invasive and pervasive French quiche there was the English Collop Pie. We ate this at home often and I clearly remember my mother pouring the egg mixture through a hole in the uncooked pastry top. I thought that was how you did it, but when I asked her last week she says sometimes she forgot to put the egg in before she put the lid on! Mum's pie had to be eaten with copious amounts of tomato ketchup because it had a horrible tendency to stick with dry clagginess to the roof of your mouth. She made it with short crust pastry, I’ve used puff.

Bacon and Egg or Collop Pie

An 8” ovenproof plate, preferably a battered old enamel one for that authentic 1950s look.
10oz puff pastry
6oz of cold ham or cooked bacon, I used bits from a bacon shank which my deli sells cheap – chunky bits are better than slices.
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
3 large eggs
Black pepper.

Put the plate on a solid baking tray.
Roll out two circles of pastry to fit your plate. Line the plate with one pastry circle. Scatter the bacon bits evenly over the pastry then sprinkle on the parsley and a couple of turns of black pepper (no salt). Beat the eggs and pour most of the liquid gently onto the bacon. Lay the other pastry circle over and seal the edges. Make a pretty pattern round the edge with a fork.

Decorate the top with pastry leaves and make a hole for steam to escape. Brush with the left over egg. Lift the tray carefully into the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes until golden. You can check if it’s done by putting a knife blade in the centre. Remember it will also set as it cools. Serve warm.

Mum says that as a child she sometimes saw this pie made with whole eggs. The bacon was put on the pastry, then the eggs broken directly on top, so that when the pie was served each wedge had an egg in it. This sounds like a good idea to me, and a handy way to use small eggs. She also said you can cut the pastry from almost the centre to almost the edge at intervals around the pie to mark the portions and so you can see the inside when it’s cooked. I didn’t dare.

I think you need coleslaw, waldorf salad or celeriac remoulade with this and a green salad.

Don’t forget the ketchup.

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