“Is That Kind of Like a Pot Pie?”: Imagining Peacock Pie at Bracebridge Hall

peacock image

BY TRACY HOFFMAN

Friday, September 14, 2018

After reading Irving’s Christmas sketches this week, students were curious about peacock pie. “Is that kind of like a pot pie?” one young man asked.

Comparing Washington Irving’s extravagant Christmas dinner with a Mrs. Cavender’s pot pie wasn’t exactly what I had anticipated.

These are the same people who’ve never tried mincemeat pie, also mentioned in the Christmas stories. After Thanksgiving, I need to make some mincemeat pies for my classes.

I’m guessing we can’t legally bake peacock pies, not that I would want to even if HEB grocery stores sold it. However, I did learn last Christmas that we could rent a live peacock to traverse the Baylor campus. Of course, we already have a feral cat versus fearful squirrel problem. I can’t imagine how a peacock running about campus might affect the delicate ecosystem.

We may need some wassailing, too. It’s Baylor, so it will have to be apple juice with some holiday spices, not spiked cider with wine like the Squire’s special concoction. Let’s talk about mincemeat and wassail in another blog, as we get closer to Christmas. Much to consider in the Christmas stories!

So my students have reason to question what exactly the peacock pie was like at Bracebridge Hall. Here’s what Geoffrey Crayon, Irving’s narrator, had to say about the pie:

“I could not however, but notice a pie, magnificently decorated with peacock’s feathers, in imitation of the tail of that bird, which overshadowed a considerable tract of the table. This the Squire confessed, with some little hesitation, was a pheasant pie, though a peacock pie was certainly the most authentical; but there had been such a mortality among the peacocks this season, that he could not prevail upon himself to have one killed” (“The Christmas Dinner,” par. 8).

Irving also includes the following footnotes about the peacock pie:

Footnote one: “The peacock was anciently in great demand for stately entertainments. Sometimes it was made into a pie, at one end of which the head appeared above the crust in all its plumage, with the beak richly gilt; at the other end the tail was displayed. Such pies were served up at the solemn banquets of chivalry, when Knights errant pledged themselves to undertake any perilous enterprize, whence came the ancient oath, used by Justice Shallow, ‘by cock and pye.’ ”

Footnote two: “The peacock was also an important dish for the Christmas feast, and Massinger in his City Madam gives some idea of the extravagance with which this, as well as other dishes, was prepared for the gorgeous revels of the olden times: —

“Men may talk of Country-Christmases
Their thirty pound butter’d eggs, their pies of carps’ tongues;
Their pheasants drench’d with ambergris; the carcasses of three fat wethers bruised for gravy to make sauce for a single peacock!

Squire Bracebridge didn’t actually serve a peacock. It was a pheasant pie. But the concerns student have, and the concern I suppose I have, too, is whether or not the whole bird was in the Bracebridge pie.

The extravagant peacock pie display at the Yosemite Bracebridge pageant dinner uses a fake peacock as merely display atop a large pie. Perhaps the feathers decorating Squire Bracebridge’s pie were for the same purpose.

Beyond Yosemite’s dinner, people once held Bracebridge dinners elsewhere back in the day, the Irving Heritage Society in Irving, Texas, being one of them. I would be curious to know how these other Christmas meals translated the peacock pie.

Published in: on September 14, 2018 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

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