What is a “Postej” or “pye”?

I use the Danish word postej to describe this dish but in the English medieval literature they are tend to be called “pye”. What we today would call a pie. Sometimes they are also called a Pâté.

A postej is meat, fish or fruit dish that is inside a container of dough, what in the English medieval kitchen would be called a “coffin” of dough. It was baked in the oven or in a postej-oven which is pretty much a Dutch oven. The dough can be edible or inedible as you please. The postejs I have baked so fare are baked with an edible dough – because anything else seems wasteful to me.

"Still Life With A Turkey Pie" by Pieter Claesz, 1627. Notice that there are two postejs in the picture - a grand one with real turkey feathers and a head and a simpler one broken open.
“Still Life With A Turkey Pie” by Pieter Claesz, 1627. Notice that there are two postejs in the picture – a grand one with real turkey feathers and a head and a simpler one broken open.

Postejs can be grand affairs with elaborate decorations or just a simple crust around a piece of meat. The interesting thing is that they can hold anything from whole pieces of meat, whole birds with bones or minced meat or sweet fillings that makes them almost a fruit pie. As fare as I can tell from the recipes they are made without air holes – until they are almost baked though. Unlike many modern pies the casing/crust are normally not pre-baked. The filling however is often cooked or semi cooked before the postej is assembled.

The crazy creations of the barok era would be made by specialized postej bakers in their own workshops and you would order them for your feast.

Section of the painting Still Life With Musical Instruments" by Pieter Claesz, 1623
Detail of the painting Still Life With Musical Instruments” by Pieter Claesz, 1623

They seem to have been common upper class dishes though out Europe in the middle ages and at least in Northern Europe they were very popular in the renaissance. In Denmark they were part of the bourgeoisie cuisine up though the 1800’s – in the early 1900’s they were abandoned when they were deemed too heavy and old fashioned.

My game postej with grapes and raisins.
My game postej with grapes and raisins.

The filling can be really simple – just wrap a game leg in crust and bake it for an hour – or they can be really complex like the filling in the picture above that seems to be full of all kinds of fruits. You would not slice the pie in neat pieces but rather break it own and eat the filling out of it. If you choose to do something like that there is no need to do a complex and edible crust – you can just make one from boiling water and coarse flour (which I have not tried yet.

If you want to try to make one your self you can either just bake one under a shortcrust or puff pastry lid in an ovenproof dish – just make sure to glue the edges of the crust shut with a bit of egg. Or you can make it in a cake tin with a loose bottom and use either all short crust or use my postej dough for the sides of the pie. You will want to use a better pastry fro the lid though – such as puff pastry or short crust as it is more likely to get eaten by your guests.

Read much more about postejs in “Historisk Kogebog. Kogekunst i Danmark 1616-1910” by Else-Marie Boyhus.

After looking at all these art works I can see that I shape my postejs wrong – the edges should be turned up rather than over. Ok something to fix for next time.

Pie crust (postejdej)

An unsweetened very elastic crust for making meat pies, such as my game pie and my pork and chicken pie.. You use this for the sides of the pie and a shortcrust for the lid.

  • Prep Time: 10m
  • Total Time: 1h 10m

Ingredients

  • 500 grams wheat flour
  • 125 grams butter
  • 170 milliliters water boiling
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter in the boiling water
  2. Put the flour in a bowl and mix it with the salt. Make an indentation in the little mountain of flour (like you do with pasta dough).
  3. Add in the water/butter mix, one third at a time, and mix it in with the rest, until you have a smooth pie dough. The order is important if you are using a kitchen aid
  4. Add it to a plastic bag and let it rest for an hour in the fridge.

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