Spurious history: the origins of shepherd's pie

“They impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled”

I haven’t yet found evidence of Pere Botero’s cauldron in accounts of the 1251/1320 Shepherds’ Crusade, but at least this meme will encourage children who suspect that – denuded of the genitive apostrophe-s – shepherd’s pie is exactly what it purports to be: minced shepherd with boots and gravy, topped first with potato mash and then with a layer of grated cheese, baked until brown, and forced down one’s throat by a dietary zealot. Think I’m kidding you? Here’s old rent-a-quote Radulph from Caen in Amin Maalouf’s The Crusades through Arab eyes:

In Ma’arra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking-pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled.

Boring gits will now point out that Radulph was writing about the year 1098, not 1251, and that there is moreover no record of unethical culinary relationships involving pastoralists during that campaign. Fair enough, but then you also need to acknowledge that shepherd-eating is an enduring theme in European folklore. I’m not talking so much about stuff like George Borrow’s rejection of such stories in The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies of Spain as about the adoption by the Fourth Lateran Council of transubstantiation, the principal shepherd-eating myth in European culture. This doctrine was made official in 1215, and after 36 years French shepherds may have decided they’d had enough.

Similar posts


  1. Yes, but where was it made originally?!
    I’ve always thought it’s origin was England?

  2. Anywhere where you could find sheep, veg, a pan and a fire, I guess. Maybe the British were just best at marketing their brand. Anyone know names for it in other languages?

  3. The Canadian French for this is pâté chinois – Chinese Pie, literally translated. One of the francophone ladies at the office told me it was named this because it was a common dish fed to the Chinese labourers who built the railway across our country, beef and spuds being two things we Canadians have lots of.

  4. I want to know information about the dish shepherd’s pie from ireland. i.e. why is it made in ireland, climate type for cooking, why the ingredients are found in ireland, etc.

  5. By hook or by crook
    If you hadn’t sussed already, Trevor-the-Baldie’s blog is a remarkable mix of spurious trivia and really really odd historical facts, as well as a mix of English, Spanish, Catalan and Dutch (it’s ok, each has its own RSS feed). Today’s gem: Shepherd’s …

  6. Called hâchis parmentier in metropolitan French. Named after Parmentier who first brought the potatoe back from France and planted it in the Elyseen fields (Champs Elysees).

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *