Review: Historic Pies – The School of Artisan Food, Welbeck Estate Notts




You might think that writing about food and presenting at Food Festivals, watching the chefs close up, would enable me to be an amazing cook.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m good, but we all have our weak points.  One of mine is pastry.  I love eating out and can tell you what is good and bad food, but give me a pastry recipe, and I’m not a chef.

I’ve watched many cookery programmes where they make it look so easy, rolling out the pastry effortlessly, yet when I attempt it, I’m covered in flour and my pastry is stuck to the worktop.

Usually the term ‘Historic Pie’ is one reserved for something I’ve found nestled at the back of my freezer, so it was with some trepidation that I attended a workshop I’d been invited to at The School of Artisan Food at Welbeck. For one day I became ‘Desperate Tan’ and here I was to learn all about the making of ‘Historic Pies’.


The workshop is hosted by Ivan Day. Ivan has an international reputation for his extensive knowledge and research on British and European culinary history. As well as a scholar, broadcaster and writer, he is also a gifted professional cook and confectioner. He is famed particularly for his re-creations of meals and table settings, which are in high demand. His work has been exhibited in many museums, including the Paul Getty Research Institute, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of London, Fairfax House, the Bowes Museum and the Rothschild Collection. He has lectured around the world.


Firstly, let me say what a beautiful place Welbeck is, and if you do get chance then you must visit the gallery and farm shop too.   It’s great that we have these courses on our door step and NOT have to go to London to find something like this, which is instead, set in the beautiful Nottinghamshire countryside.  I imagine it enables them to keep better prices too.  It’s no wonder there were fellow pupils there from all over the country and some even from America.


So let me tell you more about the day. This course is aimed at YOU, the keen cook, it’s not too technical or unachievable at home.  It’s accessible, real and down to earth.  Sure, some might be better cooks than others, but you work together in groups.each taking a turn and importantly ‘Having a Go’.  So if you have an interest in cooking, baking or historic food and want to understand a little more about how food has developed and the pie design technique and how to recreate beautiful looking pies at home (or even just improve your pastry), this workshop is perfect for you.


Furthermore, if you love getting your hands dirty and putting what you learn into practice, you’ll love this. It’s very hands on. Don’t expect to spend hours listening to information.


You begin with Ivan giving a talk on the forgotten art of the British Pie maker. He shows us some very old rare precious English Illustrated cookery books relevant to the history of the iconic dish, which have to remain under cover so as not to be damaged by the light and air, but the aim of the day’s activities is to make some spectacular ornamented c1885 raised pies, and within the first half an hour, you’ll be measuring and mixing ingredients to create your first pie.


Time is divided between concise, thoughtful and useful presentation sessions, and interactive, creative time where you get hands on with the antique moulds and cutters to create your groups unique pie.  Beautiful to look at, the cooked finished golden pastry looks too good to eat (almost)


Based in the heart of Sherwood Forest on the Welbeck Estate in North Nottinghamshire, the school is housed in the former fire stables, dating back to 1870. Newly refurbished training rooms are specially equipped for the teaching of breadmaking, cheesemaking, brewing, butchery, charcuterie and preserving. Large modern kitchens with high ceilings and lots of natural light make this a stunning location and a great space to find inspiration and discover your creativity and learn new skills


You won’t know it yet, but a workshop like this is where you’re going to meet like-minded food junkies just like you. You can spend all day lusting over recipes, ingredients techniques, cooking vessels,debating historic methods and versus today’s, discussing whether Bake Off is really realistic…. Basically, you’re going to spend the day with some great people who love the same things as you.



Obviously there is pie! On my workshop we made a pie in groups of three, which was divided between us at the end of the day.  They are huge pies, so the piece you get to take home is substantial.  Take a large cool bag with you to transport home.  We also make a venison and lamb pasty from a 1720 design which is worthy of a place in the Guinness Book Of Records, which we were able to taste.  Lunch is provided.  You can help yourself road a delicious buffet style lunch of hot and cold food plus Welbeck bread and for afters, delicious moist chocolate brownies.  You can also help yourself to tea and coffee throughout the day.  It is a school of Artisan Food So of course,  the food is pretty extraordinary.


So what will you learn? Well I guess it depends what you know already, but for me, the workshop showed me that it is not as difficult or time consuming to make your own pastry, it cemented my ideas on  fillings and flavour, use antique equipment or a modern equivalent to bring your ideas to life, before spending money on ready bought pies or equipment you might not need for your next project.



Other than leaving well fed and with your beautiful portion of pie, you’ll be given a canvas Welbeck bag and your workshop booklet which you use throughout the day.  In it are Ivan’s recipes for the various pastry’s and fillings you have made, a guide to the equipment you have used and recommended further reading. There is also a voucher for money off another course, which no doubt you’ll be wanting to do.

Course Schedule:

9.30  Registration and refreshments

10.00 Course commences with a talk on the forgotten art of British Pie Making

10.15 Hands on pastry making session – you will make lining pastry for your raised pie, pasty pastry for your venison and Lamb Pasties and hot water pastry for ornaments.

11.00 Prepare the meat filling for raised pies and pies go into oven

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Course commences – you will make pasty.

17.00 Course finishes

Dates and other food related courses are available throughout the year. Visit for more details.

Disclosure: I was gifted the experience but wouldn’t hesitate to pay, and wholly recommend the day.

By Tanya Louise




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