What's in the Pie?

Meat. Pies. Meat in a pie. What could go wrong?

Meat. Pies. Meat in a pie. What could go wrong?


A Brief History of Meat Pies​

Meat pies hearken back to 9500 BC, when ancient Egyptians made meat pies of barley, honey, oat, rye, and wheat. Greeks and Romans had their own variants, but the term didn't come into popular usage until the 14th century. By 1440 meat pies started to resemble the pies we know today, with innovations in making the crust flakier and tastier. From there, missionaries and explorers brought the meat pie to America. They didn't gain popularity there until the 1800s, and while they are very common as a main meal in the UK and Europe, they eventually lost their place as a favorite dish in the US to the more traditional sweet pie (the food Americans usually associate with the term "pie").

We're on our fourth recipe from the human-chapter of the Heroes' Feast, so it's no surprise that meat pies are listed as a dish in the form of Hand Pies.
These palm-sized pastries are as near a tavern staple as you can get ... Hand pies take on many forms and flavors and travel particularly well, making them adventurer-friendly fare.The variety presented below, made famous at Cuttle's Meat Pies located in Waterdeep's Trade Ward, is flavored with bacon and leeks and is extremely popular across the Heartlands, the Dales, and even the Savage Coast north of Faerun, where hungry adventurers simply can't get enough of them.


Hand Pies​

Like so many of the Heroes' Feast meals, the recipe tries to strike the balance between a food you can eat at your table and representing the fantasy version of a meal. In this case the name is the first hint that hand pies are meant to be portable and eaten with your hands. That's not in practice how they recipe turned out.

We weren't able to get all the ingredients due to the pandemic, so we replaced ground beef with ground turkey and leeks with carrots. We otherwise stuck to the same ingredients, with the additional tweak that the pie crusts came in a round ten-inches and the recipe asks for an oval of ten-inches by eight-inches. Rather than trim the pie (and potentially leave less room for the meat), we just used a ten-inch round pie crust.

Unlike the marathon exercise to make the turkey legs from the last recipe, this was relatively straightforward. The hand pies are surprisingly large--even if we cut off an additional two inches, they wouldn't be that small, and not something that would hold up to transportation. Eating with ones' hands seems unlikely; a smaller version in a fantasy world would probably make more sense.

Taste-wise, I found these delicious. There's a guilty pleasure in eating a meal with a pie crust, and it doesn't hurt that you baste the crust with an egg to give it a golden yellow color. Each hand pie easily is enough to feed two people (essentially, you fold the crust in half to make half a pie), so you can expect this meal to serve eight people rather than the recipes' recommended four.

The recipe suggests they be served with condiments like ketchup or steak sauce, which is a hint that the hand pies are dry since you're baking them. We had gravy left over from the turkey recipe that paired nicely, but any condiment would do. Also, this was the first meal my daughter--who is not a fan of hamburgers--didn't enjoy.

This meal can definitely be served at a table with players, although it's not neat enough to be eaten while gaming. Of course, there's a more sinister way to incorporate meat pies into your game and it's not who's eating it, but who's in it.


Mystery Meat​

The story of a villain (or anti-hero, depending on your perspective) baking different ingredients into meat pies goes all the way back to Charles Dickens' Pidwick Papers in which a servant says that a pieman used cats:
‘I lodged in the same house vith a pieman once, sir, and a wery nice man he was—reg’lar clever chap, too—make pies out o’ anything, he could. “What a number o’ cats you keep, Mr. Brooks,” says I, when I’d got intimate with him. “Ah,” says he, “I do—a good many,” says he, “You must be wery fond o’ cats,” says I. “Other people is,” says he, a-winkin’ at me; “they ain’t in season till the winter though,” says he. “Not in season!” says I. “No,” says he, “fruits is in, cats is out.” “Why, what do you mean?” says I. “Mean!” says he. “That I’ll never be a party to the combination o’ the butchers, to keep up the price o’ meat,” says he. “Mr. Weller,” says he, a-squeezing my hand wery hard, and vispering in my ear—“don’t mention this here agin—but it’s the seasonin’ as does it. They’re all made o’ them noble animals,” says he, a-pointin’ to a wery nice little tabby kitten, “and I seasons ‘em for beefsteak, weal or kidney, ‘cording to the demand. And more than that,” says he, “I can make a weal a beef-steak, or a beef-steak a kidney, or any one on ‘em a mutton, at a minute’s notice, just as the market changes, and appetites wary!”’
We all know where this is going and so did Dickens in the Life and Adventures of Martin Cuzzlewit, where Tom Pinch manages to avoid...
...the dens of any of those preparers of cannibalic pastry, who are represented in many standard country legends as doing a lively retail business in the Metropolis;
Who was Pinch referencing? A few years later the answer was Sweeney Todd in the penny dreadful titled The String of Pearls. The Demon Barber of Fleet Street slit the throat's of his victims, dumped them into a pit, and then his co-conspirator Mrs. Lovett, would bake their meat into her pies. Most recently this morbid tale was told in the movie Sweeney Todd, featuring Johnny Depp as the titular character and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett.


Delicious Revenge​

The horror of meat pies is not easy to incorporate into a game. PCs are notoriously suspicious of all food and drink, so part of a GM's ability to surprise PCs is to get them at ease with their favorite tavern. This requires some comfort level to get the heroes to let their guard down, and if it happens once they'll likely never eat food without testing it ever again.

Part of The String of Pearls narrative was fear of the depersonalization of the individual in the wake of industrialization, which made it very easy for someone to disappear without anyone noticing. Similarly, a GM planning to serve up a character as a meal will need to pick a busy eatery where it's possible victims would go unnoticed, like a large city.

Even then, implicit in baking victims into pies is that nobody notices, so the PCs need a means of detecting the mystery meat. It might be an animal companion with the Keen Smell trait; it could be a PC with proficiency in cook's tools who has distinguishing taste; or it could be that the ghost of one of the victims haunts whoever eats their flesh. However they find out, the whole operation requires a level of sophistication that can process the meat, likely involving more than one person to challenge investigators.

Whatever you choose, food for friends or food made of foes, meat pies provide delicious opportunities at your table … revenge or otherwise.

Your Turn: Have you ever incorporated mystery meat as a plot twist in your game?

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


The EN World kitten
Well you had pies with human ingredients in one of Shakespeare's plays: Titus Andronicus.

And I used it to great effect when I wrote a modern horror-story. Pizzas with extra meat (had bacon, ground beef, and secret ingredients). Was even called Cannibale... ;)
Believe it or not, that also happened in one of the last official adventures for AD&D 2nd Edition, a little module called The Apocalypse Stone (affiliate link).


Of course, in a fantasy setting featuring a variety of races including some straight-up carnivores, not all of them will have the same hang-ups about eating members of other sentient species. A gnome, dragonborn or tabaxi may not bat an eye at being served human meat pie.

So good! The movie version starring Sir Anthony Hopkins is a visual feast, too.

Well you had pies with human ingredients in one of Shakespeare's plays: Titus Andronicus.

I actually made a pie over the weekend, though I was working with gluten-free flour (which makes it that much more difficult). The recipe from the Middle Ages I used called for nuts, cheese, ginger, and some other spices, and turned out quite nicely, if I do say so myself:


There's been some debate as to whether or not people actually at the dough or just cracked it open to get at the contents, with the dough serving just as a convenient vessel to cook it and serve it in. I can't say that I'm enough of a scholar to weigh in conclusively, but it seems to me that that sort of food wastage (even assuming they would give the scraps to the poor) would've been only a thing for the very rich, and maybe not even then. Famines were a major threat back then, after all.
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