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Foods of Cornwall
Whole small silver fish such as herrings, baked in a shortcrust dished pie with their heads poking through the upper crust. It has been suggested that this odd method allows the head to yield its luscious oil down to the dish without contaminating it with fiddly bones and scales. Served with soured cream.
First known from J. O. Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic & Provincial Words of 1847; "Starry-gazy-pie. A pie made of pilchards and leeks, the heads of the pilchards appearing through the crust as if they were studying the stars. Cornwall". There may be an even older reference to it in The Journals of Captain Frederick Hoffman, R.N. (1793-1814), published in 1901, where the dish is described as "A pie made of pilchards with their heads peeping through the crust, hence the name “Star gazing.”" and the Captain fears that his approval of Barbados and "its potted flying-fish, which I thought equal in flavour to potted pilchards. Were I to make this assertion at Mevagissey I fear I should stand but little chance of being invited to dine off star gazy pie"
'Food in England' by Dorothy Hartley (Hartley 1954) suggests a whole range of Stargazy products, though, being Dorothy Hartley, there is every possibility that she had just invented them herself, they certainly don't seem to be known anywhere else.
Assorted 'stargazeys' from Dorothy Hartley's 'Food in England'
The dish is famously prepared at the Ship Inn, Mousehole, on 23rd December, known as 'Tom Bawcock's Eve', supposedly in memory of the fisherman who saved the village from starvation by braving a fearsome winter storm to bring home a bumper catch, but possibly based on a very much older Pagan tradition. A procession is held, fish-shaped biscuits handed out and this song is sung:
A merry plaas you may believe
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