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Umble Pie

Game and Offal

(or Numble Pie, Nombul Pie, Humble Pie)

Umbles are the meaty parts of a beast's pluck - the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs - usually of a deer, but also of other animals.

It is not at all clear whether the phrase "to eat humble pie" meaning "to be very submissive" (OED) is in any way connected, other than in the sound of the words, to 'Umble Pie'. There is an often-repeated suggestion that Umbles were lower-class foods, so anyone who ate a pie of them was a humble and inferior person. This sounds plausible today, when we disdain offal and sell it off cheap, but kidneys, tripe and the rest were sometimes thought to be amongst the most prized bits - as you can see from the receipts here which adorn them with costly spices way beyond the reach of the humble.

'Umble' seems to come, via Norman French, from the Latin 'lumb' meaning 'loins', whereas 'humble' comes from 'humilem', meaning 'lowly'. I fancy it is just coincidence that we've ended up with two different words which look almost the same.

In Samuel Pepys diary on 5th July 1662: "I having some venison given me a day or two ago, and so I had a shoulder roasted, another baked, and the umbles baked in a pie, and all very well done." And on 8th July 1663: "Mrs Turner came in and did bring us an Umble-pie hot out of her oven, extraordinarily good."

Original Receipt in the verse cookery book 'Liber Cure Cocorum', 1430 (Liber Cure 1430);

Take tho hert and tho mydruv and the kydnere,
And hew hom smalle, as I the lere;
Presse oute the blode, wasshe hom thou schalle,
Sethe hom in water and in gode ale;
Coloure hit with brende bred or with blode;
Fors hit with peper and canel gode,
Sett hit to tho fyre, as I the telle in tale;
Kele hit with a litelle ale,
And set hit downe to serve in sale.

Original Receipt in 'The Accomplisht Cook' by Robert May, 1660 (Robert May 1660);

To make Umble-Pies.
Lay minced beef-suet in the bottom of the pie, or slices of interlarded bacon, and the umbles cut as big as small dice, with some bacon cut in the same form, and seasoned with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, fill your pyes with it, and slices of bacon and butter, close it up and bake it, and liquor it with claret, butter, and stripped tyme.

Bradley 1728 adds suet, apples, sugar, currants, spices, Sack and citrus juice.

Original Receipt in 'The Country Housewife and Lady's Director' by Prof. R Bradley, 1728 (Bradley 1728)

To make Umble Pye. From Mr. Thomas Fletcher of Norwich.
Take the Umbles of a Deer and boil them tenderly, and when they are cold, chop them as small as Meat for minc'd Pyes, and shred to them as much Beef-Suet, six large Apples, half a Pound of Sugar, a Pound of Currans, a little Salt, and as much Cloves, Nutmeg and Pepper powder'd as you see convenient; then mix them well together, and when they are put into the Paste, pour in half a Pint of Sack, the Juice of two Lemons and an Orange: and when this is done, close the Pye, and when it is baked, serve it hot to the Table.

See also:
Devizes Pie
Heart and Kidney Pudding
Liver and Kidney Pudding
Steak and Kidney Pie
Steak and Kidney Pudding


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