After a day of enduring the midwinter winds blowing across Salisbury Plain, the ancient builders of Stonehenge may have warmed themselves up with a prehistoric version of the minced pie, archaeologists have suggested.
The hardy engineers of the great Wiltshire monument could also have kept themselves up by munching on their version of energy bars made with berries, nuts and animal fat.
Midwinter has been established to be an important time of year for the builders of Stonehenge, with the elders bringing cows and pigs from as far away as Scotland to participate in site celebrations at the time of the winter solstice.
Archaeologists have also found evidence of collecting and cooking hazelnuts, sloes and crabapples and other fruits, with remains of charred plant remains unearthed at Durrington Walls, the settlement inhabited by the builders of Stonehenge around 2500 BC. They knew how to grow cereals and could therefore make pastries with wheat, hazelnut or acorn flour.
English Heritage, who runs Stonehenge, concedes it’s a bit of a leap, but puts forward the festive theory that engineers could have combined the two in a version of the thin pie, possibly baked using a stone. dish or ceramic pot heated in the embers of a fire, much like a Welsh cake.
Susan Greaney, Senior Property Historian with English heritage, said: “We know that midwinter and the feasting were really important to the builders of Stonehenge, and we have evidence that tells us that they had access to nutritious fruits and nuts, and that they maybe even prepared and cooked recipes.
“Adding meat fat to hazelnuts and fruit would have made a great energy bar, full of calories. Such foods could have been eaten for celebration as well as sustenance, with sharing of the food helping the community bond, encouraging people to travel from far and wide to help build Stonehenge. We’ll never know for sure which recipes they liked best, but it’s fun to imagine travelers being greeted with a platter of pies.
Fruit and nut picking discoveries were made during the long-running Stonehenge Riverside project, a collaboration led by six academics from five UK universities
His excavations at Durrington Walls, a large henge monument 2.5 km northeast of Stonehenge, revealed the remains of houses and dumps – piles of rubbish – and provided a glimpse into life at the time of the construction of Stonehenge. Objects such as pieces of ceramic and tools have provided new information about the diets and lifestyles of the people who built and used Stonehenge.
The origins of mince pies date back at least to the medieval period, with recipes varying over the centuries, from savory meat treats to the sweet and rich version preferred today.
English Heritage volunteers will bake Neolithic thin pies around the fireplace in reconstructions of Neolithic houses at Stonehenge every Monday in December, and tartlets inspired by the period will be on the cafe menu. The association has also developed a recipe so that everyone can try their hand at producing a thin Neolithic-style pie.
Recipe: Neolithic-inspired pâtés (for 6)
To make them vegetarian, simply replace the lard with a fatty vegan or vegetarian product.
For the pastry:
2 x handfuls of emmer’s flour
½ handful of hazelnut flour
A few drops of water
For the filling:
Four crab apples or small sour apples
Mashed rose hips (about a spoonful)
A spoonful of honey
A handful of whole berries
A few crushed hazelnuts
Some flax seeds and a drizzle of honey for the tops
1. Preheat your oven to 210C electric / 190C fan / gas 5. Cut the ingredients for your compote filling and put them in a saucepan over medium heat, simmer until tender.
2. Mix the flour with the lard and a few drops of water until you get a firm dough.
3. Create six circles for the pie shells and six slightly smaller circles for the tops. Place the funds in boxes in a muffin tin and pour in the cooked compote.
4. Take the lids and brush one side with water and place the water side down, pressing the edges to seal.
5. Once all the lids are in place, brush the tops with water and sprinkle with honey, flax seeds and crushed hazelnuts.
6. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch.