According to Mark Strauss at the Smithsonian, we have celebrated Valentine’s Day since Roman Times. I like this passage he writes of a traveler’s diary from the early 18th century that notes: “On the eve of St. Valentine’s Day . . . An equal number of maids and bachelors get together; each writes his or her true or some feigned name upon separate billets, which they roll up, and draw by way of lots, the maids taking the men’s billets, and the men the maids’ . . . Fortune having thus divided the company into so many couples, the Valentines give balls and treats to their mistresses [and] wear their billets several days upon their bosoms or sleeves.”
I’ve also read that gift-giving and exchanging handmade cards on Valentine’s Day had become common and handmade Valentine cards made of lace, ribbons, and featuring cupids and hearts began to be created on this day and handed over to the man or woman one loved. This tradition eventually spread to the American colonies due to the import from England of booklets, or “writers,” which had “be my Valentine” verses and messages which could be copied into cards or letters.
It was not until 1843 that Valentine’s Day greeting cards began to be commercially produced, the first one created by Esther A. Howland, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts.
So I find that Valentine’s Day has come around again, and last year I made Allan a cheesecake. (See February 2012 Post) This year I decided on a Lobster and Scallop Pie. Looking at several cookery books, I found first a receipt from Hannah Glasse called “To Make a Lobster Pie.”
This is a rather simple receipt with few ingredients and seemed a bit bland, so I continued to look to find something a bit special for this Valentine’s Day treat. In Charles Carter’s 1730 cookery book I found one that I also liked yet it had too many sweet seasonings. Hannah uses vinegar in her lobster, Carter uses sack (sherry or a red wine) and this sounds more interesting. He also uses a leer (sauce or gravy) in the pie. So I will combine the two receipts to satisfy our taste in seafood.
I had two small lobsters and a few scallops for the pie. I started by cooking the lobster about 10 minutes, just enough so the meat could be removed from the shell. Next a puff paste as per Hannah. She does not mention blind baking the crust and it may be just something they did or did not do and did not write down. I wanted to try it without baking the bottom first. I think the heat under the kettle will brown it up nicely. I had already put the kettle by the fire to warm up, as I wanted a high heat.
I lined the pie tin with the puff paste and filled it with lobster and scallops. For a sauce, Allan heated cream in a sauce pan, then added some to, two whipped egg yolks to temper them. After he whisked the egg mixture back into the cream he added anchovy paste, salt and pepper, butter and sherry, to round off the sauce. This became our leer and we poured it over the lobster and scallops.
I rolled out the top paste and cut some hearts out from the sides. With the top in place and decorated with the hearts, into the kettle it went. I turned it every 10 minutes or so and took a look half-way through. It was not cooking as fast as I would have liked, so I put more coals under and over the kettle.
The added coals worked, and the hearts puffed up and the sides pulled away from the pan. It took about 45 minutes total. I scooped it out onto the plates. It lacked presentation as it flowed out of the crust onto the dish, however, it tasted wonderful. There were some leftovers and they will make a nice starter for our next meal.
We will celebrate Valentine’s Day, on the 14th of February by going off to lunch at one of our favorite resturants in Portsmouth. I doubt they will have a seafood pie as great as this, however.
Happy Valentine’s Day