Christmas Foods and Traditions: Stargazy Pie

Stargazy Pie
Stargazy Pie

I watched a good movie this week called Ladies in Lavender. The plot is so-so, and I don’t know where the lavender comes in, but my favorite actresses, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are featured in it, so it makes my Favorites List. The movie was filmed in Cornwall and the coastal scenery is beautiful and the cottage setting and interior also make it worthwhile to see. I went to Cornwall this past summer so it brought back great memories for me. Well, in one scene the women are looking to buy pilchards (a large type of sardine) to make a Stargazy Pie! Oh My! It is made out to be quite a delicacy in the movie. So I had to find out if there was such a thing!

And there is…….

In December every year in the village of Mousehole, Cornwall there is a festival called Tom Bawcock’s Eve. Tom was a local fisherman in the 16th century and the festival is held to remember Tom and his act of heroism. According to legend, one stormy winter when no fishing boats were able to get out, and all in the village were facing starvation, on December 23rd, Tom Bawcock, decided to brave the storms and went out fishing in his boat. Despite the stormy weather and difficult sea, he came back with enough fish to feed the entire village. The entire catch (including seven types of fish) was baked into a pie made of eggs and potatoes with the heads and tails poking through the crust to prove that the fish were inside. The fish appear to be gazing skyward, hence the name of the pie!  This allows the oils to be released during cooking to flow back into the pie.

In 1963, another tradition was added to the Mousehole festivities. John Gilchrist, a local artist, strung Christmas lights around the harbor, and the idea was taken up by the local carpenters. Today a group of forty volunteers work months putting up over seven thousand bulbs and six miles of lights! The Lighting is attended by over four thousand people and starts with the village priest blessing the scene. In celebration and memorial to the efforts of Tom Bawcock the villagers parade a huge Stargazy Pie during the evening with a procession of handmade lanterns, before eating the pie itself! One set of lights even represents the pie, showing fish heads and tails protruding from a pie dish underneath six stars!

In the evening all harbor lights are turned off so people can watch the illuminations and lantern parade, followed by caroling on the beach! What fun this would be at Christmas! Well maybe not the pie so much, it would take getting used to. Have any of you ever had Stargazey pie? If you have let me know!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. This is such a lovely post – and yes it is one of Cornwall’s classic dishes. I made it only once – when I lived in Portugal. We were invited to dinner party where we all had to bring a dish from our country (very international bunch) and as the fish caught in the south of Portugal is so excellent and I like making pastry I decided to have a go, even though I am not from Cornwall. Well the dish went down very well with the Portuguese, Spanish and Scottish but not so well with the Americans who said the heads really put them off. I should tell you that a very funny young Australian chap brought a jar of Vegemite!

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    1. Vegemite is something I have never tried. Do you like it? What can you compare the taste to?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is made from yeast extract and the taste is a cross between caviar and beef gravy. We have a product in England called Marmite which is almost the same – people either love it or hate it – I love it. We often refer to people or films etc as “Marmite” if it divides opinions. You could say that the Brexit vote was so Marmite!

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