A Butler’s Tale

Cragside Oct12

Take a stroll around the decadent surroundings of the house at Cragside and its easy to get a sense of the lavish lifestyles of Lord and Lady Armstrong. Their love of entertaining is well documented, in particular the royal visit by the prince of Wales in 1884 when the visitors were wowed with a tour of the ornate gardens and vast estate before heading back to the house to dine in style in Armstrong’s impressive dining room.

Managing an estate of this size was an enormous task and required a large and varied workforce. One of the highest ranking positions among the staff was that of the butler whose principle duties included looking after the wine cellar and pantry, instructing the other male members of staff and serving food and drinks in the dining room.

After a long day tending to the needs of Lord and Lady Armstrong and their guests, the staff would sit down to dinner, with the butler taking his position at the head of the table. Only once he had carved the meat and given his permission to eat, would the meal commence. The teatime fayre of the staff was a far cry from the food served at the masters table, but it was always homely and flavoursome.

There were a number of butlers at Cragside during Armstrong’s time but the most celebrated among them was Andrew Crozier. In 1881 Andrew began his career as a page boy, at just eleven years old, and soon afterwards was given the high honour of switching on the first ever electric light in the house. He became a valued member of staff and over the years moved through the ranks, eventually rising to the coveted position of butler.

Despite a strict separation between the male and female members of staff a romance blossomed between Andrew Crozier and Elizabeth Tace Athey whom had also started her career at Cragside as a young girl  eventually becoming housekeeper. The couple were married in 1898 and spent the rest of their lives in service at Cragside. The pair, with 153 years of combined serviced, were honoured in 1950 when one of the estate drives was named after them. The name still remains today so make sure you have a wander up Crozier drive on your next visit, it may well be quite a climb but the views of the house, estate and valley beyond are breath-taking.

On our menu at the tearoom we doff our caps to the many staff who served at Cragside and to celebrate them we created a delicious afternoon platter which would be sure to please any butler. The main element of the dish is a traditional pork pie made with hot water crust pastry which is served alongside chutney, a piece of fruit cake and a pot of steaming tea or coffee.

pork pie

Cragside Pork Pie (Makes 6 small individual pies)

Hot water crust pastry

450g Plain flour

165g lard

A pinch of salt

250ml water

Pie filling

250g Minced pork

200g pork sausage meat

3 rashers of smoky bacon, finely chopped

1 apple grated , or 25g of dried apricots finely chopped

3 spring onions, finely chopped

A handful of mixed herbs finely chopped (parsley, chives and sage are good choices)

1 egg

½ a teaspoon of salt and pepper.

  1. Make the filling for the pie by mixing the meats, fruit, herbs and seasoning together in a large bowl. Add in the egg to bind the mixture and set aside in the fridge while you make the pastry.

  2. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.

  3. To make the hot water crust pour the water into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, add the lard and reduce to a simmer.

  4. Once the lard has melted remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for 2 minutes.

  5. Add ¾ of the flour and stir until you have a smooth paste, add the remainder of the flour a little at a time until the dough is firm enough to handle and mould. The pastry needs to be kept warm so only take a little out of the pan at a time.

  6. Roll out handfuls of the pastry to line the individual mini pie tins or use a muffin tin.

  7. Divide the filling into 6 and press it into each pie (they may seem quite full but the mixture will shrink when cooked.)

  8. Brush the edges of the pies with water or egg and cut out some lids. Press down firmly at the edges to seal the pies. Put a small cross in the top to let out the steam while cooking and brush with egg wash. Place onto the middle shelf of the oven and cook for 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is golden and firm.

  9. Once out of the oven allow the pies to cool slightly but remove from the tins whilst still warm.

    Allow to cool and serve with red onion marmalade or some spicy piccalilli on the side.

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