I’m not sure what the seasonal equivalent for being a ‘Scrooge’ is at Easter but whatever it is I am probably it. In our household I have never upheld the belief in the Easter Bunny. As far as my children are concerned chocolate eggs come from the supermarket and any found in the garden must have been hidden there by either myself or my husband.
Apparently, we have the Anglo-Saxons to blame for the kickstarting the myth of the Easter Bunny. The sacred animal of Eosturmonath (April) was the hare who was believed to hide eggs in the gardens and outhouses for children to find. Hares would also be sacrificed during pagan times to appease the goddess Eostre.
In Hallaton, Leicestershire they still uphold the ancient custom of the annual hare pie scramble. The hare pie (nowadays the hare, which is out of season in April, is replaced with beef or lamb) is carried through the village to the church where it is blessed. It is then thrown to the crowd who ‘scramble’ for pieces of it.
Interestingly, the Easter bunny takes on different forms in other countries. In parts of Germany (such as Westphalia) he is a fox; in the Tyrol a white hen; in Switzerland a cuckoo and in Saxony a rooster. The Easter bunny can even be found in ancient Buddhist and Chinese mythology which believe a rabbit lives on the moon where he prepares the food of immortality!
As far as I’m concerned the only place for a rabbit at Easter time is in a pie. So here is my offering to Eostre, taking inspiration from Robert May (1660) and Hannah Glasse (1747). Neither cook offers specific recipes for rabbit pie but they do provide recipes for braised rabbit dishes. In one recipe May suggests serving his hashed rabbit with braised lettuce and raisins and Glasse suggests including capers in her sauce to go with boiled rabbit. In mediaeval times pie crusts, or coffyns, were not designed to be eaten. They merely provided a vessel in which the stew could be transported from the kitchen to the dining room whilst keeping the contents warm. But a good pie crust is a wondrous thing and it would be a shame not to eat the pastry particularly as lent has finished.
You can read more about the origins of the Easter egg in the post I wrote for English Heritage.
Rabbit Pie and Caper Sauce with Braised Lettuce & Raisins
Serves 4 generously
Ingredients for the pie & sauce
- 25g – 50g lard or vegetable oil
- 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg
- 2 wild rabbits, jointed (this may seem a lot for 4 people but there isn’t an awful lot of meat on a wild rabbit)
- 1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced
- 1 stick of celery, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, squashed
- 25g streaky bacon or pancetta, chopped
- ¼ (187ml) bottle white wine
- 700ml chicken stock or water
- 1 bunch mixed herbs, coarsely chopped (some supermarkets sell packs of ‘roasting’ herbs which are good for this recipe. They usually contain thyme, rosemary and sage)
- 500g pack of puff pastry
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp creme fraiche
- 1 heaped tbsp capers
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- Seasoning: salt, pepper, mace and lemon juice
- Ideally, start this the day before (or at least several hours ahead). I use a slow cooker to braise the rabbit but if you are cooking the casserole in the oven preheat it to 140℃. Melt 25g of lard in a large casserole. Coat the rabbit portions in seasoned flour, shaking off the excess and fry in batches until brown. Add more lard or oil if necessary.
- Remove the rabbit then fry the vegetables and bacon or pancetta until softened and beginning to colour. Add any flour left over from coating the rabbit then the wine. Allow to bubble for a minute or so. Add the stock or water and herbs then return the rabbit to the casserole. Season with salt, pepper and mace. Bring to the boil the cook in a slow cooker on low or at 140℃ for 1½ hours or until the rabbit is tender.
- Once the rabbit is cool enough to handle remove the meat from the bones and roughly chop. Strain the gravy and discard the vegetables and herbs. Reserve 500ml of the gravy for the caper sauce. The remaining gravy can go into the pie. Preheat the oven to 180℃.
- Roll out ⅔ of the pastry and use it to line a pie dish (I use one that is approximately 24 x 18 cm). Mix the rabbit with some of the gravy. You want enough to keep the meat moist but not so much that it erupts from the pie. Put this into the pastry lined pie dish then roll out the remaining pastry to form a top, wetting the top edges of the base of the pie so that the top adheres to it. Trim the edges (the trimmings can be used to decorate the pie if you wish) then brush with beaten egg. Bake for 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling piping hot.
- Mix the egg yolk with the creme fraîche. Bring the reserved gravy to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Quickly whisk in the egg and cream mixture into the the gravy whisking all the time until the sauce has thickened. Check the seasoning adding more salt, pepper and mace if required then add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Add the capers and parsley just before serving. Pour over the pie and enjoy.
Ingredients for the braised lettuce
- 4 little gem lettuces
- 30g butter
- 2 shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 200ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tsp sherry vinegar
- 50g raisins
- Cut the stalk off the bottom of each lettuce then cut in half lengthways. Discard any wilted outer leaves then gently wash the lettuce halves.
- Melt the butter in a large shallow saucepan or lidded frying pan. Gently cook the shallots until they are soft and are starting to turn golden.
- Mix the stock with the sherry vinegar. Pour into the saucepan with the shallots then add the raisins and the lettuce halves. Simmer gently for 5 minutes then turn the lettuce over and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes. Serve immediately with the rabbit pie.
It’s not lost on me that the raisins look a bit like rabbit droppings but I promise you that braised lettuce and raisins are a delicious combination!