Shepherd’s Pie: Something for the Guy Fawkes weekend

Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot… Those words, or a close approximation, are most likely known by every child in England. A distinctly British celebration, Guy Fawkes Night marks the failure of the eponymous Catholic’s failed attempt to blow up the House of Parliament and kill King James I, in 1605.

Guy Fawkes, formally known as Guido Fawkes, along with his fellow 'Gunpowder Conspirators'. They gained this title, and the plot generally became known as the 'Gunpowder Plot', because of their chosen means of assassination. The plot was foiled by the discovery of 36 barrels of gunpowder that they had planted in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament.

The event, known as Pope Day, was initially observed in North America but, imported by settlers, it died out with the Revolution. The religious undertones have largely subsided, and the day sees children making effigies (known as ‘Guys’) to be burnt on the customary bonfire , fireworks displays, and, of course, food!

Traditionally, children make 'Guys' out of trash sacks, stuffed with straw or other filling, and old clothes. After spending the day raising money with the slogan 'Penny for the Guy', the effigies are thrown onto the bonfire.

Towns such as Lewes in the south of England, have particularly impressive parades every year. Different ‘Bonfire Organizations’ spend months planning their outfits, firework displays and procession floats. The resulting spectacle is distinctly medieval, and well worth seeing for yourself if you ever get the chance. Here’s a video to give you a taster:

And now to the important part: feeding people. If you are hosting a bonfire party, bearing in mind the weather at this time of year, you’ll want a dish that can be made in large quantities, is warming and easy to serve. A Shepherd’s Pie would be ideal. After giving you the recipe for mashed potato last week, you’re halfway there. This dish is probably the most famous English culinary export, and well worth mastering for your repertoire. It’s easy, affordable and extremely delicious.

Shepherd’s Pie

Here's how we serve it in the restaurant - with peas and carrots, what else!

Note: The name refers to the shepherd and his flock of sheep. Traditionally the dish is made with lamb. It’s just as tasty, maybe more so, if made with beef. This variation is known as cottage pie.

Serves 4-6
Preparation time: 2 ½ hours

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 lb. lean ground beef
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 ¼ cups beef stock
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons oregano
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
4 medium carrots, peeled, chopped, and cooked
1 ½ cups frozen peas, cooked
Mashed potato
Grated sharp Cheddar cheese (optional)
Small bunch watercress, washed and trimmed (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Sauté the onion in the oil and butter until it is soft.
  • Increase heat to high, ad the ground beef, and cook until completely browned, separating the meat as it is cooking to avoid winding up with big chunks of meat in the pie.
  • Add tomatoes, stock, Worcestershire, oregano and bay leaves, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, until the meat is tender.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste, and add a little more Worcestershire sauce if needed.
  • Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof baking dish and mix in the cooked carrots and peas.
  • Top with an even layer of mashed potatoes and a little grated cheese (optional). Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
  • Serve garnished with watercress, if you like.

And finally, another Guy Fawkes Night classic is bonfire treacle toffee. Made from treacle, these hard sugar candies have a distinctive burnt sugar flavor. Very warming and great to suck while you stand around the bonfire.

Bonfire Treacle Toffee

We sell them in-store for $3.95 a quarter pound. As with all our produce, we ship. Please contact us at, or on (212) 989-9735, to inquire about any products, including our cookbook Tea & Sympathy: The Life of an English teashop in New York, which contains all our recipes.

From all at Tea & Sympathy: remember, remember the fifth of November.

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