Our old-fashioned cottage pie

Cottage pie, shepherd’s pie, potato pie … it’s all so confusing. How do you know what you should call that meat pie thing topped with mashed potato that’s just been dished out for dinner?

Cottage pie: served in very untraditional individual ramekins

Cottage pie: served in very untraditional individual ramekins

The earliest recipe for something like cottage pie in from Mrs Beeton in 1861, who tells us how to make mutton pie from a leftover roast, laying down slices of meat, seasoning and potato, one after the other, until the pie dish is full. The seasoning is basic: onion, savoury herbs, parsley and mace. The ever-so-English Good Housekeeping Cookery Book (1948) gives the recipe for cottage pie (with shepherd’s pie shown as a secondary name), with either minced lamb or beef, seasoned with onion, stock, parsley and dried herbs.

So when did we start cooking cottage pie? Probably as long as we’ve had leftover roast and potatoes in the English-speaking world in the late 1500s. Wikipedia tells us only that cottage pie was definitely on the menu by the late 1700s. Shepherd’s pie became fashionable about 100 years later, even though it meant the same thing. It’s only recently that the term cottage pie is used for beef, and shepherd’s pie for lamb. Potato pie is something else altogether: a mixture of meat and potato chunks topped with pastry and then baked. The first record for anything like that was in 1855, when William Birkhill made the ‘Cheshire Observer‘ for stealing one (see The Foods of England), even though it now seems to be those substandard bakery offerings of sloppy mince topped with powdered ‘potato’. They shouldn’t be called pie.

None of these is the cottage pie that I grew up with in my country Australian household.

For  a start, we called it mince pie (even though that rightfully belongs to the Christmas fruit mince pie of the same name). Our pie had little in the way of seasoning, but we added the usual veggies from the 1970’s meat-and-three-veggie dinner plate.

So here’s our recipe: it’s the traditional way my family has always done it.

Our old-fashioned cottage pie

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • for the potato topping: 5−8 potatoes, butter (2 oz), milk (¼ cup)  and dijon mustard (1 tspn)
  • 1 large or 2 small onions (diced)
  • ½ kilogram of minced meat (usually beef, because it’s cheaper)
  • 2 carrots (diced)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a small sprig of parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup of liquid (water or, leftover juices from the roasting pan if you have it)
  • 1 cup of frozen green peas


  1. Peel and chop the potatoes. Microwave or steam them until they are really very soft. It takes about 20 minutes in our microwave.
    While the potatoes are cooking, make the meat filling
  2. Saute the onion in a large pan.
  3. Add the minced meat and cook until browned.
  4. Add the carrot, bay leaf, parsely and salt and pepper and cook few a few minutes. Add as much of the liquid as you need to, and simmer until the carrots are just tender (about 20 minutes).
  5. Add in the peas. You’ll need at least a cup, but we just pour in as many as we think we can get away with. Cook for a few more minutes until the peas are just cooked through.
  6. Watch the potatoes while you’re doing all this. When they’re cooked through, mash them together with the butter and mustard. Add the milk as you go: you want smooth and creamy mashed potato, not slop from adding too much milk.
    Assemble the pie
  7. Choose an ovenproof dish: you can use a souffle dish (ours serves four), small ramekins for that individual serve, or an old-fashioned pie dish.
  8. Pour the meat mixture into the dish(es), then dollop mashed pumpkin across the top of each.
  9. Bake in a slow−moderate oven (about 150ºC, or 300F) for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is browned just the way you like it.


You can add all sorts of spices to the meat mixture. You can also add Parmesan or cheddar cheese to the mashed potato topping. We prefer to leave it alone and just smother our individual shares with tomato sauce once we’re at the dinner table.

Cottage pie

Cottage pie

Submitted to: Delicious Dish Tuesday

3 thoughts on “Our old-fashioned cottage pie

  1. Ours was always called Cottage no matter that mother nearly always used left-over lamb. I actually generally have a phobia about tomato ketchup splashed on food (it entirely turns my stomach) except, obscurely on Cottage Pie where it is, you are right, the most heavenly combination 🙂


    • Yeah, the distinction between cottage and shepherd’s pie seems to be relatively recent, so cottage pie it was for a long time. By the way, we also think that tomato sauce is also essential for meat pies and sausage rolls. Other than that, it gets left on the shelf in this house.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My husband and all 5 of our children would agree with you on the meat pies and sausage rolls … he would then put it back on the shelf. Two of the aforementioned bratlings when small would have eaten the red stuff with their morning cereal if allowed, the rest were addicted in varying degrees but I’m happy to say that in adult-hood they are less dependent! I love your blog incidentally 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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