Pie and mash shops are a London institution, the first one having opened its doors in the 1850s, the pie filling being eels, which were common in the Thames at the time as not much else could survive in the polluted water.
Before pie and mash shops, roaming piemen would sell their wares on the streets, which was a cheap and popular food in Victorian times.
With the coming of the shops, minced beef or lamb fillings replaced eels, and the addition of mashed potato made it more of a meal. Eels were and still are a big part of the traditional food, either hot or jellied and the stewing water is the basis of the green liquor along with chopped parsley.
Most Londoners will be familiar with the Manze family who still run London’s oldest surviving pie and mash shop on Tower Bridge Road, which opened in 1891.
Next time you are in London, find a pie and mash shop, and indulge in a classic traditional dish, but watch out for the bones in the eels. Nowadays good manners mean we put the bones on the side of the plate, but the original shop floors were covered in sawdust to collect the bones after being spat out.
This article is extracted from a fuller history by Ben O’Norum which you can find here.
My recipe for homemade pie and mash.