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Minted Lamb Pasties

Last week we looked at the traditional way cattle herdsmen marked Beltane, 1 May, the ancient Scottish Spring fire festival.  This week we note how shepherds, in bygone times, sought to protect their flocks from misfortune.  In Scottish Customs (Birlinn, 1996), Sheila Livingstone writes -

"At Beltane shepherds cut a circular trench and lit a fire of sacred wood.  They made a caudle of eggs, butter, oatmeal and milk, spilling some on the ground to ensure the safety of their flock in the coming season and to placate the old gods.  They drank it with bear and whisky.  Often an oatcake was baked with nine raised knobs dedicated to various deities and each shepherd broke off a piece and said 'This to thee, preserve thou my sheep.'

In Stirlingshire, they cast lots to determine which two shepherds would become the Keepers of Beltane.  It was their job to hide away the cake until the following Sunday when they would break up the oatcake and blacken one piece in the fire.  The company were blindfolded and chose a piece of oatcake and the one who drew the burnt one then leapt three times through the flames in continuation of a Druidic custom when the chosen one might in reality have been sacrificed to the God of Light.

Shepherds made a hoop of rowan and passed the lambs through this to keep them safe from the evil eye."

Lamb is the basis for this week's recipe and whether we suffer the Gab o Mey, a cold snap for a few days at the beginning of the month, or not, Minted Lamb Pasties is just the ticket as they can be served hot or cold.

Minted Lamb Pasties

Ingredients:  200 g (8 oz) plain flour; pinch of salt; 50 g (2 oz) margarine; 50 g (2 oz) lard or white fat; water to mix; 175 g (6oz) cooked lamb, finely diced; 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped; 3 tablespoons cooked peas; 100 g (4 oz) boiled potatoes, chopped; salt and freshly ground black pepper; 2 teaspoons freshly chopped mint or 1 teaspoon dried mint; beater egg, to glaze

Method:  Sieve the flour with a pinch of salt into a bowl.  Add the fats and rub in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add sufficient cold water to mix to a pliable dough and knead lightly until smooth.  Wrap in foil and chill for 30 minutes if possible.

If using raw diced lamb, it should be fried gently in 25 g (1 oz) butter for 5 to 10 minutes before mixing with the other ingredients.

Mix together the chopped lamb, onion, peas, potato, salt and pepper to taste and the mint.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and cut into four circles 18 cm (7 inches) in diameter.  Divide the meat mixture between these, placing it in the centre of each.  Damp the pastry edges and bring together at the top to form a pasty.  Press well together and crimp the edge.  Place on a dampened baking sheet and brush with beaten egg.  Cook in a hot oven (220C, 425F, Gas Mark 7) for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to moderate (180C, 350F, Gas Mark 4) and continue for 15 to 20 minutes, until well browned.

Serve hot or cold with tomato wedges.

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