A British Legend Says This Fish Pie Saved A Village From Starvation

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Stargazy pie is an old, savory, Cornish concoction. The saucy fish pie consists of butter, cream, onion, and earthy stock, as well as eggs that have been hard-boiled, and custard that's been laced with mustard. It's also heavily seasoned with parsley, pepper, and salt (via Vice). Of course, recipes may vary, per Saveur, the Cornish Fishmonger, and Check Your Food. Whether or not any of those sound good is up to you, but it's difficult to deny that those are some bold flavors. What's even bolder is its presentation: sardine heads stick up out of the shortcrust, quite literally gazing at the stars above.

The Brits certainly seem to find the pie appetizing. Every year on December 23rd, the Ship Inn, located in Cornwall, serves up this signature recipe to hungry patrons, per Vice. Great British Menu, a BBC show, featured Stargazy pie as the British Embassy in Paris' main course back in the early 2000s (via Love Food). Before that, a mid-20th century cookbook called "Food In England" also documented the dish. Yet, the ultimate historical origins of this pastry are rather hazy, taking the form of both myth and hearsay.

The legend of Tom Bawcock

Once upon a time (the exact year is unknown), the small portside village of Mousehole, Cornwall was frozen over by blizzards (via Vice). The snow isolated this little settlement from the kingdom at large, and food supplies were running low as a result. That's when Tom Bawcock, a member of this chilly community, hopped onto a ship, went fishing, and brought back a boatload. Instead of immediately feeding the starving people, he took the time to bake the fish into a pie, then fed the entire village. 

Could that seriously be how the recipe was invented? Dorothy Hartley, author of "Food In England," attributed the dish's most striking feature — sky-facing fish heads — to the Victorians, according to Love Food. That same source also points out there's little proof substantiating the Tom Bawcock tale. Meanwhile, a few years ago, a Mousehole man born in the 1920's told Vice his late wife was the one who actually came up with Stargazy pie. Who can say for certain which story is true?

One thing remains clear, the English have a long history with fish pie that persists to this day. All it takes is one look at the Ship Inn on December 23rd — Tom Bawcock's Eve — to confirm this. If you find yourself there, you'll see dancing, drinking, and singing, as well as a few fish heads gazing up at the starry winter sky.