George, the Dragon and the Cottage pie

Wishing you all a happy Saint George's Day with these humble cottage pies. I've been mostly working on my book, stuck with my nose in research and absolutely loving it but in the evening I long for great simple food with pure flavours. This pie is just that, with the best spuds you can find for your mash, decent flavoursome beef and a layer of moist spinach, this is a treat for me. I just wrap it in a towel and relax with a beer and a movie.
Today will be marked by celebrations with a lot of beer in most parts of Britain, often started by a good old pub meal that very likely will consist of a hearty pie.
Saint George's day is the National Day for England although it is not an national holiday in Britain. As you will know, he is the patron saint of England and he is nearly always depicted slaying a dragon.
The origins of George and the dragon are quite obscure, like so many legends are. The earliest written source of Saint George in Britain can be found in the works of Bede, a monk from Northumbria who lived around the end of the 7th century.
It is not a saints day unique to Britain however, the feast of Saint George is celebrated throughout Christian and Protestant countries and all around the 23th of april, the date on which he would have been martyred.
Of George nothing is certainly known, it is most widely accepted that he was a Roman soldier from Palestine who lived in the late 3rd century AD.  
Born as Georgios, Greek for 'worker of the land' he became an imperial guard to the emperor Diocletian, but when Diocletian issued a decree that every Christian soldier should be arrested, George renounced his emperors ruling. He declared himself openly to be Christian and refused to convert to the old Roman gods. Diocletian tortured and later decapitated George for his refusal.
No doubt you will all have been waiting for the dragon slaying moment in this story but unfortunately I will have to disappoint you as there are no dragons in this tale.
The tale of Saint George and the dragon dates from a much later legend during Medieval times. Here the story of George would have been Eastern in origin and brought back from the Crusades. Before the Middle ages George was depicted as a soldier but around the 11th century that changed to the now more popular dragon scene. The first written source is believed to be a 11th century Georgian text that can be found quoted in the book The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition. 

Then the tale of George and the dragon appears in the Legenda sanctorum or Golden legend, a collection of hagiographies (stories of the Saints) by Jacobus de Voragine. This book of which there were over a thousand of manuscripts in the 13th century was very popular and was one of the first books that were printed in the English language when printing was invented around 1450.
Jacobus de Voragine tells the tale of the place Silene in Lybya where a dragon lived that terrorised the countryside. To appease the dragon, the people would bring it sacrifices in the form of sheep and also children who were chosen by lottery. One day the daughter of the king was chosen in the lottery and he offered all his wealth to save her. The people refused and the maiden was sent to the dragon dressed in a wedding gown. Then a man named George passed the lake where the dragon lived and saw the princess in distress. He charged towards the dragon with his lance and wounded the beast, he then bound him and took him to the village with the princess he had saved from it. The villagers all in fear of the approach of the dragon were then given the choice. Become a Christian and George promised to slay the dragon there before them. They all converted and George slew the dragon. 
There are other similar versions of this tale, as there are with so many legends and from the 15th century on we find a large amount of illustrations, paintings and stained glass windows illustrating Saint George slaying the dragon to save the maiden throughout the world. 

Legends are usually there to tell the oldest tale in the book, good and evil, right and wrong.
What really happened and if it happened at all is not important anymore, it is what you do with it and how you interpret it.
My days of being religious have long been gone, but I still like to hear the stories, and I like to try and trace their origins.

What better way to celebrate than having a meal together, these cottage pies are easy and can be made well in advance and popped in the freezer until you need them.
Cottage pie has a long history, it has always been about busing up leftover meat to create a new and filling meal. 
So what are you up to today?

Cottage pie

What do you need (serves 2 with leftovers for 1 portion)
  • 400 g beef mince, from chuck steak
  • 1 large chestnut mushroom or a white one
  • 1 stalk of cellery
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 small tin of tomato puree
  • 1 glass of red wine or stout beer like guinness
  • 2 teaspoons of Worcester sauce
  • 300 ml of beef or vegetable stock (I use an organic vegetable stock cube)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A few handfuls of fresh spinach (you can use from your freezer too)
  • Potato mash, use leftover if you have some
  • Make mash as you usually do but slightly more moist
  • Add 4 teaspoons of grated cheddar cheese


Cook your spuds and make your mash
Chop all the vegetables and add to a heavy pan, brown a little and then add the meat.
Brown the meat and add the tomato puree, stir well to combine evenly
When the tomato starts to caramelise, pour in the wine or beer.
Let the booze evaporate, if you don't want to use alcohol, use water or stock
Now pour in the garlic, stock, and the Worcester sauce and put on the lid, leave for 30 minutes but check on it frequently
Use boiling water from the kettle and blanch your spinach, drain and add a cube of butter, you may omit this but butter does taste so very well.

Preheat your oven to 180°C

Place your spinach in your chosen baking tray or trays, season with pepper.
When the meat is ready, transfer it to you tray or trays. 
Now make the mash layer by scooping blobs of potato on the meat, then spread out.
You can pipe this mash, but who has the time to pipe mash on a weekday??
Place into the oven under the gril for about 10-15 minutes or until your mash has some color.

Serve with a beer, or wine if you like.
Put the rest in the freezer.


You might also enjoy
Beef and Oyster pie
Watercress and trout pie
Sussex Stewed steak

Thank you for leaving a comment!


  1. Anonymous23/4/14

    This looks amazing, never really stopped to think about Saint George really, good to read the story as I would never have looked it up, you just take it for granted really.
    Dinner at the pub it is for us today

  2. A wonderful and original cottage pie! So comforting.

    happy St. George's Day!



  3. I love reading about old tales and how a patron's day came to be. What I really love here is the cottage pie and shepherd's pie and have very strong memories attached to the first time I had this dish. I like your addition of spinach in this a lot.

  4. St George has been on my mind a lot recently as he is the patron saint of Georgia too. I can never resist a shepherd's pie (or a cottage pie for that matter). While I put booze in everything I've never done so in a SP - time to rectify.

  5. I have recently eaten more of shepherd's pie than ever. And despite that, I want this, with spinach.


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