I don't like the jelly-like substance found in between the pastry and meat of pork pies, and I don't know anyone that does, so I was wondering why they put it in. Or is it a by-product of the cooking/manufacturing process? Why is it there, and is it possible to create a pork pie without it?

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    No, British pork pie has jelly specifically added to it in liquid form after the pie itself is cooked, through a hole left in the top crust specifically for this purpose. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 13:39

5 Answers 5


There used to be a good reason to add the jelly to the meat pie: food safety. In the time before refrigerators, it was hard to keep meat without some spoilage. But a slaughtered fully grown pig meant some hundred kilos of meat, and it wasn't eaten on a single day.

Most of the bacteria which spoil meat need oxygen to proliferate. So once you pack the meat into a clinging skin, it keeps for longer. This is one of the reasons why people bothered to bake meat pies instead of roasts in the first place.

But there is a problem with meat pies. As the other answers mentioned, the meat steams while being baked, and this steam must be gathered below the upper crust and vented through a hole. You can't tightly wrap the meat in the crust and then bake; the steam will probably open the seam, resulting in an irregularly shaped pie, and the crust still won't cling. So, a meat pie has some space between the meat and the roof.

I don't know how quickly such a pie will dry out, as ElendilTheTall suggested. Surely, this is a factor. But I bet that, if you keep it outside of a refrigerator, it will spoil long before it dries. Filling this space with jelly (which happens to be available in big amounts too - after all, we just slaughtered our big pig and want to cook lots of it as quickly as possible, so we probably have more stock than we can use up) practically seals the meat airtight against bacteria. And while the cooks from that time didn't know about bacteria, they sure knew how quick a piece of meat spoils visibly (smellably?). This is how the traditional jelly-topped meat pie recipe was born.

We have refrigerators today, but we still follow the recipes as they always were. I don't see any reason not to. Drying out is probably a factor. And as for the taste - I have eaten more French patês than English meat pies, and maybe there is some difference. They never looked like on sarge_smith's picture. But I definitely like the jelly layer. I must confess that I have always eaten it in good restaurants or home made, so maybe the poor quality has ruined it for you.

But anyway, if you want to bake meat pies without it, you don't have to include it. The problem is that, if you leave the space hollow, you'll have a cosmetic problem (your crust will probably shatter when you try to cut it) and the already mentioned drying possibility. The solution is to bake the pie without the upper crust. You'll then have meat pie slices which only have crust on three sides. If you don't want a baked crust to form on the meat, or if you experience heat control problems because of the missing insulator, use a temporary cover (aluminum foil, bacon stripes, or lay some big lettuce leaves on it and throw out later, or you can try a plate, but must somehow leave an opening for the steam). If you want a pie with four crust sides, blind bake a sheet of pastry pre-cut for the open side (allow for shrinkage when cutting), then glue it to the meat pie somehow. Sticky honey glaze, or a layer of cream cheese should work (as would jellied stock :) )

This doesn't guarantee that you won't get some congealed fluid within the pie. sarge_smith correctly pointed out that the meat in a pie is collagen-rich, and all the juices which would become roast drippings in roasted meat are staying between the meat and the crust. Some will get absorbed, but maybe not all. It may be worth to try making the pie with ground tender meat. I am however not sure whether this will provide you with a good jelliless pie, or with a pie with a soggy crust.

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    While the original purpose of the pie was to preserve the excess of meat, nobody has mentioned that the pie pastry would also be discarded in old times, and only the filling was intended for eating. Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 4:09
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    This answer is incorrect. Gelatine (along with agar) are substances that are used in chemistry specifically to culture bacteria because they are the ideal growth medium. Adding aspic to a room temperature pie will hasten spoilage, not slow it down.
    – Shalmanese
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 21:08
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    @Shalmanese the gelatine growth medium is exposed to oxygen(unless you are culturing anaerobic bacteria). Almost all foodborne pathogens need oxygen. And filling the hole in the meatpie with gelatine seals the access of oxygen to the meat surface and the gelatine surface, except for a small filling hole. An important point I have not stated explicitly in the answer: the practice is definitely not safe by current food safety standards. But it does reduce bacterial growth a lot, and that was important in pre-refrigeration days.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 18:08
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    @CharlotteFarley - I think that discarding rather than consuming the pastry is a more debated point than it seems... After all, there were people who were literally starving to death in those times, and would eat anything that didn't kill them, and the pastry is actually food. It was probably eaten by servants, or slaves, or beggars even if it wasn't 'up to standard' for the household which baked it.
    – Megha
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 2:13

The jelly in British pork pies is added deliberately, after the rest of the pie is cooked, to help keep the meat moist. In good pies it is usually either ham or chicken stock which jellifies as it cools.

It is entirely possible to make a pork pie and omit this step at the end, but the pie then needs to be eaten sooner before it dries out.

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    The quality of the jelly added is a big factor in how good the pie is as a whole these: porkpie.co.uk/shoppe-product.asp?ID=2 are the best. Just without question.
    – vwiggins
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 14:56
  • "usually either ham or chicken stock" Are you sure about that? Surely the traditional way is to use the bone from the joint that you use to make the pie? Then the beauty of it is that all you need to make a pork pie is a joint, a bag of flour and a tiny bit of spice (render the fat to make the pastry).
    – smartse
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 21:41

I have been a baker for over 30 years and made many pork pies in that time,the above answers stating that the jelly acts as a preservative and stops the meat drying out are correct, but also the jelly when added at the correct time, roughly 20 minutes half an hour after baking, absorb the pork juices that would otherwise soak into the pastry which would make the pastry limp and not crisp and eventually go dry.


As the answers included above, the jelly traditionally found in pork pies was used as preservative and to keep the meat most. However clarified butter was more commonly used as a preservative in pies.

Try making a more filled pork pie using a mold to stop the seams from splitting during the cooking process, so you don't have a gap where the jelly should go. Or try making your own jelly. Get some split trotter, tails from the butchers and boil it up with a carrot and onion (this will also give a natural colour to the jelly) cloves, allspice, thyme and rosemary. Leave the jelly to set over night in the fridge and scape off the fat on the top. Bring it back to the boil before pouring it into your pie with a small funnel or an icing syringe which I use.

I think by simply knowing where the jelly has come from will make it more palatable and using natural jelly which is home spiced is much better than that found in manufactured pies.

Also use good pork; outdoor reared, grass fed pies will have more nutrition and more flavour. When starting my own pork pie business I was fully aware of people's disgust at the jelly, I now have many customers who never like jelly but thoroughly enjoy the jelly in my pies.

  • "knowing [the boiled-down hooves and tails that] the jelly has come from will make it more palatable" - I'm super skeptical of this claim. Have you tried selling pies without the jelly, clearly labelled as such? Did people buy them preferentially? I most certainly would. Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 13:56

Another reason is simply that it tastes good. I have always loved the 'jelly' from being a little girl, when a pork pie is heated the jelly melts and the juice is delicious. I am 73 and remember pouring the juice onto a spoon as a child to sip before devouring the pie.


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