GREAT BRITISH FOOD Main Courses Traditional Food

To Eat Humble Pie


to eat humble pie – to have to apologise, or be submissive in admitting an error. Usually one where you have been rather cocky¹ in the original error. Anyone who thought that Roger Federer’s tennis career was over might have to eat humble pie after his victory at the Australian Open, for example! Or whoever handed over the wrong envelope to Warren Beaty at the Oscars this year?

The word humble²  had little to do with the pie. In the 14th century, the numbles was the name given to the heart, liver, kidneys, especially of deer – what we now call offal. By the 15th century the word had changed to umbles, which were used as an ingredient in many things, including in pies. Samuel Pepys makes many references to such pies in his diary; for example, on 5th July 1662:

“I having some venison given me a day or two ago, and so I had a shoulder roasted, another baked, and the umbles baked in a pie, and all very well done”

How do we get from a pie made from deer to the idiom we use today? Well, as is often the case, noone really knows. ‘Umbles‘ and ‘humble‘ are not etymologically related, we Brits have always been a bit ‘free and easy’ with our spelling (especially in the Middle Ages. Any old spelling would work), so ‘umble’ may have been spelled with an ‘h’ by some, and ‘humble’ without the ‘h’ by others, and they may simply have merged. There is also some (possibly logical) discussion that the offal would have been eaten by the poor, and therefore ‘umble pie’ would have been a poor-man’s dish.

This WWII poster promoting rationing still uses ‘humble’ to mean ‘poor man’s pie’

We don’t use the word ‘umble’ any more, but we do love a pie. We love them for Sunday lunch, to pack on a picnic, to eat on the terraces at the match on a winter weekend. They are the ultimate (but not very slimming) convenience food. See also ‘Who Ate All the Pies’!

In an attempt to try to lighten the load on the waistbands, and by popular demand, we have opted for a chicken pie recipe, though.




  • 450ml chicken stock
  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 75g  butter
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and cut into 1cm/½in slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 50g plain flour
  • 200ml milk
  • 2-3 tbsp white wine
  • 150ml double cream
  • 150g piece thickly carved ham, cut into 2cm chunks
  • parsely
  • salt and pepper


  • 350g plain flour
  • 200g butter
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp cold water
  • 1 free-rannge egg, beaten, to glaze
  1. cocky – a bit too confident, to the point of being brash and arrogant. The opposite of 2.b)
  2. humble – a) to be of low rank, poor, or b) to be modest and quiet about ones everyday life and achievements
  3. to be free and easy with something – to be relaxed, without paying attention to the rules, sometimes to the point of being careless

(c) Kayte & Nicer Kate 2017. Authors assert moral rights.


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