A Recipe for Shepherd’s Pie


Every country has its comfort foods—those dishes that not only satisfy, but also provide a sense of well-being. Shepherd's pie is one such recipe. This traditional dish from the United Kingdom includes a mixture of vegetables cooked in gravy with bits of minced or ground lamb or mutton (hence the name “shepherd’s pie”) topped with savory mashed potatoes.

In the modern United Kingdom, the term “shepherd’s pie” is used only when the meat is lamb. Made with beef, it becomes “Cottage Pie”—but hungry families enjoying this delicious, simple dish may not differentiate. Perhaps it is that satisfying simplicity that has made it, in a host of variations, a favorite around the world.

To the Irish, it is known by the traditional Gaelic term “pióg an aoire” (pronounced pih-ogue on ee-ra).  Brazilians enjoy a similar dish called “escondidinho.” In the Netherlands, it is “philosopher’s stew.” Other variations appear throughout the world.

Traditional foods are part of what make your family who they are. If you have favorite traditional family recipes, share them and perhaps their significance in the FamilySearch Memories app.

History of Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s pie, which originated in the late 1700s in the United Kingdom, was a way to introduce the potato as an edible crop for the poor. Although the potato was discovered in South America and introduced to Europe much earlier by Spanish conquistadores, it got to Ireland via Virginia colonists sent by Sir Walter Raleigh. He cultivated it in Ireland, where it eventually became a cheap, nourishing, primary food source. Shepherd’s pie probably originated in Ireland, where the bits of stewed meat and vegetables could be stretched to fill a hungry family by topping it with a generous portion of potatoes. But it was a favorite that soon spread to Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.

potatoes in a field.

The term “shepherd’s pie” appeared in 1854. Favorite vegetables include onions, peas, and carrots, but many kitchens have yielded the dish with other vegetables and topped the potatoes with cheese.

The years have produced variations of toppings for the meat and vegetable mixture—covering it with pie crust or dotting it with baking powder biscuits—but the original recipes demanded a mashed potato topping.

The classic shepherd’s pie below, from Allrecipes.com, makes a modern-day twist on the traditional recipe.

Classic Shepherd’s Pie Recipe


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound ground lamb or beef
  • 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup tomato ketchup
  • ¾ cup tomato juice
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables (such as peas and carrots)
  • 3 cups cooked, warm, mashed potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup warm milk


  1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and half the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 5 to 7 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
  2. Crumble meat into the pan, and cook until well browned. Sprinkle with flour. Stir in ketchup, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard. Simmer for five minutes. Stir in mixed vegetables. Transfer to a 9-inch baking dish.
  3. Whip potatoes with warm milk, the remaining salt and pepper, butter, and garlic until they are very fluffy. Spread the potato mixture evenly over the meat mixture. Bake for 35 minutes or until the potatoes are golden.
shepherd's pie on a plate

About the Author
Diane Sagers was a freelance writer for about 30 years. For 27 of those years, among other things, she wrote 2 to 4 newspaper columns weekly for the Tooele Transcript. She also created and edited a magazine for 27 years, wrote numerous articles for other publications, wrote chapters for several published books, edited documents, and ran a tour company. For the past several years, she has served as a volunteer public relations and marketing writer for FamilySearch and the Family History Library. When she isn't writing, she enjoys spending time with her 6 children, their spouses, and 25 terrific grandchildren, doing genealogy research and teaching others, cooking, sewing, playing piano, gardening, and traveling.