What is Cumberland Pie?

Ryan Nadolny

Have you ever wondered what Cumberland pie is and what makes it different from shepherd's pie? We've got you covered.

There are two types of people in the world; those who love summer and bask in it’s glory until the very end, and those that hate seeing other people happy.

I am of the summer-loving tribe that would much rather sweat than freeze.

What’s the rush? You do know what comes after fall, right? Cold miserable winter! Especially here in the mid-west. Blech.

That said, as I write this it has been an extremely hot and sticky August - until the temps dropped to the mid 70’s for a few days and got everyone thinking about all of the comfort foods, like casseroles, soups and gravy over everything.

Or, in my case Cumberland pie. Or is it shepherd's pie? Since it can be a bit confusing, let's break it down, shall we? 

Cumberland Pie Pic

What is Cumberland Pie?

Ok, so what is Cumberland pie? This meat-filled pie comes from the picturesque English county of Cumbria, a northern lake town bordering Scotland.

It’s very simple to make, often only requiring one oven safe dish and a pot to boil your taters, which is part of what makes it such a popular British recipe.

It’s just a matter of cooking your beef chunks, adding the rest of the ingredients, topping with mashed potatoes, and popping it in the oven until slightly browned.

Cumberland Pie Picture

Learning how to make Cumberland pie is as easy as, well, pie! (And no, I'm never not going to love a good food pun, thank you very much.)

Once the spuds are browned, add shredded cheese and breadcrumbs and brown in the oven. Simple. Delicious. Comforting. What else can one ask for?!

But did you know, Cumberland pie, shepherd's pie and cottage pie, while all similar, are often confused for one another? 

The differences between the three are subtle. All are topped with mashed potatoes, but they contain different fillings. Let’s break them down!

Traditional Shepherd’s Pie Photo

What’s the Difference Between Cumberland Pie and Cottage Pie?

Ok, so let's grab a spoon and dig in, shall we? What's the difference between Cumberland pie and cottage pie? Not much, it turns out!

Cumberland pie is made with beef - specifically bite-sized chunks of beef. The beef swims in a gravy with savory veggies, topped with mashed potatoes.

With a traditional Cumberland pie recipe, the mashed potatoes are topped with breadcrumbs for a bit of added crunch, creating a great texture.

Cottage pie traditionally calls for ground beef instead of chunks of beef and loads of of veggies such as carrots, onion, and lots of garlic for tons of flavor.

This dish was traditionally often made with leftovers, so it wasn't necessarily the same every time, but ground beef is the hallmark of a true cottage pie.

Traditional Shepherd’s Pie Image

What’s the Difference Between Cumberland Pie and Shepherd's Pie?

The truth is, while Cumberland pie and shepherd's pie are very similar, chances are shepherd's pie is not what you grew up thinking it is!

That cozy, belly warming dish your mom always made was actually probably a cottage pie, made with ground beef.

Shepherd's pie is very similar to cottage pie, with the one key difference - shepherd's pie calls for ground lamb as opposed to ground beef.

Ok, are you confused now? Here's a tip - shepherds keep sheep. To remember which is which, just remember that lamb = sheep. Shepherd's pie = lamb.

That being said, our Paleo shepherd's pie recipe? It's actually a Paleo cottage pie recipe in truth, made with ground beef and sweet potatoes.

And since our vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe doesn't have any meat at all let alone lamb, it probably needs a whole new name entirely if I'm honest.

British Fish Pie Pic

What is Cumberland Fish Pie?

Another variation of Cumberland pie is Cumberland fish pie. Not going to lie, fish pie didn't immediately sound appetizing to me, but I kept an open mind.

One thing fish pie does sound is excessively British and upon further investigation, Cumberland fish pie actually does sound quite tasty.

Quite different than its meaty counterparts, Cumberland fish pie uses smoked fish, salmon, and shrimp in a creamy cheese bath and topped with fluffy mashed potatoes and it's actually wildly popular.

British Fish Pie Photo

Cumberland Pie Recipe Variations

There are many different variations of these British pies including keto versions, Tex-Mex adaptations and even a Cumberland pie made with meatballs.

If you need an even quicker recipe, try the upside-down version - just top your mashed potatoes with the filling of your choice and you’re ready to eat!

Perfect for a weeknight meal that can be ready in 15 minutes with a little help from frozen veggies and leftover mashed potatoes, you won't be mad about it.

Planning a dinner party and need some inspiration?

How about looking for a new slow cooker dinner idea?

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Ryan is a food and writer from Toledo, Ohio where he's had a love affair with food since 1984. When he's not cooking or writing, he's planning the next he wants to eat.

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