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Thursday, December 10, 2020

A quirky and wonderful tale and celebration in Cornwall -- Tom Bawcock's Eve

My friend Candy and I always celebrate a wonderfully quaint and quirky holiday in Cornwall, England -- Tom Bowcock's Eve.  It's our way of honouring her late sister, Dawn Thompson.  Many of her novels were set in Cornwall, so we remember her and a place she loved so well.

Tom Bawcock's Eve
 is an annual festival, held on 23rd December, in
 Mousehole, Cornwall, near Penzance, England

The festival is a celebration and memorial for legendary Mousehole resident Tom Bawcock. 
Cornwalls suffers violent storms called flaws, and they can wipe out crops, leaving a small, isolated village in dire circumstances.  During a time of famine in the 16th century, and with Christmas upon them, Tom risked his life by going out to fish during a great mid-winter storm, in a heroic effort to save the people of Mousehole from starving.  Braving the high seas, Tom launched his small boat, and to everyone's surprise, returned with enough fish to feed the whole village.  A true Christmastide miracle.

The legend even inspired a story, The Mousehole Cat available on

During this festival Stargazy pie (a mixed fish, egg and potato pie with protruding fish heads) is eaten, and depending on the weather each year, a celebration of a lantern procession takes place, with singing and dancing along the harbour.  It's simply magical!!!

Stargazy pie

2 1⁄4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. mustard powder
12 tbsp. unsalted butter
6 tbsp. ice-cold water

6 slices bacon, cut into one inch pieces
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup chicken stock
1⁄3 cup crème fraîche
2 tbsp. English mustard
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper, to taste|
8 fresh sardines, cleaned, heads attached
3 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and sliced

Crust: Whisk flour, mustard, and salt in a bowl. Using blend butter into flour mixture, forming pea-size crumbles. Add water.  Work dough until smooth but with visible flecks of butter. Divide dough in half and flatten into disks. Wrap disks in plastic wrap; chill 1 hour before using.
Filling: Heat bacon in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook until slightly crisp, 5–7 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Add butter and onion to pan.  Cook until golden, 5–7 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in stock, crème fraîche, mustard, parsley, lemon juice, half the egg, and salt; set aside.

Heat oven to 400°. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 disk of dough into a 12” round. Fit into a 9” pie plate; trim edges, leaving 1” dough overhanging edge of plate. Arrange sardines in a clocklike pattern with heads resting along edge of crust. Pour filling over sardines; top with reserved bacon, the hard-boiled eggs, salt, and pepper. Roll remaining disk of dough into a 12” round; cut eight 1” slits in dough about 2” from the edge. Place over top of pie and pull sardine heads through slits. Pinch top and bottom edges together and fold under; crimp edges. Brush with remaining egg and cut three 1”-long slits in top of pie; bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 35–40 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

So, if you are ever in Cornwall before Christmas be sure to enjoy this wonderful time!

Happy Bawcock's Eve!!!


  1. Wonderful blog! Fascinating story and legend. Beautiful pictures and a tasty treat to try!
    Thanks so much for sharing, Deborah.

  2. What a wonderful story. I'd never heard of this man and his heroic efforts to keep the town fed. He's well worth remembering. I'm familiar with stargazy pie, but can't say I've tried it. The heads didn't appeal to me.

  3. I enjoyed reading about a tradition and how it came about in the village of Mousehole in England--completely fascinating. The picture of the rough sea pouring over the village was certainly frightening! Every town should have a hero like Tom.
    The lights, lanterns, and even lighted decorations on boats were just beautiful. What a lovely blog to help us celebrate the season, Deborah. Thank you!

  4. The unsung, everyday heroes and heroines of history are the stuff of legends. This is a fascinating story.

  5. I never heard of this, Deborah! Very cool! And what a hero Tom was, for sure! BUT...though I love the name "stargazy pie"--I just know I could not eat it. My dad LOVED sardines so much. I remember when I was a little girl, he'd try to get me to eat them with him. I just couldn't bring myself to do it, even though I loved him so much and would do "just about" anything for him, sardines were one thing I could never do. I still can't. He would have loved this recipe, and I wish I'd known about this before he passed. I would have at least MADE it for him, even if I didn't join him in eating it!

    What a great post. I had no idea about this holiday or stargazy pie. I learned something today!

  6. This looks like so much fun. Loved the legend, and your photos were gorgeous. Fascinating post.

  7. Sadly, they canceled the holiday this year because of Covid. So I am happy to share these amazingly quirky day and the history behind. PS - fish head are not my delight either. Candy and I will feast on sea scallops.