Updated: Nov 27, 2021
As a service to my readers, food & feast posts will always feature the recipe first, with history, folklore, and cooking tips toward the bottom of the page. For background on this recipe and helpful hints for navigating technique, scroll down! Otherwise, dive right in with the recipe below.
photo by Frances F. Denny
SATOR square harvest pie
Serves 4-6 guests
Contains gluten, eggs, dairy
Prep time : 25 minutes, plus 30 minutes chilling
Cook time : 1 hour 20 minutes
ingredients FOR THE CRUST 310g (11oz/2 1/3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
225g (8oz/1 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1cm (½in) cubes
6–8 tablespoons ice-cold water 1 egg, to glaze
FOR THE FILLING
1 medium onion, diced 1 large carrot, peeled and cubed 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed 400g (14oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and patted dry 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced 60g (2oz/scant ½ cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 sprig rosemary, stems removed and finely chopped
Pinch of ground cloves
120ml (4fl oz/½ cup) dry white wine
570ml (20fl oz/2½ cups) chicken stock (broth)
1 handful of kale, washed and torn, ribs removed
Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4. Toss your onion, carrot, sweet potato and artichoke hearts in 2 tablespoons of your olive oil and tip onto a baking tray in a single layer. Season with salt and roast the vegetables for 20 minutes, or until browning at the edges.
While the vegetables roast, prepare your pie crust by mixing together your flour, sugar and seasonings in a medium bowl. Using your hands or a pastry cutter, work the cold butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse, wet sand and no clumps of butter remain. Add in your ice water one tablespoon at a time, slowly working until the dough just comes together in a smooth ball. Wrap the dough tightly in clingfilm (plastic wrap) and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat your remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a deep saucepan and sauté your garlic until fragrant – about 1 minute. Add your flour, rosemary, and ground clove, then slowly add your wine and chicken broth. When the gravy is bubbly and thick, add your roast vegetables and kale. Season with salt and pepper, then pour the filling into your pie dish. Allow to cool to room temperature.
When the dough is chilled and the pie filling has cooled, remove the crust from the refrigerator and place it between two sheets of floured parchment. Roll the dough to a 5mm (¼in) thickness, and transfer to the top of the pie dish. Trim the excess dough and set aside. Crimp the edges of the crust and carve three vent incisions near the centre of the pie. Roll out your excess dough and carve, stencil, or punch out the letters for the SATOR square, illustrated here.
Beat your egg and brush it over the crust using a pastry brush. Place the letters on top of the pie, and then brush these with egg wash as well. Bake for 35–40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly.
The SATOR square is an ancient and enigmatic word puzzle, used as a charm of protection from various evils with its whirling arrangement of palindromes. It is sometimes believed that malevolent spirits are compelled to attempt puzzles and become distracted and trapped by the perfect repetitions of the square. While the earliest surviving SATOR squares are only from the 1st century AD, some scholars suggest the symbol has pre-Christian origins. Although there have been many attempts to translate and decode the mysteries of this symbol, little is known beyond its apotropaic use as a protective charm. Since the charm can be read the same backwards and forwards, some translations read the square as a boustrophedon, meant to be read left-to-right and right-to-left on alternating lines, which yields one possible translation: “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”
Despite its mysterious beginnings, this unique word square can be found in various places the world over – in ancient temples to the goddess Artemis, drawn inside medieval bibles, inscribed on Coptic tombs in Nubia. In France, the square was used in the middle ages as a protective charm for women in labour. In the hexerei of the Pennsylvania Germans, the SATOR square is employed against lightning, and fed to cows to stave off witchcraft. In South America, the square is often used against snake venom and animal bites. In one notable case from Lyon, the square was even inscribed on crusts of bread and eaten to recover from temporary insanity.
While there is no other traditional application for eating the SATOR square, its various uses tell us that its presence alone has the profound effect of warding off maledictions and troublesome spirits. As autumn is traditionally the time for setting wards and protections in advance of the coming winter, this symbol would be a welcome addition to the themes of a harvest feast. Here, artichokes and rosemary join the square in a rich harvest pot pie, lending their efficacy as allies for protection magic- artichokes as defensive allies of Mars, and rosemary as a Solar herb of exorcism. Prepare this dish to accompany your own protection rituals and continue the varied, wandering legacy of this truly unique charm.