Jack horner pie

'Little Jack Horner' : NPR

Reason Behind the Rhyme: 'Little Jack Horner' Host Debbie Elliott and Chris Roberts dissect the meaning of the nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner." It's about a real estate swindle in 16th-century England. Roberts is the author of Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme.

Heard on All Things Considered

Reason Behind the Rhyme: 'Little Jack Horner'

Host Debbie Elliott and Chris Roberts dissect the meaning of the nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner." It's about a real estate swindle in 16th-century England. Roberts is the author of Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

You think the real estate market is treacherous today, try England in the late 1530s. That's what the nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner" is really all about.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: Here to explain is our London librarian Chris Roberts. He's the author of "Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme," and he's at our London bureau.

Hello again, Chris.

Mr. CHRIS ROBERTS (Author, "Heavy Words Lightly Thrown"): Hello. Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So who was Little Jack Horner?

Mr. ROBERTS: Little Jack Horner was actually Thomas Horner. The name Jack comes up in nursery rhymes a lot, usually to reflect a slightly knavish character, a bit of a ne'er-do-well. So I suspect that's why they changed his name to Jack from Thomas.

(Reading) `Little Jack Horner sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie. He stuck in a thumb and pulled out a plum and said, "What a good boy am I."'

Where to begin with this? This is talking about the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII taking property from the Catholic Church. Jack, as we know, is actually called Thomas Horner. Now he was a steward to the Abbot of Glastonbury during the reign of Henry VIII. This is how the story goes: He was entrusted to take some title deeds of properties to Henry VIII as a bribe so the abbot could keep the main monastery, but was prepared to give away some of the lesser properties.

Now the title deeds were held and sealed in a pie, and Jack's off to London. But instead of delivering the bribe to Henry VIII, he helps himself to the pie, puts his hand in, pulls out a plum piece of real estate--in this case, a place called Mells Manor--and thinks he's very clever for doing this. That's one version of it, that Jack is a thief and he's stealing the bribe that's intended for the king. And he...

ELLIOTT: So was this common? Is there historical evidence to support the theory that bribes were often delivered in pies?

Mr. ROBERTS: It comes up bewilderingly often in nursery rhyme. And it's--I think the pie is used as a metaphor. I think it's not necessarily what we would think of as a pie. It's just referring to a means of concealing a document, concealing anything. It could be jewels in some cases. Now the Horner family, who incidentally lived in Mells Manor until the 20th century, are quite outraged at this slander of their ancestor and understandably so.

And there are actually two rhymes that mention Mr. Horner. The first one that mentions him is: `Hopton(ph), Horner, Smith and Finn, when the abbots went out, they came in.' And a much more likely reading of what happened is that Thomas Horner, along with the other people mentioned in the previous rhyme--Hopton and Smith and Finn--were up-and-coming gentry. They were Protestant, they were local merchants doing quite well for themselves in the area around Glastonbury, and that they bought the property. You could see it as an early example of gentrification. They bought the property at the time admittedly at a knockdown rate, and admittedly the land had been stolen from the Catholic Church by Henry VIII. This seems to be what happened after the dissolution of the monasteries. The king didn't keep all the land for himself; he distributed it amongst his supporters so he then could rely on their loyalty should anything occur in the future, should there be a rebellion in the future. I suspect, though I can't prove this, that the popular `Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie' version is actually the Catholic take on proceedings there.

ELLIOTT: Chris Roberts is the author of "Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme," and he's a librarian at Lambeth College in South London.

Thank you, Chris.

Mr. ROBERTS: Thank you, Debbie.

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Little Jack Horner's Christmas Chicken, Fruit and Stuffing Pie! Recipe

"This beautiful layered pie combines all my favourite Christmas flavours - chestnuts, cranberries, dried apricots, chicken, pork sausagemeat and bacon - all encased in a crispy and crumbly pastry case; it is a firm favourite in our house EVERY year! Not only that, but this pie is actually better if made ahead of time - it can be eaten warm or cold and is excellent for buffets and light suppers. It also freezes very well, once cooked. The filling is very similar to an English Pork Pie, a fruity stuffing mixture layered with chicken fillets. Although it is essentially a pie for the winter festive season - I see no reason why it cannot be made all year around - I often make it to take on picnics in the spring and summer. You can adjust the filling to suit your own tastes and requirements, but I think that the chicken, bacon, apricots, cranberries and chestnuts are essential for the delicious and unique flavour this pie has! N.B. Please try to use high meat content sausages or sausagemeat - it makes all the difference to the taste, plus cheaper sausages have lots of fat and bread added! Where the name came from - an old Nursery Rhyme: "Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, eating his Christmas Pie - he put in his thumb and pulled out a plumb, and said what a good boy am I"!!! I JUST had to name it after him, even though there are NO plumbs in this pie! (The original recipe was in a 2005 BBC Good Food magazine; this is my much amended version of that original recipe.)"


Ready In:
1hr 45mins

8-10 Slices



  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 slices smoked streaky bacon, chopped or, 50 g smoked lardons
  • 500 g pork sausage or 500 g skinned pork sausages
  • 1 lemon, zest of, grated
  • 1 orange, zest of, grated
  • 100 g fresh brown breadcrumbs
  • 75 g ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped
  • 50 50 g canned chestnuts or 50 g vacuum-packed chestnuts, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 100 g fresh cranberries or 100 g frozen cranberries
  • 500 g boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • 500 g ready-made shortcrust pastry or 500 g home-made shortcrust pastry
  • beaten egg, to glaze


  • Heat the oven to 170C/350F/Gas 5.
  • Grease and line a 20-23cm (9") springform or deep loose-based tart tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper.
  • Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a frying pan, then add the onion and the bacon, fry for 5 minutes until the onion is softened and the bacon browned. Cool slightly.
  • Tip the sausagemeat, lemon and orange zest, breadcrumbs, apricots, chestnuts and thyme into a bowl and mix together.
  • Add the onion, bacon and cranberries, then mix everything together with your hands, adding plenty of pepper and a little salt to taste.
  • Cut each chicken breast into three or four fillets lengthwise and season them all over with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan, and fry the chicken fillets quickly until browned, for about 6-8 minutes.
  • Roll out two-thirds of the pastry to line the springform or loose-based tart tin; make sure the pastry comes right up the sides of the tin, and extends over the edge of the tin a little bit. Press in half the sausage mixture and spread to level. Then add the chicken pieces in one even layer and cover with the rest of the sausage mixture. Press down lightly.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry, leaving a little pastry for the decorative shapes. Brush the edges of the pastry base with beaten egg and cover with the pastry lid. Pinch and crimp the edges to seal, then trim.
  • Brush the top of the pie with egg, then roll out the excess pastry trimmings to make holly leaf shapes and berries. Decorate the pie with the shapes and brush again with egg.
  • Set the tin on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, then cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Remove the pie from the tin, and leave to cool slightly. If you wish, you can place the pie back into the oven at this stage if you would like a darker crust - just sit it on a greased baking sheet and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Serve warm or cold with a winter salads, chutneys, relishes and pickles.
  • Can be frozen once cooked for up to 1 month. Defrost in the fridge overnight.

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    When the cake was opened, did the birds sing? – Celebrity.fm

    Roberts: Sing a song about sixpence, a pocket full of rye, four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie. When the cake was opened, the birds sang. Isn't this an elegant dish to be served in front of a king? The king was in his office, counting money; the queen was in the drawing room eating bread and honey.

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    (Reading) Little Jack Horner was sitting in the corner eating his Christmas cake . He stuck his thumb in, pulled out a plum, and said, "What a good boy I am"... Now the title deeds were sealed in a pie and Jack went to London.

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    Songs For Children - Little Jack Horner

    Songs For Children - Little Jack Horner

    Little Jack Horner sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie

    He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum

    And said, "What a good boy am I"

    Little Jack Horner knew he was born the day before Christmas day

    He said to himself, "I'll sit on the shelf and Merrily carol away"

    The girls and the boys on hearing the noise

    Came running from far and near

    They saw the great plum on top on top of Jack's thumb

    And everyone started to Cheer

    Everyone started to cheer, "Hooray!"


    A to Z of Childrens Stories, Songs & Nursery Ryhmes

    release date


    one Over The Hills And Far Away
    2 The Animals Went In Two By Two
    3 She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain
    four Polly Put the Kettle On
    5 Diddle Diddle Dumpling (Childrens Vocal Version)
    6 George Porgie
    7 Girls And Boys Come Out To Play (Female Vocal Version)
    eight Beauty and the Beast (Story)
    9 Hey Diddle Diddle (Sing-Along Version)
    ten Hop, Skip and Jump (Female Vocal Version)
    eleven Bobby Shafto (Alt. Female Vocal Version)
    12 There Was A Crooked Man
    13 Puppy Doodle Puppy
    fourteen Pop Goes The Weasel
    fifteen Three Blind Mice
    16 Here We Go Looby Loo (Alt. Female Vocal Version)
    17 Gee Up Neddy
    eighteen Eight Rowers In A Boat
    19 Any More For The Skylark
    twenty There Once Was An Ugly Duckling
    21 Flying In My Balloon
    22 Sur Le Pont D'Avignon
    23 Higgledy Piggledy (Childrens Vocal Version)
    24 Hey De Ho
    25 good old father time
    26 Grandpa Ted's Spoons
    27 Gerald The Giraffe
    28 Don't Tamper With Time
    29 Don't Upset The Camel
    thirty Ding Dong Bell, Pussy's In The Well
    31 Better Go Steady Father Time
    32 Cobbler Cobbler Mend My Shoe
    33 A Tisket A Tasket (Alt.

    Learn more