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FirstEditionPieAndPattyPan

Front cover of a first edition of The Pie and the Patty-Pan from 1905.

The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan (originally published as The Pie and the Patty-Pan and not known by its current title until the 1930s) is a children's fantasy story by the British author and illustrator Beatrix Potter. It was first published in October 1905, in a larger format than was normal for Potter's children's books.

The plot concerns a cat named Ribby and a dog named Duchess. Ribby invites Duchess to come over to her house to eat some pie. Duchess accepts the invitation, although she is certain that she will not enjoy the pie because it will be filled with mouse. Duchess comes up with a plan to substitute Ribby's mouse pie with a veal and ham pie of her own. Unfortunately for Duchess, her plan does not go smoothly.

The cottages depicted in the book's illustrations are based on those in the village of Near Sawrey, Cumbria, where Beatrix Potter had purchased a farm. The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan is the only one of Potter's books to refer to Sawrey by name.[1]

Beatrix Potter stated that, out of all the children's books she had written, The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan was her second favorite, following The Tailor of Gloucester.

The character of the cat Ribby also appears in Beatrix Potter's 1909 book The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding.

Plot

A cat named Ribby sends a dog named Duchess an invitation to come to tea. In the invitation, Ribby says that is going to make a delicious pie in her pink and white pie dish. The pie will be just for Duchess. Ribby is going to eat muffins.

Pie and the patty-pan ribby

Duchess. Original illustration by Beatrix Potter.

Duchess sends a reply in which she says that she will come. She suspects, however, that the pie will be made of mouse and she will not enjoy eating it. She then remembers that she also has a pink and white pie dish. Both she and Ribby bought their identical pie dishes at Tabitha Twitchit's[2] shop. Duchess reasons that Ribby will have to go out to buy muffins. Duchess realizes she can take advantage of Ribby's absence to sneak into her house and substitute the mouse pie for a different one. Duchess makes a veal and ham pie. She uses a piece of metal called a patty-pan to hold up the pie crust.

When Ribby receives Duchess' reply, she makes a pie of minced mouse and bacon. Ribby has two ovens, one on top of the other. The lower oven cooks more quickly, although its door is not easy to open. The two ovens are surrounded by handles and knobs that are just for decoration and do not open anything.

Ribby goes out shopping. Duchess goes out to substitute the pie. They pass each other on the street and simply nod to each other. Duchess gets into Ribby's kitchen. She searches for the mouse pie but cannot find it. She realizes that some of the handles surrounding the two ovens are just for show. She thinks that is also the case for the stiff handle on the lower oven. She puts her veal and ham pie in the top oven. Duchess leaves just as Ribby comes home.

Duchess arrives at Ribby's house for tea. Ribby tells her that she has made her a mouse and bacon pie. She offers Duchess a sugar lump. Duchess balances the sugar lump on her nose and then drops it. She looks under the table for the lump of sugar. While Duchess is under the table, Ribby takes her mouse pie out of the oven. Duchess does not see that the pie is taken out of the top oven. Duchess says that she would like to cut the pie herself. Although she does not remember having minced the meat so finely, Duchess happily eats the mouse pie, believing that it is her veal and ham pie.

Pie and the patty-pan

Ribby. Original illustration by Beatrix Potter.

After she has eaten most of the pie, Duchess says that she is looking under the crust for the patty-pan. Ribby says that she did not put a patty-pan in the pie and that all of her patty-pans are still in the kitchen drawer. She says that she does not put metal objects in pies or puddings because one of her relatives once choked to death on a thimble in a Christmas pudding.[3] Duchess continues to look inside the pie for the patty-pan. When she cannot find it, she concludes that she must have swallowed it. She complains that she feels ill. Ribby says that she will go to fetch the doctor, a magpie named Dr. Maggotty.

While Ribby is out, Duchess hears a sizzling noise coming from the top oven. She opens it and finds her veal and ham pie. She can see the patty-pan through a hole in the top of the pie's crust. Duchess realizes that she must have eaten a mouse pie but is relieved to find out that she did not swallow a patty-pan. Duchess hides her veal and ham pie in Ribby's backyard, planning to collect it later.

Ribby returns with Dr. Maggotty. Although Duchess says that she is feeling much better, she accepts the pill made of bread which Dr. Maggotty offers her. Ribby has become annoyed with Dr. Maggotty because he keeps repeating the words, "Gammon and spinach". She asks the bird to go out into the backyard. Ribby agrees that it would be best if Duchess went home. Duchess declines Ribby's offer to walk back with her. After she has gone a short way, Duchess turns round and goes back to Ribby's backyard. She sees Dr. Maggotty drinking gravy from the patty-pan and three other birds eating the pie crust.

Later, Ribby finds the broken pink and white pie dish and the patty-pan in her backyard. She is confused because she knows that all of her patty-pans are still in the kitchen drawer.

Footnotes

  1. When she finds out that her cousin Ribby has invited Duchess to tea, Tabitha Twitchit says, "A little dog, indeed! Just as if there were no CATS in Sawrey!"
  2. The character of the cat Tabitha Twitchit is introduced in The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan. She also appears in The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907) and The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding (1909). She is referred to in The Tale of Ginger and Pickles (1909) and The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots (written in 1914 but not published until 2016). In The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan, Tabitha Twitchit is said to be Ribby's cousin. She was named after a resident cat at Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm
  3. Hiding thimbles and other good luck charms in a Christmas pudding is a British tradition.

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