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A lesson in Marshall Field's history


Last updated 9/7/2007 at Noon

Back to school means shopping; shopping means department stores and, in my book, department stores also mean good food. So stores like Bullock’s, Neiman-Marcus and Marshall Field’s sold high-end foods and in-store dining for decades along with shirts, blouses and footwear for all ages.

Times have changed. The legacy of department store food remains. This week is Part I of how it all began. Next week: more about Field’s and Neiman-Marcus culinary history.

The granddaddy of all department store food service operations, Marshall Field’s, recently purchased by Macy’s, published “The Marshall Field’s Cookbook” (Book Kitchen, San Francisco). It chronicles Field’s food phenomenon from the 1890s.

It began innocently enough: Mrs. Herring, an enterprising clerk in the Field’s millinery department, overheard two women customers grumbling that they had nowhere to eat. She offered them the homemade chicken potpie she’d brought for lunch. She set up a table, served up her pie and, without knowing it, started a restaurant… and a revolution.

The idea was simple: serve food to keep them in the store for more shopping.

At Marshall Field’s, the first department store to offer food service, a small tearoom with 15 tables was set up and one of the offerings was Mrs. Herring’s chicken potpies. In the beginning the cooks made the foods in their own home kitchens and brought them in each morning.

Even though the store is now Macy’s, the chicken potpie is still on the menu. During peak season the restaurants may serve up to 5,000 guests a day.

And, 127 years later, Mrs. Herring’s potpies are still the top-selling item on the menu.

With the publication of the Field’s cookbook, the recipe is now available to you regardless of where you live or shop.

It is a long recipe and it is worth every minute of effort!

This is it! The pie that started it all back in 1890 and went on to become the culinary icon of Marshall Field’s. If you’re longing to experience the great American chicken potpie, made from scratch with a whole chicken, topped with a flaky, hand-rolled crust, you’ll love Mrs. Herring’s recipe. And you won’t be alone. During the holiday season, the Walnut Room serves 3,500 of her famous pies a week.

Marshall Field’s Famous Chicken Potpie

(Created by Mrs. Herring)

Pie Dough

1 ½ cups flour

½ tsp. salt

½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

¼ cup vegetable shortening (Crisco), chilled

3-4 tbsp. ice water


1 (3 ½ lb.) frying chicken

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 small onion, halved

2 tsp. salt


6 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 large onion, diced (about 1 ¼ cups)

3 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal

3 celery stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal

½ cup flour

1 ½ cups milk

1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves

¼ cup sherry

¾ cup frozen green peas, thawed

2 tbsp. fresh minced parsley

2 tsp. salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 egg whisked with 1 tbsp. water

To prepare pie dough

Combine flour, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 5 times to combine. Add the shortening and pulse a few more times, until the dough resembles coarse cornmeal.

Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with 3 tbsp. ice water. Stir and then press together with a wooden spoon until the dough sticks together. A little at a time, add more water if the dough won’t come together.

Shape the dough into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days before rolling.

To cook chicken

Combine chicken, carrot, celery, onion and salt in a large stockpot. Add cold water just to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and allow to cool.

Increase the heat to high and boil for 20 minutes to concentrate the broth. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the vegetables. Reserve broth.

When cool enough to handle, pull the chicken meat from the bones and shred into bite-size pieces.

To finish and bake

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add butter. When the butter is melted, add the onion, carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent.

Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and 2 ½ cups of reserved chicken broth. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes.

Add the chicken meat, thyme, sherry, peas, parsley, salt and pepper and stir well. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Divide the warm filling among six 10- to 12-ounce potpie tins or individual ramekins (small baking dishes).

Place chilled dough on a floured surface and roll out to ¼-inch thick. Cut into six rounds about 1 inch larger than the circumference of the dish or dishes.

Lay a dough round over each filled potpie tin or ramekin. Turn the overhanging dough back under itself and flute the edges with a fork. Cut a 1-inch slit in the top of each pie… or several slits in the top of one large pie.

Line a baking sheet with foil (to catch liquid that bubbles over). Place pies on baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling bubbles. Serve hot.

Makes 6 individual pies or one large potpie.


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