Fray Bentos is one of the most important port cities in Uruguay. The name is a Spanish version of “Friar Benedict” a local mendicant who lived in the area. In the 19th Century Uruguay was the Beef Capital of the world. Beef exporting made Uruguay a boom economy. Fray Bentos was perfectly positioned to capitalise on its position as a harbour on the Rio Negro, and the good times rolled.
In the mid 19th Century a German Chemist named Justus von Liebig perfected a process for extracting flavour from meat. He invented the OXO cube. His company opened a plant in Fray Bentos to make the meat extract product. Over the years they expanded into tinned corned beef under the Fray Bentos brand.
When the British Army included Fray Bentos tinned meats in their ration packs in the Boer Wars and subsequently in WW1 the brand became a household name. The company flourished during WW2. After that war they moved upmarket and released the round tinned oven ready puff pastry pies in the photo above. As a child I remember cooking one of these in a clay oven on a boyscout camp in County Wicklow.
In the 1960s the brand was damaged by an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen which was traced back to the Rio Negro. The company was cooling their tinned meats in river water contaminated by excrement. Since then the brand has gone largely downhill. It is associated with working class diets, red meat and saturated fats. The products have traded between food companies ever since.
Then Game of Thrones arrived on the scene. G.R.R. Martin is a fan of history and I suspect he has delved into ancient greek history and myths. There are many myths in the Greek Pantheon of parents eating children, but my favourite comes from Herodotus. It is related as true history.
King Astyages of the Medes had a dream about his daughter, Mandané, where a flood of water flowed from her that drowned his capital. He feared her child, Cyrus, would overthrow him. So he sent his general Harpagus to slay the child.
Harpagus gave the baby to a shepherd, Mitradates, replacing the child with the stillborn corpse taken from the shepherds wife, which he showed to the King.
Astyagus found out many years later that Cyrus was alive. The King invited Harpagus to a banquet. At the conclusion of the feast Harpagus was asked if he had enjoyed his meal. Astyagus then asked that Harpagus be shown the head and feet of the beast he had eaten, a tradition of the country for truly excellent food. When the basket was brought Harpagus saw that he had eaten his own son.
Fast forward to Game of Thrones and Arya Stark’s revenge on Walder Frey for his actions at the red wedding. It was one thing for Frey to kill his enemies, but a far worse crime to breach the laws of hospitality by killing them under his roof as they ate his food.
Pie of Frey must be a breach of the Fray Bentos brandname. The pie of the TV series itself is very similar to that served to the hapless Harpagus. Inside the pie crust Walder Frey finds the digits of his missing sons. You may need to use the pause button on the TV to capture the moment.
Truly there is nothing new under the sun!