The Humble Pie
In honour of British pie week on March 6-12 we celebrate the glorious pastry-cased goodness with our top ten pie moments in history… cue Top of the Pops soundtrack…
1. While the concept of the pie can be traced back to the Egyptians, the first pies as we recognise them (a filling encased in a pastry made from flour and water) were introduced by the Romans, who then brought them to our shores during the conquest around 43AD.
2. In Medieval times the pastry case of a pie (or ‘pye’) was known as a ‘coffin’. This was because it formed the shape of a box, with the dough rolled thickly and baked hard in order to transport the filling inside, and wasn’t meant to be eaten.
3. According to the song, four and 20 blackbirds were baked in a pie, and surprisingly these lyrics can be taken literally. Rather than being about birds being baked into the filling, the song is about the competitive lengths Medieval chefs went to to outdo each other and impress their guests, which did occasionally involve trapping live birds under an enormous pie crust which would come flying out when the pie was cut open.
4. The original meal on the go – the first official recording of the Cornish pasty was is in 13th century (although they were probably eaten for many years before this) when Henry II declares in a royal charter that the citizens of Great Yarmouth must send the Sheriffs Norwich “100 herrings baked in 24 pasties each year”.
5. There’s nothing as American as apple pie… or maybe not. The quintessential stateside dish was probably first made in England. The first recorded recipe for the dish is in England in 1381, and included apples, raisins, figs, pears and saffron.
6. Legend has it that Elizabeth I is the first person to have received a cherry pie, in the 1550s, and from here fruit pies were born. This may not be strictly true, but fruit pies do start popping up over the British Isles not long after this with pear, quince and apple pie often being rustled up in Tudor kitchens.
7. Puritan Oliver Cromwell banned all frivolities associated with Christmas, including mince pies, in the 17th century. During this time the making of the spiced fruit pastries is said to have gone underground (“the secret password is Robinson’s”) until the ban was lifted after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
8. Pie and mash shops can be traced back to the 18th century in the East End of London. Eel pies became the signature dish as eels were cheap and in plentiful supply, fished straight from the Thames. Today the majority of pies served in the remaining shops are meat pies which traditionally come with mash and liquor (a green parsley sauce) and a liberal splash of vinegar.
9. The World Pie Eating Contest started in 1992. Held annually at Harry’s Bar in Wigan competitors race against the clock to see who can devour a meat and potato pie in the fastest time. The current record belongs to Wigan’s own Martin Appleton-Clare who demolished his pie in 45.5 seconds.
10. A true Melton Mowbray pie must be made with a strict list of ingredients, including uncured pork meat, and made within 10.8 square miles of the town after the famous local dish was granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI status) in 2008. You can eat them anywhere you like though.
We have lots of artisan pie producers around the UK, come and take a look.