Most everyone loves pies, right? Sweet pies, savory pies...let's explore pies!
But no apples, cherries, or sweet stuff this time. It’s all about savory when it comes to meat pies.
A long… very long history of meat pies
Meat pies have been around for ages, dating as far back as 9,500 BC! They weren’t the flaky, buttery delicious edibles that we have now.
Baking equipment didn’t make an appearance in kitchens until the 16th century, or so. Ovens weren’t common in homes until the 1700’s.
Before this time, everything had to be cooked over, or next to, an open fire, or in a mud-and-brick type oven.
And you didn’t eat the crust on those pies. Think of the crust as an ancient type of baking dish. It could be packed around the meat up to 7 inches thick!
Imagine mixing flour and water to make a thick, sturdy paste, then coating a chunk of meat with the paste, and tucking it all in with the hot ashes and stones to cook.
Not exactly the pie you had in mind, huh?
The great thing about the ancient kinds of pies is meats could be preserved using these methods. The shell of flour kept the contents from spoiling for up to a whole year!
What a great way to carry cooked foods while traveling and sailing around the world.
Pie-like foods have been around since the ancient Egyptians.
Romans discovered these dishes and took them home. Back in Italy, they modified the recipes to include foods that they ate, like mussels, oysters, lampreys, and all kinds of meat and fish.
The idea of pie spread throughout Europe, by way of the Roman roads. Every country you can think of adapted the recipes to their own customs and foods.
Pies in Medieval Europe
In the northern climates, lard and butter were staples for fats, where as olive oil was more common in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean (places like Rome and Greece.)
Adding lard or butter to the flour and water mixture made a much easier to handle crust that could be molded. This took meat pies to a whole new level.
By the 1600’s the crust was still used as more of a cooking and storage container, but it could be formed into a vessel to hold everything. The crusts were called coffins, which literally meant box. You formed the box and baked it. Added all the ingredients, kind of like making a stew. Another piece of dough would be molded on the top for a lid, then it needed to be baked again to cook the ingredients.
The evolution of pies
As kitchen items like ovens and baking dishes became more common place in homes, the types of pies began to change.
The crust went from a throw-away container to the familiar, tasty pastry we know today.
From snack foods to main courses, pies have come a very long way from their humble beginnings.
Pies in the UK
The United Kingdom loves their meat pies, and they have quite the variety spread across the isle.
Pork Pies, popular back in the courts of King Richard in the 1300’s, are still a favorite today.
Shepherd’s Pie is a lovely twist on the meat pie, using a top “crust” made of buttery mashed potatoes. You can find a delicious recipe in our eat2explore UK box!
Lamprey pies are a traditional gift to the royal house at a coronation or a jubilee, sent from the village of Gloucester, England. It’s a custom that’s been around since the middle ages!
The British, namely the village of Cornwall, developed a version of the meat pie called the Cornish pasty. Pastry dough is rolled into a circle and then folded over the contents.
Miners made use of this travel-sized food. Tin mining, first from the rivers of Cornwall, and eventually from deep underground mines, was a way of life.
The pasties made a convenient method of getting a whole meal into something that was easy to carry, and potentially life-saving. How?
The process of mining tin left the worker’s hands covered in dust laced with arsenic, a very serious poison.
The pasties were baked with a thick rope of a crust to serve as a handle to use while easting. The miners ate the pasty and threw away the “handle.”
This tradition for the Cornish pasty carried to the new world as people immigrated to places like Michigan’s upper peninsula and Minnesota where they found deposits of iron, Mining operations sprang up across the area.
The pasty came in handy again for feeding the hungry workers.
Meat pies around the world
Brazil and Portugal have the pastel. Shaped in a half-circle and stuffed with a variety of fillings, it’s deep-fried and classified as a salgado, or savory snack. Or the coxinha, made of seasoned, chopped or shredded chicken, covered in dough, and molded into a teardrop shape, it’s also fried.
In Nigeria, the British traders brought their meat pies, introducing them to the region. By adding a spicy curry to the ingredients, they’re a staple in the country.
Sold roadside, served at celebrations as finger food, they show up on the menus of fine dining and fast food menus, alike.
Meat pies are a part of cultures all around the world. From its humble beginnings to a nationally recognized food, they are a fun way to eat2explore!