The other day I had come back early from work and was in a fix on what I was going to write about. I asked my sister what she’d like to read. She said “Why don’t you write something about food, add in a few recipes or something”. It’s true I haven’t written anything about food in a long time, so I thought why not. But what do I write. I wasted one full hour thinking while also easing my way through a Large So Cheesy Pizza from Pizza Hut. After all, it is a crime think on an empty stomach. While I was about to finish the last slice, a thought struck me. The first or any kind of cooking venture, big or small I undertook was my amateur version of Gordon Ramsay’s Shepherd’s pie which left me chasing my tail (but that’s for another time). And so I decided I was going to write about those juicy, carnal, luscious meat pies that once had such an emotional and cognitive impact on me.
I did some digging and found out that these pies had an ancient origin and here I thought they were going to give the Nobel Prize to Gordon Ramsay for inventing those pies. I’m shamefaced at my naivety but everyone’s got to learn at some point. Anyways, the first pies, called ‘coffins’ or ‘coffyns’, were savoury meat pies where the crusts or pastry was tall and straight-sided with sealed-on floors and lids. Open-crust pastry (without tops or lids) was known as ‘traps’. These pies held assorted meats and sauce components and were baked more like a modern casserole with no pan (the crust itself was the pan, its pastry tough and inedible). The purpose of a pastry shell was mainly to serve as a storage container and serving vessel, and these are often too hard to actually eat. A small pie was known as a tartlet and a tart was a large, shallow open pie (this is still the definition in England). Since pastry was a staple ingredient in medieval menus, pastry making was taken for granted by the majority of early cookbooks and recipes are not usually included. It wasn’t until the 16th century that cookbooks with pastry ingredients began appearing. Historians believe this was because cookbooks started appearing for the general household and not just for professional cooks.
The origins of the pie can loosely be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. The bakers to the pharaohs incorporated nuts, honey and fruits in bread dough – a primitive form of pastry. Drawings of this can be found etched on the tomb walls of Ramses II, located in the Valley of the Kings. Historians believe that the Greeks actually originated pie pastry. Pies during this period were made using a flour-water paste wrapped around meat, which served to cook the meat and seal in the juices. The Romans, sampling the delicacy, carried home recipes (a prize of victory when they conquered Greece, hilarious). The delights of the pie spread throughout Europe, via the Roman roads, where every country adapted the recipes to their customs and foods.
There it is, the origin of meat pies. I thought I could elaborate more on the types of pies but I’ll do that in a follow up post.