The Perfect Pie
On a cold winter night there is nothing better than a hot and steaming pie and on a warm picnic there is nothing better than a cold cutting pie. Whether sweet, savoury, hot or cold we all enjoy a delicious pie and it is true to say that Britain has had a love affair with pies since the twelfth century.
In Britain a normal pie has come to mean a variety of dishes , there are pies topped with potato such as a shepherd’s pie or those with just a pastry top or lattice top , but these are not strictly pies, despite their name, the true definition of a pie is a filling that is completely encased in pastry. The filling can be wide ranging and varied, it is the fact that the pastry covers the filling in entirety that defines a pie as a pie. Indeed The British Pie Awards that runs each year in Melton Mowbray states that, ‘’All Pies in all Classes of the British Pie Awards must comply with being ‘a filling totally and wholly encased in pastry’. Entries which do not comply e.g. lattice topped, fruit topped, potato topped etc. will not be submitted for judging.’’
So a filling encased totally by pastry with caution taken to avoid soggy pastry, it seems strange to think that so much emphasis is now placed on the pastry when the original pies of Britain cared little about the pastry, it was simply there as a vessel to hold the filling and not designed for eating.
Although pies are now widely associated with the British, they are not a British invention. It is widely believed that the credit for pies should be attributed to the ancient Greeks. It was the pies of Ancient Greece that were adopted by the Romans, who then took the recipe home and eventually brought the recipe to Britain, where over time we claimed the pie as a great British tradition.
Pies have changed considerably over the centuries. In medieval times royal courts and aristocracy would eat pies with exotic fillings including swans, peacocks and even live birds to act as a spectacle to entertain the court rather than strictly for consumption.
Statistics show that sales of pastry pies are growing and that our pie market is now worth over one billion pounds and it’s not surprising as every supermarket, petrol station and baker seems to sell pies of varying qualities. So what makes the perfect pie? Despite supermarkets push towards ‘gourmet’ ranges, in my opinion the only way to guarantee a good pie is to make it yourself. The basis of a good pie starts with good quality ingredients for the filling and here a cautionary note has to be issued about the need to keep fillings simple. It is tempting to go wild with imaginative fillings, but simple really does work best and you can’t beat the classics, but that not to say you can’t add your own twist to them. Then of course you need a really good pastry. To make the perfect short crust pastry that will be a joy to eat then try the following recipe:
500g plain white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
80-100ml cold water
1) Place flour in a mixing bowl. Add cold butter, cut into cubes, and salt, and rub gently with your fingertips until it is like fine breadcrumbs.
2) Beat the egg with a little cold water. Mix into the butter and flour mix, until it forms dough. You may need a little more water at this stage, but be careful not to add too much liquid otherwise your pastry will become tough when cooked.
3) Wrap in Clingfilm and chill for an hour. This is an essential stage; otherwise your pastry will shrink
As the deadline to the British Pie Awards looms, I will be providing you with some classic pie recipes and answering the question of ‘who ate all the pies’.