Published on March 4th, 2020 | by Alastair Gilmour0
The pie’s the limit
The humble pie is as close to comfort food as it’s possible to get. March marks British Pie Week
This month marks British Pie Week (March 2-8), but there’s no reason to limit it to a few days – let’s extend the celebration to National Pie Month. Every month.
There is nothing better to drink with a pie than a pint. But there’s little point in trying to match the flavours perfectly as pies come in so many guises that they’d be stone cold by the time you’ve sampled dark beers, fruity beers, light ales or coriander-laced wheat beers to discover what you prefer the most.
British Pie Week (Month) started out as a marketing campaign by Jus-Rol, the ready-made pastry company, and is an opportunity to celebrate our love of pies, with pubs, restaurants and pie shops taking the opportunity to run pie specials, pie-themed competitions and more.
According to Jus-Rol, around 75% of people enjoy a pie at least once a month – people need to get their pie fix whether it’s a steak and ale pie, chicken and leek pie, mince and onion pie, cottage pie, pork pie, mutton pie, Desperate Dan’s cow pie, or the macaroni pies enjoyed with relish in Scotland.
Pie is a dish that can bring so much variety. Savoury or sweet, the dish has been around in various forms since the time of the ancient Egyptians.
The definition of a pie is a baked dish which is usually made of a dough casing that covers or completely contains a filling of various sweet or savoury ingredients. This means lots of things qualify as pies, including mixed fruit pies in North America served with a dollop of ice-cream and known as Pie a la Mode.
Competitions for unusual pies are held all around the world which include the Strange Pie Contest in California and the World Championship Scottish Pie Awards each November. In California they came up with Pickle and Peanut Butter Pie and The Club Pie (French fries, bacon and mayonnaise) plus ‘Candied Peppers and Chocolate Pie.
Pies are also popular in North India through a traditional slow-cooking technique called the Dum Puhkt which can be traced back to the royal kitchens of the Awadh region. The words “dum” and “pukht” mean to breathe and to cook, respectively. This technique involves placing spiced meat and vegetables in a heavy-bottomed brass or clay pot called a handi, sealing it tightly with dough and cooking it over a low flame.
Scotch pies are also known as mutton pies. They used to be frowned upon by the Scottish church in the Middle Ages who viewed them as luxurious, decadent English-style food. Ironically, they proved to be the ideal food for working men and women who bought them from pie-men or pie-wives in the city streets centuries later. The space on top of the pie, created by the raised crust, would sometimes be filled with gravy, beans, mashed potato – or the previously-mentioned macaroni.
In Roman times, the pie’s pastry shell was designed to be used as the baking dish, storage container and simply a way to serve the filling. Romans would use meats, oysters, mussels and fish as the filling and a mixture of flour, oil and water to keep it all in place which was often tough and inedible and eventually discarded.
In the 16th Century, “surprise pies” featured live animals inside. They would jump out at posh dinner parties and included frogs, squirrels, foxes and even “four-and-twenty blackbirds”.
Out of 74 scripted deaths throughout William Shakespeare’s 38 plays there were plenty of stabbings, poisonings and beheadings – plus two who met their deaths through a pie. In Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare’s first tragedy), the title character wreaks revenge on Queen Tamora and her family for their evil deeds by baking her sons into a pie and serving it to her.
Surely the most remote outpost of the pie is the one pictured by @The_saturdayboy at Arbroath Football Club’s Gayfield Park which sits as close to the North Sea as it’s possible to get and stay dry. He writes on Twitter: “The Solitude of the Arbroath FC pie hut. Often captured through a lens and rightly so. It’s a beautiful sight.”
If you can’t do the Scottish Championship pilgrimage, celebrate regularly the “ beautiful sight” of a pie this month with the filling and chaser of your choice. The pie’s the limit.