A pie is a baked dish which is usually made of a pastry dough casing that completely contains a filling of various sweet or savoury ingredients. Sweet pies may be filled with fruit (as in an apple pie), nuts (pecan pie), brown sugar (sugar pie) or sweetened vegetables (rhubarb pie). Savoury pies may be filled with meat (as in a steak pie or a Jamaican patty), eggs and cheese (quiche) or a mixture of meat and vegetables (pot pie).

A pear pie
Main ingredientsPie shell
VariationsSweet pies, savoury pies

Pies are defined by their crusts. A filled pie (also single-crust or bottom-crust), has pastry lining the baking dish, and the filling is placed on top of the pastry but left open. A top-crust pie has the filling in the bottom of the dish and is covered with a pastry or other covering before baking. A two-crust pie has the filling completely enclosed in the pastry shell. Shortcrust pastry is a typical kind of pastry used for pie crusts, but many things can be used, including baking powder biscuits, mashed potatoes, and crumbs.

Pies can be a variety of sizes, ranging from bite-size to ones designed for multiple servings.


The source of the word "pie" may be the magpie, a "bird known for collecting odds and ends in its nest"; the connection could be that Medieval pies also contained many different animal meats, including chickens, crows, pigeons and rabbits.[2] One 1450 recipe for “grete pyes” that is suggested as support for the "magpie" etymology contained what Charles Perry called "odds and ends", including: "...beef, beef suet, capons, hens, both mallard and teal ducks, rabbits, woodcocks and large birds such as herons and storks, plus beef marrow, hard-cooked egg yolks, dates, raisins and prunes."[3]



The need for nutritious, easy-to-store, easy-to-carry, and long-lasting foods on long journeys, in particular at sea, was initially solved by taking live food along with a butcher or cook. However, this took up additional space on what were either horse-powered treks or small ships, reducing the time of travel before additional food was required. This resulted in early armies adopting the style of hunter-foraging. The introduction of the baking of processed cereals including the creation of flour, provided a more reliable source of food. Egyptian sailors carried a flat brittle bread loaf of millet bread called dhourra cake, while the Romans had a biscuit called buccellum.[4]

During the Egyptian Neolithic period or New Stone Age period, the use of stone tools shaped by polishing or grinding, the domestication of plants and animals, the establishment of permanent villages, and the practice of crafts such as pottery and weaving became common. Early pies were in the form of flat, round or freeform crusty cakes called galettes consisting of a crust of ground oats, wheat, rye, or barley containing honey inside. These galettes developed into a form of early sweet pastry or desserts, evidence of which can be found on the tomb walls of the Pharaoh Ramesses II, who ruled from 1304 to 1237 BC, located in the Valley of the Kings.[1] Sometime before 2000 BC, a recipe for chicken pie was written on a tablet in Sumer.[5]

Ancient Greeks are believed to have originated pie pastry. In the plays of Aristophanes (5th century BC), there are mentions of sweetmeats including small pastries filled with fruit. Nothing is known of the actual pastry used, but the Greeks certainly recognized the trade of pastry-cook as distinct from that of baker. (When fat is added to a flour-water paste it becomes a pastry.)

The Romans made a plain pastry of flour, oil, and water to cover meats and fowls which were baked, thus keeping in the juices. The Roman approach of covering "...birds or hams with dough" has been called more of an attempt to prevent the meat from drying out during baking than an actual pie in the modern sense.[3](The covering was not meant to be eaten; it filled the role of what was later called puff paste.) A richer pastry, intended to be eaten, was used to make small pasties containing eggs or little birds which were among the minor items served at banquets.[6] The first written reference to a Roman pie is for a rye dough that was filled with a mixture of goat's cheese and honey.[7]

The 1st-century Roman cookbook Apicius makes various mentions of recipes which involve a pie case.[8] By 160 BC, Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato (234–149 BC), who wrote De Agri Cultura, notes the recipe for the most popular pie/cake called placenta. Also called libum by the Romans, it was more like a modern-day cheesecake on a pastry base, often used as an offering to the gods. With the development of the Roman Empire and its efficient road transport, pie cooking spread throughout Europe.[1] Wealthy Romans combined many types of meats in their pies, including mussels and other seafood.[9] Roman pie makers generally used vegetable oils, such as olive oil, to make their dough.[10]

Pies remained as a staple of traveling and working peoples in the colder northern European countries, with regional variations based on both the locally grown and available meats, as well as the locally farmed cereal crop. In these colder countries, butter and lard were the main fats in use, which meant that pie cooks created dough that could be rolled flat and moulded into different shapes.[11] The Cornish pasty is an adaptation of the pie to a working man's daily food needs.[1] The first reference to "pyes" as food items appeared in England (in a Latin context) as early as the 12th century), but it is not clear that this referred to baked pies.

Medieval era

In the Medieval era, pies were usually savory meat pies made with "...beef, lamb, wild duck, magpie pigeon -- spiced with pepper, currants or dates".[9] Medieval cooks had restricted access to ovens due to their costs of construction and need for abundant supplies of fuel. Since pies could be easily cooked over an open fire, this made pies easier for most cooks to make. At the same time, by partnering with a baker, a cook could focus on preparing the filling. The earliest pie-like recipes refer to "coffyns" (the word actually used for a basket or box), with straight sealed sides and a top; open-top pies were referred to as "traps". The resulting hardened pastry was not necessarily eaten, its function being to contain the filling for cooking, and to store it, though whether servants may have eaten it once their masters had eaten the filling is impossible to prove.[12] The thick crust was so sturdy it had to be cracked open to get to the filling.[2] This may also be the reason why early recipes focus on the filling over the surrounding case, with this development leading to the use of reusable earthenware pie cases which reduced the use of expensive flour.[13] Medieval pie crusts were often baked first, to create a "pot" of baked dough with a removable top crust, hence the expression "pot pie".[14]

The first unequivocal reference to pie in a written source is in the 14th century (Oxford English Dictionary sb pie).[1] The eating of mince pies during festive periods is a tradition that dates back to the 13th century, as the returning Crusaders brought pie recipes containing "meats, fruits and spices".[15] Some pies contained cooked rabbits, frogs,[16] crows, and pigeons.[2] In 1390, the English cookbook A Forme of Cury had a recipe for “tartes of flesh”, which included a ground-up mixture of "pork, hard-boiled eggs, and cheese" blended with "spices, saffron, and sugar".[17] The 14th century French chef Taillevent instructed bakers to "crenelate" pie shells and "reinforce them so that they can support the meat"; one of his pies was high enough that it resembled a model of a castle, an illusion enhanced by miniature banners for the nobles at the event.[3]

Pies in the 1400s included birds, as song birds at the time were a delicacy and protected by Royal Law. At the coronation of eight-year-old English King Henry VI (1422–1461) in 1429, "Partrich" and "Pecok enhakill" were served, alleged by some modern writers to consist of cooked peacock mounted in its skin on a peacock-filled pie. The expressions "eat crow" and "four and 20 blackbirds" are sayings from the era when crow and blackbirds were eaten in pies.[2] Cooked birds were frequently placed by European royal cooks on top of a large pie to identify its contents, leading to its later adaptation in pre-Victorian times as a porcelain ornament to release of steam and identify a good pie.[1] The apple pie was first referenced in writing in 1589, when the poet R. Green wrote "Thy breath is like the seeme of apple pies".[9]

Medieval England had an early form of sweet pies, but they were called tarts and fruit pies were unsweetened, because sugar was a rare and costly "symbol of wealth".[2] In the Middle Ages, a pie could have a number of items as its filling, but a pastry would have only a single filling.[18]

15th century – 21st century

Until the start of the 15th century, pies were expected to contain meat or fish.[3] In the 15th century, custard and fruit pie recipes began appearing, often with dried fruit like dates and raisins (fresh fruit did not become widely used until sugar dropped in price during the 16th century).[3] The first fruit pie is recorded in the late 16th century, when Queen Elizabeth I was served cherry pie.[19] Queen Elizabeth I was often given gifts of quince or pear pies for New Years.[3] The Elizabethan food author Gervase Markham called for baking “Red Deer Venison, Wild-Boar, Gammons of Bacon, Swans, Elkes, Porpus and such like standing dishes, which must be kept long" in a "...moyst, thick, tough, course and long-lasting crust, and therefore of all other your Rye paste is best for that purpose.” [3] During the Shakespearean era, fruit pies were served hot, but others were served at room temperature, as they would be brought to the "...table more than once".[3] The largest pies of the era were "standing pies", which were baked with steam holes, which were then sealed with melted butter (which would harden to seal the pie), and then eaten over several months.[3]

During the Puritan era of Oliver Cromwell, some sources claim mince pie eating was banned as a frivolous activity for 16 years, so mince pie making and eating became an underground activity; the ban was lifted in 1660, with the Restoration of the monarchy.[20] In the 17th century, Ben Jonson described a skilled pie cook by comparing the cook to a fortification builder who "...Makes citadels of curious fowl and fish" and makes "dry-ditches", "bulwark pies" and "ramparts of immortal crusts".[3] In Gervase Markham's 1615 book The English Huswife, there is a pie recipe that calls for "an entire leg of mutton and three pounds of suet..., along with salt, cloves, mace, currants, raisins, prunes, dates, and orange peel", which made a huge pie that could serve a large group.[17]

United States

The Pilgrim fathers and early settlers brought their pie recipes with them to America, adapting to the ingredients and techniques available to them in the New World. Settlers' recipes were for English-style meat pies.[9] The newcomers used the fruits and berries that they were familiar with from Europe, but also began incorporating North American vegetables and game that they were not familiar with, with guidance from Indigenous people.[21] Settlers favoured pies over bread because pies required less flour and did not require a brick bread oven, and because any mixture of ingredients could be added to pies to "stretch" their "meager provisions".[22] The apple pie made with American apples became popular, because apples were easy to dry and store in barrels over the winter.[22] Early American pies had thick, heavy crusts made with rough flour and suet.[22] As pioneers spread westward, pies continued to be an important supply of food; while apple pies made from dried apples were popular, cooks often had to use fillers or substitutes to stretch out their barrels of apples, such as crushed crackers, vinegar-soaked potatoes, sour green tomatoes and soft-shelled river turtle meat.[22]

The first Thanksgiving feast included fowl and venison, which may have been included in pies.[9] Colonists appreciated the food preservation aspect of crusty-topped pies, which were often seasoned with "dried fruit, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg".[9] Their first pies included pies that were based on berries and fruits pointed out to them by the Native North Americans.[1] Pies allowed colonial cooks to use round shallow pans to literally "cut corners" and to create a regional variation of shallow pie.[23] By the late 1700s, cookbooks show a wide range of newly developed sweet pies.[9]

Pies became more refined with subsequent waves of immigrants; the Pennsylvania Dutch contributed a more aromatic, spiced, and less-sweet style of pie-making; the French brought the approach of making pie with butter and a range of tart, galette and pâté (forcemeat of meat and fish in dough) recipes.[22] Swedish immigrants in the plains states brought recipes for fish pie and berry pie; Finnish immigrants brought their recipes for pasties and meat pies.[22] In the northern states, pumpkin pie was popular, as pumpkins were plentiful.[22] Once the British had established Caribbean colonies, sugar became less expensive and more widely available, which meant that sweet pies could be readily made.[2] Molasses was popular in American pies due to the rum and slave trade with the Caribbean Islands, although maple syrup was an important sweetener in Northern states, after Indigenous people taught settlers how to tap maple trees and boil down the sap.[22] In the Midwest, cheese and cream pies were popular, due to the availability of big dairy farms.[22] In the US south, African-Americans enjoyed sweet potato pies, due to the widespread availability of this type of potato.[22]

By the 1870s, the new science of nutrition led to criticism of pies, notably by Sarah Tyson Rorer, a cooking teacher and food editor who warned the public about how much energy pies take to digest.[22] Rorer stated that all pie crusts "...are to be condemned" and her cookbook only included an apple tart, jelly and meringue-covered crackers, pâté, and a "hygienic pie" which had "apple slices or a pumpkin custard baked in biscuit dough".[3] In 1866, Harper's Magazine included an article by C.W. Gesner that stated that although we "...cry for pie when we are infants", "Pie kills us finally", as the "heavy crust" cannot be digested.[3]

Another factor that decreased the popularity of pies was industrialization and increasing movement of women into the labour market, which changed pie making from a weekly ritual to an "occasional undertaking" on special occasions.[22] In the 1950s, after WWII, the popularity of pies rebounded in the US, especially with commercial food inventions such as instant pudding mixes, Cool Whip topping, and Jello gelatin (which could be used as fillings) ready-made crusts, which were sold frozen, and alternative crusts made with crushed potato chips.[22] There was a pie renaissance in the 1980s, when old-fashioned pie recipes were rediscovered and a wide range of cross-cultural pies were explored.[22]

Regional variations

Meat pies with fillings such as steak, cheese, steak and kidney, minced beef, or chicken and mushroom are popular in the United Kingdom,[24] Australia, South Africa and New Zealand as take-away snacks. They are also served with chips as an alternative to fish and chips at British chip shops.

Pot pies with a flaky crust and bottom are also a popular American dish, typically with a filling of meat (particularly beef, chicken, or turkey), gravy, and mixed vegetables (potatoes, carrots, and peas). Frozen pot pies are often sold in individual serving size.

Fruit pies may be served with a scoop of ice cream, a style known in North America as pie à la mode. Many sweet pies are served this way. Apple pie is a traditional choice, though any pie with sweet fillings may be served à la mode. This combination, and possibly the name as well, is thought to have been popularized in the mid-1890s in the United States.[25] Apple pie can be made with a variety of apples: Golden Delicious, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, and Rome Beauty.[26]

In the United States of America, there is a popular saying that "there are few things as American as apple pie".[9] In the United States, pie and especially apple pie, became "bound up in American mythology" to the point that in 1902, The New York Times asserted that "Pie is the food of the heroic" and stated that "No pie-eating people can ever be permanently vanquished".[2]

The slang expression "to eat humble pie" comes from the umble pie, which was made with "chopped or minced innards of an animal", a "cheap offal filling...eaten by the poor".[27] The slang expression "it's a piece of pie", meaning that something is easy, dates from 1889.[28] The slang expression "pie-eyed", meaning drunk, dates from 1904.[29] The expression "pie in the sky", to refer to an unlikely proposal or idea, dates from a 1911 Wobbly song by Joe Hill.[30]

Pie throwing

Cream filled or topped pies are favorite props for slapstick humor. Throwing a pie in a person's face has been a staple of film comedy since Ben Turpin received one in Mr. Flip in 1909.[31] More recently, pieing has also become a political act; some activists throw cream pies at politicians and other public figures as a form of protest.


Savory pies

Sweet pies

Some of these pies are pies in name only, such as the Boston cream pie, which is a cake. Many fruit and berry pies are very similar, varying only the fruit used in filling. Fillings for sweet or fruity are often mixed, such as strawberry rhubarb pie.

See also


  1. "History of Pie". whatscookingamerica.net. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  2. Gross, Rachel (13 March 2015). "How Pie Got Its Sweetness: The first pies were weird crow-meat casseroles. How did they evolve into the dessert we know and love today?". slate.com. Slate. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  3. Perry, Charles (18 November 1993). "American Pie : The Slice of History". www.latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  4. "Ships Biscuits - Royal Navy hardtack". Royal Navy Museum. Retrieved 14 January 2010.
  5. Somervill, Empires of Ancient Mesopotamia, p.69
  6. "Food Pies". FoodTimeline.org. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  7. Pix, Katie (7 March 2016). "A brief history of the great British pie". jamieoliver.com. Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  8. Joseph Dommers Vehling, ed. (1977). Apicius: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome. Dover:New York.
  9. Mayer, Laura (26 November 2008). "A History of Pie". time.com. Time. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  10. Pix, Katie (7 March 2016). "A brief history of the great British pie". jamieoliver.com. Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  11. Pix, Katie (7 March 2016). "A brief history of the great British pie". jamieoliver.com. Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  12. Clarkson, 2009. Pages 18–19
  13. Odile Redon; et al. (1998). The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy. University of Chicago Press:Chicago. ISBN 0-226-70684-2.
  14. Pix, Katie (7 March 2016). "A brief history of the great British pie". jamieoliver.com. Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  15. Pix, Katie (7 March 2016). "A brief history of the great British pie". jamieoliver.com. Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  16. Pix, Katie (7 March 2016). "A brief history of the great British pie". jamieoliver.com. Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  17. Greenwood, Veronique (8 December 2017). "The Strange and Twisted History of Mince Pies". www.bbc.com. BBC. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  18. "Pie (n.1)". etymonline.com. Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  19. Pix, Katie (7 March 2016). "A brief history of the great British pie". jamieoliver.com. Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  20. Pix, Katie (7 March 2016). "A brief history of the great British pie". jamieoliver.com. Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  21. "Pie". The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink.Andrew F. Smith, Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.
  22. "Pie". The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Andrew F. Smith, Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.
  23. Andrew Smith (ed.). Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Oxford University Press:New York.
  24. "Pie". Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
  25. ""Remember the à la mode!" (pie à la mode)". Retrieved 2007-10-29.
  26. "Best Apples For Apple Pie | Stemilt". Stemilt. 2015-09-28. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  27. Pix, Katie (7 March 2016). "A brief history of the great British pie". jamieoliver.com. Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  28. "Pie (n.1)". etymonline.com. Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  29. "Pie (n.1)". etymonline.com. Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  30. "Pie (n.1)". etymonline.com. Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  31. "A Very Brief History of Slapstick". Splat TV. 2003. Retrieved 2009-01-29.


  • Clarkson, Jane (2009). Pie: A Global History. Reaktion. ISBN 978-1-86189-425-0.

Further reading

  • Beranbaum, Rose Levy. The Pie and Pastry Bible. New York: Scribner, 1998.
  • Heatter, Maida. Maida Heatter's Pies & Tarts. New York. Cader Books: 1997.
  • Purdy, Susan S. The Perfect Pie. Broadway Books. New York: 2000.
  • Stewart, Martha. Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1985.
  • Walter, Carole. Great Pies & Tarts. New York: Clarkson/Potter Publishers, 1998.
  • Willard, Pat. Pie Every Day: Recipes and Slices of Life. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1997.
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