In The Beginning.
The first pies date all the way back to 9500 BC and the Egyptian Neolithic period. They were rustic and free form in shape and called Galettes. The Ancient Greeks are believed to have originated pie dough using flour and water to form a paste that they then wrapped around meat and other fillings and cooked over an open flame. In 160 BC a popular version among the Romans was called Placenta ( I know, what were they thinking). It resembled a cheesecake more than it resembled a pie, because it only had a bottom crust. This Roman version of pie was often used as an offering to the gods. Good thing, as these very early pies were a far cry from the pie we know today. Ancient pies actually used the dough or crust to wrap around and seal in the fillings for cooking and travel. This was a very simple and efficient cooking vehicle, similar to clay cooking today. However, this outside layer (or crust) was hard, tasteless and basically inedible.
Along with most of Europe, Medieval England preferred savory pies, which were known as coffyns. One of the first recipes to be published, Tortoise Pie, was found in a 13th century English cookbook. Common pie ingredients of the time were lamb, duck, magpie, pigeon, vegetables, dried fruit & honey. The hard and inedible outer crust used by ancient bakers was soon replaced and refined by adding fat (preferably lard) and sometimes eggs to the flour and water mixture during the 14th century. This produced a richer crust that was a bit more palatable. A cookbook published in England in 1545 features a basic pie crust recipe using these more modern ingredients.
From the 14th century to the 16th century King's would celebrate by having their bakers create elaborate and often times very large pies (pyes). Much to the delight of the King's guests musicians, minstrels, jesters, birds and other small animals would emerge from these spectacular culinary creations. Remember, "Sing A Song Of Sixpence"? There are a few variations of this English nursery rhyme. "Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie" is what I remember. Song birds where a delicacy back. At the coronation of then ten-year old King Henry the VI a Partryche and Peacock Pie was served. A cooked peacock was perched on top in the center of the pie. This was a way to identify the contents of the pie. This practice was later replaced in the pre-Victorian era with porcelain ornaments to release steam while cooking. Hence, the birth of the Pie Bird.
As people traveled the various trade routes, both by land and by sea, pie captured the imagination and delight of every culture along the way. Each culture embraced the concept of pie and quickly made it their own. One popular variation, the turnover or hand-held pie, pre-dates the invention of another favorite portable food staple, the sandwich. Turnovers are circles of dough that are filled and then folded over to form a crescent or half moon shape. They are then boiled, baked or fried. The turnover found its way into Spanish culture with the invention of the Empanada. Italians have Calzones and the Brazilians have Risoles. India's spicy Samosa, stuffed with peas, potatoes and curry is another good example.
A New World Of Pie.
Savory or dinner pies (pyes) have been the backbone of English cooking for centuries. Long before the settler's came to America English women were baking and serving these English specialties, which were unrivaled in other European cuisines. Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie are among two that are still popular today. Classic Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb and vegetables while Cottage Pie replaces the lamb with beef. Both of these rib-sticking dinner pies are topped with mashed potatoes. The first settlers brought these classic recipes, along with many other English favorites, to the New World. Eventually the pie found many new ingredients and variations on this new continent.
Contrary to popular belief there is no evidence that pies, pumpkin or otherwise were served during the Pilgrim's first Thanksgiving. Pumpkin pie first appeared in an American cookbook in 1675, it was based on an old English boiled squash recipe and didn't gain wide popularity until the 1800's.
Back in Europe, particularly France and Italy, 17th and 18th century chefs were perfecting puff pastry and choux, which is the pastry used for eclairs and cream puffs. The New World was also on their way to expanding and perfecting the art of dessert. In 1796 one Colonial cookbook listed only three varieties of sweet or dessert pie. As the colonists expanded west pioneer women were serving pie with almost every supper. The use of a shallow pie dish or pie plate may have started around this time to help stretch the food on hand and provide a more tender edible pastry crust.
By 1947, the Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking featured a whopping 65 dessert pie recipes. By the late 1950's hundreds of versions of pie recipes were available. From cream pies like banana, custard pies like coconut and a myriad of fruit and berry pies, Americans fell in love with the concept of pie at the end of their meal. Mark Twain loved pie, especially huckleberry pie. His long time housekeeper and friend, Katy Leary served him a slice of huckleberry pie with a cold, tall glass of milk often for lunch. Now, that's American as apple pie!
Fun Pie Facts!
Pie-ing is the act of throwing a pie, usually cream or meringue, in someone's face. 1909 marked the first on-screen pie-ing in the silent film, Mr. Flip, when Ben Turpin got the first laugh. Soupy Sales got the most laughs. Pie-ing was long synonymous with slap-stick humor but over the years it has become a tool for protesters.
During the year 1977 in Des Moines Iowa Anita Bryant became the first person to get a pie in the face as a protest to her increasingly unpopular activism. Another famous and defiant act of pie-ing came in 2011 when Rupert Murdoch was pied while at a Parliamentary hearing in London regarding his companies phone hacking scandal. The man who pied Mr. Murdoch, Jonathan May-Bowles was originally sentenced to six weeks, but later his sentence was reduced to four. Butch Cassidy's first scruff with the law is said to have been for stealing a pie. He was arrested for the offense and then later acquitted when it was said that he left an I.O.U.
Professional sports athletes have earned their place in the pie-ing tradition. These pies are usually filled with shaving cream. Many MLB players will pie a teammate that either drives in or scores the winning run in a walk-off victory. Winning race car drivers and NFL players are also known to have taken one for the team!
Pies in Pop Culture!
The humble pie has played important roles in song, cinema and television throughout the years. Andie McDowell and her co-stars sang an ode to pie in the 1996 movie Michael. Don McLean's famous teenage anthem, American Pie, captures the challenges of changing times. It was first released in 1972 and was re-released 40 years later in 2012 in the U.K. to kick off his 40th Anniversary Tour.
A memorable Seinfeld episode called The Pie first aired in 1994. Even the show "about nothing" had to pay homage to pie. Jerry is upset when his girlfriend won't share a piece of her pie with him. Things only get worse from there. While not as funny as the infamous "marble rye" episode it's still worth catching a re-run for.
Another T.V. show from the early 1990's that featured pie in the plot line was the quirky and weird, Twin Peaks. Creator David Lynch's idiosyncratic F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle McLachlan would interrupt his murder investigation for a nice slice of his favorite pie, cherry, at the Double R Cafe. This show quickly became a cult classic.
Not only did pie find it's way onto America's big and little screens it also played a comic role on radio. It's hard to forget that catchy tune from Lake Wobegon sung by the unique baritone voice of Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion. Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie was a lively musical spot by a fictional sponsor on this long-running public radio show.
But one little thing can revive a guy,
And that is homemade rhubarb pie.
Serve it up, nice and hot.
Maybe things aren't as bad as you thought.
Mama's little baby love rhubarb, rhubarb,
Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.
Mama's little baby love rhubarb, rhubarb,
Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.