Oh, man! I am so excited to find out that the week of March 7th is “British Pie Week.” I’m not sure why I think that’s way cooler than if it were American, but I do. I have dreamt about going to England as soon as I read my first Jane Austin novel. There’s just something so magical about that dream. I love all things British. The tea, the cakes, the royal family, The Great British Bake Off show, and most of all the pies.
The Brits are responsible for the invention of most types of pie. There’s one for every occasion. Though, the first pie invented was by the ancient Romans sometime before 2000 BC. Supposedly there is a chicken pie recipe written on a tablet in Sumer. As well as more evidence of pies in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Of course, one of the best foods ever invented.
So the brief history is, during the Medieval era, pies were more of a savory variety cooked over an open fire. A tradition of eating pies in the festive season began here. In this era, the sweet pies filled with fruit and spices were small and called tarts, and because sugar and fruits were so expensive they were served only in the wealthiest households. A fresh cherry pie served to Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century became the first fresh fruit pie recorded.
British Pie Week was founded in 2007 by Jus-Rol, a British pastry company. However, in 2016, the website Pierate decided to take over the holiday and shared hundreds of recipes online. Now each year the company holds a pie baking competition and ranks them according to construction and taste.
What is a Pie?
The definition of a pie in America is anything that is round, baked in an oven, and has some type of pastry. A British pie is much the same, but any shape will do.
Some fun facts about my favorite pastry.
1. Pies were once banned. in 1644 Oliver Cromwell banned pies because he said they were an evil source of pleasure. I have to say he could be on to something there.
2. Pumpkin pies became a thing on the second Thanksgiving after 1623.
3. Moreover, in the twelfth century, they called crust ‘coffyn’. Sounds a bit morbid.
4. There’s a town in New Mexico called Pie Town. Of course, they specialize in making pies.
5. And lastly, here in America, apple pie is the most popular.
Back in my childhood, some of my favorite memories are of making pie with my Grand (grandma). Well baking anything really, but I loved to watch her make pie. She made it look so easy. She never measured the ingredients – just pour and dump and mix, then walla, magic yummy perfect crust. Her slender fingers pushed and pinched the dough into a pan with the grace and wisdom only a person with a ton of experience in a single task had. My Grand would create a ceremony of sorts when serving her pies. Always on a real plate, no paper for her pie, and a glass of milk.
Food has always built a bridge in my family. We celebrate, we apologize, we comfort and we love with food. I don’t want to get into all reasons why we shouldn’t use food this way, but in my family we do, and it works. I know I have had my own struggles with this, and that is for a whole different article. What I do know is how a homemade piece of pie makes me feel, the memories it conjures, and the connection it creates.
It seems like I am always striving for a way to connect with my kids. As they have grown cooking and baking is an easy fallback. We gather in the kitchen and plan what to make. But there is something about baking a pie. It’s intimate and hands-on. When I bake with my kids I let them plan what they want. They get to choose the ingredients. I also make sure that we buy the ingredients together. It prolongs the time I get to spend with my kids, and it teaches them a valuable lesson. They have to plan, make a list of ingredients and then shop for them. They have grown to love the ritual and even accept that we do it together.
When we get home the fun really begins. My husband’s favorite pie is apple. So we peel and slice the apples, talking and laughing as we go. My favorite part is sneaking a slice of cinnamon sugared perfection. Then we get our hands gooey and dirty when mixing the crust. The best way to make the crust is by hand. It’s a little sad that I have never really perfected that art and usually buy a backup store-bought crust, you know, just in case. My eldest daughter, on the other hand, has far surpassed me in her baking prowess and I love to eat her success.
Now Let’s get to the Pie
As we all bake together, for just a little moment in time, there are no worries, and we all like each other. They learn they improve and they connect to me and to each other.
I love a good savory pie. One of my favorites my Grand taught me to make.
CHEESE AND ONION PIE RECIPE (serves 4) Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1lb plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 1/2 oz. unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2 oz parmesan cheese- grated
4 oz water
1 egg beaten for glazing
1. Pulse flour, baking powder, salt, butter, and egg yolk in a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the grated parmesan and stir until combined 2. Gradually add water, a tablespoon at a time, mixing continuously until the mixture comes together as a dough (you may not need all the water) 3. Then, Roll the dough into a ball and wrap it in cling wrap, chill for an hour.
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into cubes
2 onions, finely sliced
1 TBSP plain flour
2oz whole milk
2oz double cream
5 1/2 oz mature cheddar, grated (white)
1/2 tsp English mustard
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the potato and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Then, drain and set aside. 2. Bring a separate large saucepan of water to boil, Add the sliced onions and cook 2-3 minutes until softened. Drain and return the onions to the pan. 3. Sprinkle onions with flour and stir well to coat. 4. Add the milk and cream, heat the mixture over medium heat for 3 – 4 minutes, stirring continuously until smooth and slightly thickened. 5. Add the cooked potatoes, grated cheese, mustard, and cayenne pepper, stir well. 6. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Then set aside.
Putting the Pie Together
Grease an 8-inch pie pan with butter. Add a small amount of flour and turn it in the pan to coat. Shake out any excess flour.
When the pastry has chilled, roll out 2/3 of the dough onto a clean, floured work surface until it’s almost twice as wide as the diameter of the pie tin. Lift the pastry and lay it over the pie tin to line the base and sides. Press the dough into the corners of the tin, trim the excess, then prick several times with a fork.
Cover the pastry with greaseproof paper and fill it with rice or dried beans. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, or until the dough is is pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and discard the beans and paper. Set aside to cool.
When cooled fill with pie filling
With the remaining dough, roll out until slightly larger than the pie tin. Brush the rim of the cooked pastry with some beaten egg and place the raw dough over the top of the pie, trim off any excess. Seal them together by crimping the edges with a fork or your fingers. Make two small slits on the top of the pie with a knife. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the beaten egg and put it in the oven. \
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Here is another great savory British pie! Steak and Ale. My mouth is watering as I write this!
If you like a sweeter pie, you should try these custards!
Along with this one for you traditionalists who like the fruit!
No matter where you come from I think we can all agree on pie. Remember to celebrate British pie week starting March 7th!
Here is a related article I think you may like. Autumn Comfort Food: Our Family’s Favorite Granola Recipe
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