The Life of Pie: The Evolution of Pie Pastry

It is believed that historically pies became known as the food for travellers and workers in the colder northern European countries, with regional variations based on the available meats and cereal crop in the local area. The Cornish pasty for example is a version of a pie adapted to suit someone needing to take and eat their foot out during work.
The first evidence of a ‘pye’ as a food appeared in England as early as the 12th century. The word pie is believed to have originated from a connected word used in farming to describe a collection of things made into a heap. Pies are usually made this way, with a combination of ingredients to create the dough, alongside its filling.

While today we use a combination of flour, butter, salt and sugar, the dough hasn’t always consisted of these. Here’s a brief historical review of the evolution of pastry in pies…

Ancient Egypt

The first account of pies is believed to be from Ancient Egypt. Their recipe for pies is thought to have been of a flat and round shape and made up of ground oats, wheat, rye, or barley that contained honey. These were referred to as galettes, which transformed into the early sweet pastry or dessert, recipes that were found in the tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses II.

Ancient Greece

The Ancient Greeks are believed to have been the first to have developed the pie pastry from a simple mixture of water and flour to form a paste to encase the meat. It is suggested that the ancient Greeks adored their pastries and spread them throughout Europe. Pies were a part of the Greek’s everyday diet, including breakfast where they would consume a pie with dough made from wine. Another variation they would savour was ‘maza’ which was a nutritious pie that was kneaded with flour, barley rye, oats and pulses.

Romans

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. It is noted that Roman pie makers generally used vegetable oils, such as olive oil, to make their dough.

During the Roman era, it is believed that they made their pastry from flour, oil, and water and they would use it to cover meat fillings to help savour the juices. The Romans seemed to have only created the pastry to prevent the meat drying out, meaning the actual pastry was not meant to be eaten. However, there was an alternative and richer pastry that was made to be eaten, consisting of small pastries that contained eggs or little birds, among other foods served at banquets.

Medieval & Tudor Period

The medieval period was during the years 1066-1485. The earliest recipes that are similar to a pie today refer to ‘coffyns’, with crusts that had straight sides and a top. Like the Romans, in this recipe the pastry would not be eaten, its purpose purely being a container for the filling. It is said that the crust would be so thick that it had to be cracked open to access the filling.
It is recorded that ‘Game Pies’ would be used in banquets attended by the upper classes and royals. At these events there would usually be a large pie that would a detached top crust where people or live animals would be placed inside as a form of entertainment for guests. It is a relief this is a tradition that has been left in the past!

17th Century America

Early settlers in America brought their pie recipes which were then later adapted to the available fruits and other foods in the country. Settlers began to prefer pies over bread due to pies requiring less flour and the ability to alter recipes to their food provisions. Early American pie pastry had thick and heavy crusts with rough flour and suet.
Overall, pies are a historical cuisine that has been adored globally for centuries. With a varying group of ingredients and fillings throughout different time periods and different cultures, pies are a versatile food that has lasted for thousands of years and are still being adapted today.

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