PIE-brid Therapy…It’s no Porky!

“Pie…a word whose meaning has evolved in the course of many centuries and which varies to some extent according to the country or even to region….The derivation of the word may be from magpie, shortened to pie. The explanation offered in favour or this is that the magpie collects a variety of things, and that it was an essential feature of early pies that they contained a variety of ingredients….Early pies were large; but one can now apply the name to something small, as the small pork pies or mutton pies…Early pies had pastry tops, but modern pies may have a topping of something else…or even be topless. If the basic concept of a pie is taken to mean a mixture of ingredients encased and cooked in pastry, then proto-pies were made in the classical world and pies certainly figured in early Arab cookery.” —The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press: Oxford] (p. 602-3)

The practice of making small, stuffed breads and pastries dates back to ancient times. The beauty of these self-contained foods was they were easy to cook, inexpensive, portable and could be consumed anywhere with little mess.

Some sources suggest that the origins of the humble pie can be traced back as far to the ancient Egyptians. During the Neolithic Period or New Stone Age beginning around 9500BC, these early forms of pies were known as galettes, which are essentially rustic free-form pies. The bakers to the Egyptian Pharaohs used nuts, honey, and fruits in bread dough, an ancient form of pastry.

The traditional pie pastry is believed by historians to have originated in Greece. The pies were made using a flour-water paste wrapped around meat; this served two purposes, to cook the meat and seal in the juices of the finished dish. As with many good ideas, the pie was loved by the Romans.

The concept of the pie spread throughout Europe, via the Romans as they advanced and conquered their way around the globe, followed by successive cultures and civilizations that flourished, where every country adapted the pie recipes to their own unique customs and foods.

From tarts to pasties, from turnovers to cobblers, these are just some of the numerous manifestations the pie has. As a Londoner, I still enjoy pie and mash, served with eel liquor (light gravy) and still much loved by the local population.

Further north, the pork pie, steak and kidney pie, game pie and other variations involving cheese and/or fruit are preferred, often served with a selection of gravy, chutneys, pickles and mushy peas.

During the late eighties and early nineties pies, especially ready to eat pies, had a lot of bad press, apparently, pork pies, like Cornish pasties, had an image of being largely enjoyed by lonely people at motorway service stations. Combined with the nation’s health conscience being aroused as record levels of obesity were being reported in the press, they (the pork pies) were known for being full of processed by-products from meat, high in salt, cholesterol, additives and artificial flavourings.

However in recent years, with the renaissance of the British food scene and ‘nose to tail’ eating being very much in fashion, the pork pie has redeemed its reputation and repositioned itself as being fun, friendly and  a much loved gastronomic delight of our shores.

With ‘British Pie Week’ upon us, here is my interpretation of this great British classic, which I developed whilst working in Islington, on a nostalgic, retro food menu. I played around with the ingredients of the filling to my acquired taste, so feel free to adjust the quantities of meat, fruit or cheese to your desires ( …I liked mine fruity). Serve it cold the next day with home-made piccalilli, perfect for a cheeky snack, a picnic item or as a component of a hearty ploughman’s platter.

Pork, Chicken & Blue Cheese Pie

Ingredients:                                                                 Serves 10

For the pork pie filling:

500g sausage meat

250g diced pork shoulder

250g Diced chicken thigh

1 Heaped Tsp chopped sage

2 Bramley apples, peeled, cored, diced

15g Dried apricots chopped

½ tsp each ground mace, freshly grated nutmeg and ground allspice, coarse ground black pepper

250g Stilton crumbled

For the jellied Stock:

Bones from the meat used to make the filling or chicken carcass

1 pig’s trotter

1 large carrot stuck with 3 cloves

1 quartered, unpeeled onion

Herb bundle: thyme, bay leaf, sage and rosemary, 6 peppercorns

2 litres water

For the pastry:

450g/1lb plain flour

1 tsp salt

275g/10oz chilled butter, cut into pieces

3 free-range eggs, plus 1 free-range egg yolk

2-3 tbsp cold water


For the jelly, put all of the jelly ingredients into a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for three hours.

Strain through a very fine sieve into a clean pan and boil vigorously until reduced to 600ml/1 pint. Season to taste, then leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

For the pie filling, combine all the ingredients thoroughly except the sausage meat. Ensuring all the seasonings are evenly distributed. Then turn the sausage meat through the mix.

To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a food processor or mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

Beat 2 of the whole eggs with the egg yolk and water and gradually stir into the dry ingredients to make a soft dough. Knead briefly until smooth then cut off one third of the mixture and set it aside for the lid.

Roll out the larger piece and use to line the base and sides of a 20cm/8in clip-sided cake tin, leaving the excess pastry overhanging the edges.

To assemble the pie, spoon the pork filling into the pastry-lined tin and slightly round the top of the mixture to give the finished pie a nice shape.

Beat the remaining egg in a bowl. Brush the edge of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the remaining pastry and use to cover the top of the pie. Then glaze the top of the pie with the rest of the egg. 

Cut a small stem hole into the centre of the lid with a small ovenproof pastry cutter, remove the plug of pastry and leave the cutter in place to retain the hole during baking.

Bake the pie in the oven for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 160C/350F/Gas34 and continue to cook for a further 1 ¾  hours, (or to a core temperature of 71°C). Loosely cover the pie with a triple-thickness sheet of greaseproof paper once it is nicely browned if required to complete cooking.

Finally, remove the pie from the oven and leave to cool for 2 hours. Then warm through the jelly and pour into the pie through the hole in the top (use a funnel – a lot easier). Remove cutter used to make the hole in the top. Leave to go cold overnight.


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