Sure, we may be one tweet away from a Gilead-like dystopian hellscape, but the holidays are coming so let’s talk pie!
Now, I’m an optimist…kind of. I believe when times are tough and hello, McFly, 2020 here, you can always find comfort in the bottom of a baking dish. Sweet or savory, pie to me is the Xanax of cuisine. It’s a masterpiece in gastronomic engineering. After all, who doesn’t enjoy food with its own edible lid? And with a culinary history rich in cultural nuances, not to mention its versatility (I enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight rage eating) no matter how you slice it, you won’t find a more delightful dessert. So read on, it’s time to raise your pie-Q.
Bake Like an Egyptian
Ancient Egyptians were the first to invent a dish resembling modern-day pie – a rich, crusty cake called galette made from oats, barley, wheat, or rye with honey inside. Early pies were flat, round, or freeform and eventually took the form of a dessert. Evidence was found on the tomb walls of the Pharaoh Ramesses II. But it wasn’t limited to sweets. A recipe for chicken pie discovered on a tablet in Sumer sometime before 2,000 B.C. Need a chicken pot pie? There’s a hieroglyph for that.
Pie Beta Phi-lo Dough
It’s not clear whether the ancient Egyptians or my peeps, the Greeks, were the first to invent pie but honestly, who cares? I’m just grateful someone back then thought of this tasty treat. However, the Ancient Greeks are believed to have invented the first pasty dough. There are references to sweetmeats and small pastries filled with fruit in the works of Aristophanes. And the Greeks recognized the pastry-cook as someone separate from the baker. The Romans followed with their own version of pie – a dish consisting of rye dough filled with goat’s cheese and honey. Meh…
Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Coffyn?
Fast forward to the Medieval era where pies were usually prepared with beef, lamb, duck, or pigeon, and flavored with spices like pepper, currants, or dates. Fun fact – the word “pie” may have originated from the magpie, a bird known for collecting odds and ends in its nest. Medieval pies were easily cooked over an open flame, a more efficient method of cooking given the restricted access to ovens and cooking fuel. Early pie crusts were called coffyns (that’s macabre) and weren’t necessarily eaten but baked first to create a “pot” of dough with a removable crust, hence the term “pot pie”. Pies in the 15th century included songbirds which were considered a delicacy and protected by Royal Law. The expressions “to eat crow” and “four and 20 blackbirds” were the nomenclature from this era when blackbirds and crows were eaten in pies. My guess is they cost around six pence each.
As American as Apple Pie
Across the pond, the Pilgrims and early settlers brought their English-style meat pie recipes to the New World. As they settled into their new home, they began incorporating vegetables and game indigenous to North America like apples. The early American pies were made from heavy crusts consisting of course flour and suet. As the pioneers headed west, pies continued to be an essential food staple however cooks often needed to use fillers or substitutes like crushed crackers, potatoes, green tomatoes, and even turtle! Indigenous people were instrumental in introducing the settlers to berries and fruits which led to the creation of sweet pies. They also taught the settlers how to tap maple trees and boil down the sap to make maple syrup.
Regional variations of American pies were heavily influenced by a wave of immigration by the Pennsylvania Dutch, Swedish and Finnish immigrants, as well as the Caribbean colonies. The French imported another way of making pie by introducing tarts, galette, and pâté. Cheese and cream pies were popular in the Midwest due to the presence of large dairy farms. The southern states enjoyed sweet potato pie, and to the north, pumpkin pie was all the rage. And if Peppermint Patty’s Thanksgiving Day meltdown is any indication of how important pumpkin pie is to Americana, consider this – about 50 million pumpkin pies are consumed each Thanksgiving. Yowza!
However, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, pies decreased in popularity. Women poured into the labor market which changed the pie making ritual from weekly to only on special occasions. But in the 1950’s commercial food innovations such as instant pudding, Cool Whip, and Jell-O, and pre-made crusts which were sold frozen led to a post-war resurgence of this beloved dessert.
And there you have it, my lovelies. Consider yourself an esteemed member of pie Mensa.
And now here’s something I think you’ll really like →
Under His Eye Triple Berry Crumble
For the pie crust: I use a ready-made crust for this one like Pappy’s but if you’re a purist then have at it, make your own. And this recipe actually calls for four types of berries but quadruple isn’t as catchy a title, amIright?
For the filling:
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2 tbs. cornstarch – any more than this and it becomes like hard elmer’s paste
- 1 tsp. salt
- ¾ cup fresh blueberries
- 1 cup fresh raspberries
- 1 cup fresh strawberries (halved)
- ¾ cup fresh blackberries
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbs water
- 1 tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice
For the topping:
- 1/3 cup brown sugar – I use light
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup melted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
Start with the crumble topping
Mix sugar and brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Add melted butter and combine. Add flour in small amounts at a time until blended. The mixture will resemble a paste but will crumble as it chills. Place in the refrigerator until needed.
Add sugar, cornstarch, blueberries, salt, and 2 tbs of water to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 3-4 minutes or until sauce is thick. Note – be careful not to overcook because the sauce will become a rock hard paste. Remove from heat and let cool.
Add the blueberry mixture to a large bowl. Add the cinnamon, the rest of the berries, and the lemon juice. Gently toss but try not to break the berries. Add the filling to a chilled pie crust – either store bought or homemade.
Take the crumble mixture and add to the top of the filling. It’s best to use your hands to crumble the mixture evenly.
Place in a preheated 375-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil then bake for another 20-25 minutes or until topping is golden brown.
Let the pie cool before serving. Can be served with vanilla ice cream for an added treat. Store leftover pie in the refrigerator for up to three days.