Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pi(e) No. 4

March 13 ...

Something that continues to intrigue me is the vast difference between the interpretation of the unqualified word ‘pie’ in America and Australia. In the States, ‘a pie’ is unequivocally a sweet dish. In Australia a ‘pie’ is indisputably a savoury meat item – and more. The meat pie is Australia is an iconic dish – although the edible reality often falls short of the dream, which is why it (the commercial variety which is the default fodder at sports games) is affectionately referred to as a ‘maggot bag’ or ‘fly cemetery’.

The sweet-or-savoury discussion would have been meaningless in medieval times when sugar was an expensive imported luxury and was used in the same way as a spice, and added to almost every dish in a rich man’s house. The echo remains in the name of our Christmas ‘mincemeat’ pies, which now don’t contain meat at all. ‘Sweet’ and fruit additions to all sorts of savoury recipes was still common in the eighteenth century, and in ways that would seem quite adventurous and cutting edge if we saw the ideas on a restaurant menu today. The first cookery book to be published in Scotland was Mrs McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work in 1736, and she gives an interesting recipe for Chicken Pye, with several variations involving fruit, and with two different ‘pastes’ for the bottom (the ‘coffin’) and top of the pie.

To make a Chicken Pye.
Lay your Chickens in your Pye, lay the bottoms of Artichokes with them if they can be got, take Nutmeg, black Pepper, Jamaica Pepper, and good Store of Fresh Butter, so close your Pye: you may have a Caudle* ready to put in at the Lumb, when it comes out of the Oven. If you make your Pye with Gooseberries, let the Butter and Spices be the same with the former; give good Store of Sugar. If it be not the Time of Gooseberries, take Currans and Rasins, and let your Liquor by White Wine and Vinegar. Take 2 lib. of Butter and a Peck of Flour, melt the Butter in boiling Water, and work it very well for all sorts of raised Past: for cold Paste, take 3 lib. and a half of Butter for each Peck of Flour, and wet the Flour with cold Water, then roll in your butter. For Puff-Paste, for each Peck of Flour take 4 lib. and an half of sweet Butter, and the Whites of 4 Eggs and beat them a little, take a little of the Flour and mix it with the Eggs and cold Water, and work them well together, till it comes to a Paste thick for rolling out, then roll it out, put Flour beneath that it may not stick to the Table, and put on the Butter, strawing a handful of Flour over the Butter, then fold it together, and roll in out 6 or 7 Times, always strewing Flour upon it every Time it is rolled out, and so apply it to the Use you desire.

*A caudle was a sort of pre-prepared sauce or ‘liquor’ that was poured in via the ‘lumb’ or hole in the top of pie, after it was cooked.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Pi(e) No. 5

Quotation for the Day …

I am convinced that digestion is the great secret of life and that character, talents, virtues, and qualities are powerfully affected by beef, mutton, pie-crust and rich soups.
Sydney Smith, in The Smith of Smiths by Hesketh Pearson (1934)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

telling one's friends here in the US that one is having just "pie" for dinner can occasionally lead to a shocked and delighted "PIE! for DINNER! my mother always did make an excellent peach pie..." and then you dampen their spirits by saying "oh, no no no, I'm making a chicken pot pie" which everyone still enjoys, but you know it's not quite the same as throwing caution to the wind and having PEACH PIE FOR DINNER...!

we just don't eat as much pie as our good ancestors did, i think, which is better for the waistline but tragic for the psyche. the days are gone when every woman could churn out apple, blueberry, peach, pumpkin, custard, vinegar, boysenberry, chess, pecan, walnut, rhubarb, strawberry, cherry, banana cream, lemon meringue, key lime, chocolate cream, maple sugar... and fewer and fewer Americans understand the old saying, "a Yankee is someone who eats pie for breakfast."

whether our respective national pies be of apple or of pork, i salute them all!