Monday, March 10, 2008

Pi(e) No. I.

March 10...

Here beginneth The Week of Pies.

Pi Day commemorates the mathematical symbol Pi, and it is the day when mathematicians around the world toss aside the tools of their trade (whatever they are) and try to have fun. Pi (or π, if you want to be fancy), is the mathematical constant that represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, and it is important because without it we would not be able to make perfectly regular pies. I am told that Pi is an irrational number, which I found interesting, as wrestling with any sort of numbers makes me quite irrational. Anyway, it means that it is a never-ending number. Even though it is indisputably never-ending, there are a lot of people who try to remember as many decimal places as they can. I am not quite sure why they do this. I am content with the first two decimal places, which make Pi equal to 3.14, which, by a stroke of amazing coincidence, can be seen as a way of indicating ‘March 14’. By this brilliant mathematical logic, Friday of this week will be Pi Day.

Such an important mathematical and baking day requires a week of preparation, does it not? A week of Pi(es) also allows me to give you some of the ‘out-takes’ from my book The Pie: A Celebratory History, which is now safely in the hands of Reaktion Press, and I hope will be in many of yours at future but yet-to-be-disclosed date.

I will endeavour to give you recipes you may not have come across before, as well as some clever observations on pies and pie-making from cookbook authors over the centuries.

Observations on Pies, No. 1.

To the following comments on pie-making we are indebted to Sir Theodore Mayerne. They are taken from his book Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus, published in 1658. It must surely be in the running for a prize for the most-obscurely titled cookery book of the century - as befits a jargon-inclined medical man, and a royally-appointed one at that. Sir Theodore modestly indicated in the frontispiece of his book that he was 'Physician to the late King Charles’.

“You must generally observe that no kind of flesh whatsoever may be put in paste before it be mortified, therefore you must let that flesh which you do intend to put in paste to be sufficiently mortified, which may be done by hanging it in the Aire, or by burying of it under ground, for the space of twenty and four houres, after which you must beat the said flesh-meat more or less with a wooden rowlett or Pestell according to the said fleshes thickness and hardness, which is a third way to mortifie it: so likewise must you observe that beef and mutton must be more beaten and mortified , than any other flesh whatsoever.”

The very first recipe in Mayerne's book is for a pie, and it would not be too difficult to make as there is only a little sparrow-flesh to deal with – all the other ingredients can remain unhung, unburied, and unbeaten.

The London Pie.
Take of Marrow-bons, eight, cock-Sparrowes, or Larks, eighteen, Potato-roots, one pound, Eringo-roots, a quarter of a pound, Lattice-stalks two ounces, Chestnuts forty, Dates half a pound, Oysters, a peck, Citron-rindes preserved, a quarter of a pound, Hartichokes, two or three, Yelks of hard Egs, twelve, Lemmons sliced, two, Barberries picled, one handfull, Gross Pepper, a quarter of an ounce, Large mace half an ounce, Corrents a quarter of a pound. Liquor it when it is baked with white-wine, butter and sugar.

If you want more, the recipe archive contains some lovely pies:

Pie of Bull’s Testicles (16th C)
A Lambstone and Sweetbread Pye. (1720-40)
Parrot Pie (late 19th C)
To make minced Herring Pies. (1660)
Tourte of young pigeons. (1653)
Tourte of Beatilles. (1653)
Pie of Turkie. (1653)
Lark, or Sparrow Pye. (1736)
Yorkshire Goose Pie (1769)
Eel Pie. (1861)
Bride Pie [1660]
Pies with live birds and frogs (1665)
A sea Pie.(1831)
Australian Meat Pie. [1888]
Birk Hall Excursion Pie [1909]
How to make Venison, Beef, or Mutton Pasty.[1690]
Blood Pie for a Side Dish (1702)
Sea Pie (19th C)
Richmond Eel Pie.[1863]
To bake Beef red Deer fashion in Pies or Pasties, either Surloin, Brisket, Buttock, or Fillet, larded or not. [1660]
Old Maid’s Pie [1948]
To make a Calf’s Head Pye. [1747]
Hottentot Pie. [1769]
A Tart of the Brain of a Capon. [1682]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Pi(e) No. 2

Quotation for the Day …

[re: Pie] A word whose meaning has evolved in the course of many centuries and which varies to some extent according to country or even region. Many languages lack a truly equivalent word, since pies, in the Ango-American sense of the word, are indigenous to Europe, especially C and N Europe, and occur elsewhere only as introduced dishes. Alan Davidson; Oxford Companion to Food.


Lidian said...

What a lovely way to begin Pi Week - I have done a few pie posts by chance, but will hunt for a pie or two with which to honor the week!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the pending publication of your book on pies! It is lovely seeing one's name on the cover of a book.

I'm enjoying your week of pies. I have always thought the word itself - pie - had a wonderfully comforting sound to it. It just sounds wholesome and warm.

It is fun to note (as you do later in this series) the differences between America and Australia regarding pies. I think in Britain that the word is more ambivalent, as there are both sweet and meat pies. But yes, in Australia, I'm always quick to search out a nice meat pie with sauce.

Again, congratulations. And thanks for your ongoing efforts.