The Dorset Foodie, Christine McFadden takes a slice into the world of pies in celebration of British Pie Week
“Pies come in many forms: single bottom crust, single top crust, double crust, lattice-topped, deep dish, free-standing, gargantuan pies for feeding crowds, ‘hand’ pies, turnovers and bite-sized mini pies.
Fillings are equally motley. Fish pie and apple pie are iconic, but there are also legendary pies filled with peacocks, thrushes or escaping blackbirds. Stargazey pie has a circle of disconcerting fish heads protruded from the top crust. Eel Pie Island on London’s River Thames is famous for its pies filled with eels from the river.
Though pies are enjoyed throughout the world, they originated in Central and Eastern Europe where the necessary raw materials were easily found: wood for fuel, grains for flour and animals for fat. The Eastern Mediterranean is home to delicious little savoury pies – squares, triangles, crescents, tubes, cornets – expertly made with dough ranging from paper-thin filo to multi-layered puff. Italy boasts pasticci – magnificent creations with rich savoury fillings dating back to the Renaissance. There is also torte which may refer to a cake or a pie. Torte di verdura – green vegetable pies – are especially popular at Easter. Spain’s favourite pie is the empanada – a savoury turnover baked or deep-fried until crisp and golden.
Here in the UK, we have the West Country’s famous Cornish pasty, while the Midlands boasts the Melton Mowbray pork pie and the intriguing gala pie – a long loaf-shaped pork pie with a seemingly endless hard-boiled egg in the middle. How it gets there is another story.”
Pastry is crucial packaging for pies. Making your own is simpler than you think and deeply satisfying once you understand what’s going on. Regardless of type, pastry generally contains the same core ingredients: flour, fat, liquid (either water or dairy product), perhaps eggs, an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice, sugar and/or salt. It’s the alchemy between them, the choice and balance of fat, flour and liquid, the method and sequence of mixing, that determines the particular character of a dough.
Shortcrust – crisp crumbly ‘short’ texture. Made with half fat to flour. Lard sometimes added for extra crispness.
Rich shortcrust – similar to shortcrust but with an egg added for colour and richness.
Hot water crust – made with lard and flour, plus boiling water. Chewy, but crisp, texture. Used for free-standing moulded pies.
Flaky, puff and rough puff – crisp layered pastry. The difference between them is the way butter is added.
– Puff: butter added in one lump
– Flaky: butter dotted over the rolled-out dough | Rough puff: butter mixed into the dough at the beginning
Check out Christine’s spring vegetable pies using millet and rice flour here…