In 1928, we baked our first pork pies in Leeming Bar. However, the humble pork pie has been a staple in diets for centuries, so we wanted to delve a little deeper and take a look at the pork pie through the years.
The first time we can trace the word ‘pie’ by The Oxford English Dictionary was back in 1303 and was a popular, well known word by 1362. Whilst these days, the word ‘pie’ is an everyday word and a staple in our diets, you might not actually know where the word originates. According to The Oxford Companion of Food by Alan Davidson, “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 of 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.” If this explanation of the word rings true or not, the Middle English language which was used from c. 1150 to c. 1470 has given us many words today that the origins have nice stories we’re not sure if they’re accurate.
The basic concept of the pie has changed little from the conception despite the huge difference in cooking methods from ancient hearths to our modern ovens. The first pies were simple and savory – mainly meat and cheese and any sweet flaky pastry pies with fruit in were only made popular in the early 19th century.
We know from food historians that ancient people had excellent taste and ate pie. The way they were eaten – their recipes and obviously cooking technique varied around the different cultures – with no Google recipes to search, each culture had their own method to cook a pie. In the Mediterranean areas which included Ancient Rome and Greece to Egypt and Arabia, olive oil was (and remains today to an extent in many Med areas) the primary fat. To create pastry with the olive oil, they ground grains and combined the two, resulting in a type of pastry. With many documents and texts from the time on all subjects are difficult to interpret because of their language so we rely on the scholars educated interpretation. It was from the Medieval Europeans that we got our modern way of making pies, using lard, suet or butter to create delicious pies – and the pie plates and shape of free standing pies we know today. It’s funny to think of so many centuries of people from all over the World enjoying a good old pork pie in whatever shape and form they experienced them in. Whilst many foods of today have tradition – fish ‘n’ chips for example, few have a history that spans so many centuries, so many cultures and has had so many alterations and tweaks to alter it to modernise and suit the time until we have what we have today!
We find it incredibly fascinating as a pork pie brand and pork pie lovers to see recipes of how ancient civilizations created their pork pies. So when we came across this Latin text, we immediately wanted to share it with you! (Taken from: Around the Roman Table: Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome, Patrick Faas because translating Latin recipes isn’t our forte.)
“Pernam, ubi eam cum caricis plurimis elixa veris et tribus lauri foliis, detracta cute tessellatim indicis et melle complebis. Deinde farinam oleo subactam contexes et ei corium reddis et cum farina cocta fuerit, eximas furno ut est et inferes.” Translation: Boil the ham with a large number of dried figs and 3 bay leaves. Remove the skin and make diagonal incisions into the meat. Pour in honey. Then make a dough of oil and flour and wrap the ham in it. Take it out of the oven when the dough is cooked and serve.
For American settlers, pies were more of a necessity than a luxury. Settling on unfamiliar land and with no corner shop to pop to, they were surviving on hardly any provisions and setting everything up themselves, it was a hard time to survive. As soon as they were established on dry land they used the popular English dish of pie, the harsh conditions meant that despite these pies not being appetising with heavy crusts, they ate them to keep going whilst they built their communities. The pastry used less flour than bread would and didn’t require as complicated of a cooking process when resources were limited, it also meant that the food they did have could be stretched – pie is filling and would preserve meat for slightly longer.
It’s incredible how pork pies have been enjoyed for both pleasure and survival throughout history! Being huge fans of pork pies, we’re grateful they’ve been kept such a traditional British staple food from at least 1362!