THE PIES AND POTS – British Pies, Pasty & Hotpots

Shouts of ‘Who ate all the pies?’ or side comments out of earshot of a gentleman of larger proportion like ‘I bet he likes a pie!’ are telling of the sheer ‘love it cos its bad for you’ appeal of a salt laden pastry wrapped meat pie.

A pastry pie stuffed with chunks of succulent steak and kidney in a rich gravy, eaten on a cold day can make the grey British winter nearly bearable. Not the worlds’ most healthy food, far from it. But that’s not the point. It is comfort food.

Any British town centre will have a shop on a corner with wonderful, salty, dry-baked, grease thick smells emanating from it. Wander inside and there’ll be a glass fronted counter coyly displaying a varying array of warmed artery furring delights. All adhering to the following crude criteria

1: the filling or casserole, the slop. 2: the casing or top, the stodge. The two parts together making the complete meal.


A brief history of pie…

Our simple criteria of ‘filling plus casing’ is met throughout human history. Ancient Egyptians , Greeks and Romans all have localised versions. Pie or ‘pyes’ are first referenced in the Oxford English dictionary of 1303 The derivation is thought be a shortening of the word Magpie either because it was unfortunate Magpies that were the main ingredient in the pie or that the ingredients of the pie resembled the look of a Magpies nest full of gathered and various pieces of ‘treasure’. The pie as you’ll find it in Great Britain has followed the route of migration to Australia and North America.

Know your pies! The Pie, the Pasty, and the Pot.

As well as meeting the same basic criteria all of the above share a common culinary theme in the tradition of pantry cooking, they are all initially conceived of to use up left-overs, to stretch the larder to one more meal. In all cases the main constituent be it meat or fish or fruit and vegetable is a array of off-cuts too small for the plate, but perfect in a pie. The mix is generally bolstered by the addition of some kitchen staples. Then encased, topped or adorned with a more savoury mass, be it puff or short pastry or potato.


Pie: Generally a pie has a lid and a base and sides, made of pastry encasing the filling and is cooked in a high-sided pie dish. However there are notable exceptions. Cottage pie (minced beef) and Shepherds pie (minced lamb) are always served with a potato lid but no base or sides. So strictly speaking they are misnamed pies and are in fact casseroles with a lid on top. The same is true for a fish pie.

Pasty: A pasty is like a pie in that it encases the filling, but it is not cooked inside a pie dish. According to European Union rules on food description a Pasty, if it is to be a genuine pasty, must be made in the county of Cornwall in the South-West of England and be crimped along one side. There is a folk story attached to the ‘Cornish Crimp’. Cornwall is famed for its tin mines. Tin, if ingested in great enough quantity can be a vicious poison. It is that in mind that Cornish tin miners would take their pasty with them down the pit-shaft into the candlelit gloom. Come lunch they would put down their tools and eat in the near darkness with their unwashed bare hands, the miners would hold only the crescent shaped crimped side and discard it once the filling and casing was consumed. Thereby, at least in their opinion, lessening their chance of falling foul of the effects tin poisoning.

Hot-Pot: Nearly always named Lancashire hot-pot is a thick wholesome stew of lamb or mutton with vegetables cooked with a thick sliced potato top in a ceramic dish made at the potters wheel, hence the ‘pot’.

The popularity of the dish across the nation was aided greatly by its regular inclusion in the high-ratings soap ‘Coronation Street’. In the Rovers Return pub barmaid Betty Turner would serve ‘Hot-pot’ to her customers to the feeding line “ Betty!, two of ya’ hot-pots! ”.

Four and twenty Blackbirds….

Steak has is always a popular choice of filling always in a rich gravy. steak and onion, steak and kidney, steak and oyster are all commonly seen on menu boards perched, across high streets and footfall thoroughfares.

Fish pie, a combination of smoked fish, white fish, shellfish, and other small fillet cuts of fish is a perennial favourite. The fish fillets along with a few slices of hard-boiled egg are smothered with a creamy sauce often with capers, dill and parsley with then topped with mashed potato and a cheese crust.

A pasty can be a contentious subject when it comes to precise filling. There are those that will argue endlessly over the inclusion or exclusion of swede or carrot or potato or onion. They all agree on two things, the inclusion of good quality beef mince and that as far as a pasty goes you know a good one when you taste it.

Who did eat all the pies?

Well, millions of us did. Every day pies, pasties, and pots in their various forms continue to be enormously popular in Great Britain. In the restaurant , at home or on the go, pies are always on the menu.