In case you are still sadly unaware, this week is British pie week (www.britishpieweek.co.uk) – celebration of the humble delight which runs from March 2-8.
A pie in my mind is quintessentially British. First referenced in literary works of 800 years ago, they remain a key element of the UK’s culinary tradition.
While originally designed to protect the contents, these days pastry has become an art form in itself. A flaky layer of puff pastry covering a creamy chicken pie studded with gleaming peas is a thing of beauty. While a well-made shortcrust over a filling of slowly braised beef, carrots and mushrooms can be equally divine.
My first thought at mention of a pie is a savoury one, but I love tart, sharp-tasting fruits like bramley apples, coxes, plums, damsons and rhubarb. And a pie without a lid is a tart. But is a tart a pie?
I’d like to think so, otherwise we’d be missing out on a glorious range of culinary ideas. A good apple pie should be sharp, coupled with a crisp, sweet pastry and a good spoonful of silky clotted cream. The only way to improve on such a thing might be the addition of a few blackberries. Then, bursting at the seams, it should be eaten while your fingers are still stained purple from picking them.
The pinnacle of pie-making, though, is a much more regal thing – the pork pie.
A hot-water pastry crust encases a dense, meaty, fat-speckled filling surrounded by a layer of unctuous jelly. The jelly is the divider. Some can’t stand its texture, others adore the wobbly, gelatinous layer.
Historically, the pie was invented as a means of transporting meat for men on the hunt; the crust designed to withstand a bashing around while kept in the pocket. Fact or fable, who knows! Who cares, when they taste as good as they do?