Most of us know the saying “as American as apple pie,” right? It’s an old classic but, unfortunately, also completely inaccurate. Apple pies actually come from England, and even then that’s really just another take on the German apple strudel, which dates all the way back to the later 17th century.
The point is that pies are such a versatile dish that they’re eaten in many cultures and assume many forms. Though the apple pie comes from England (or Germany) it has been adopted and changed by the U.S. to the point where it’s now an American classic dish. So too with meat pies — though they were first eaten in medieval Europe they are now a staple classic in Australia and New Zealand (think a small handheld Aussie meat-pie eaten with ketchup). No matter where you are in the world that culture probably has its own pie creation that reflects the people and their tastes and history.
Regardless of what kind of pie you’re eating the pastry treat itself has a very long and practical history: when people first began cooking food in ovens there was little to protect the meat (and other ingredients) from the searing heat (there’s was no temperature dial on the world’s first ovens, believe it or not). As a result the juices would fizzle out and everything would burn rather quickly.
As a solution the bready dough was used to protect the meat from the fire and heat while it cooked, with a surprise result: the dough absorbed the juices of the meat as it cooked making the entire case and filling a dish in itself. And so we have the first pie. Since then pies have become a lot more complex taking on many different forms and decadent fillings.
There’s a lot of debate around the actual definition of the of the word “pie”. Pie-purists insist that the dish needs to be encased in pastry to deserve the name, but that excludes the good old English Cottage Pie. Other says it just needs to be baked in some kind of a pie-like dish… after all, at one point in history everything baked in pie crust. But that would exclude key-lime pie and coconut cream pie.
The truth is there is really no firm definition of what makes a pie… the general consensus is that it should either be baked in a pie dish or have (at least) a base made of pastry. Fruit or meat, cheese or chocolate, filo or shortcrust — read on to find out what pies creations people are eating around the world.
English Cottage Pie
Cottage pie or shepherd's pie is a meat pie with a crust of mashed potato. Other iterations involved cottage pie being made from minced beef and shepherd's pie from minced lamb, although historically there was no such differentiation.
Aussie Meat Pie
An Australian or New Zealand meat pie is a hand-sized meat pie containing largely diced or minced meat and gravy, sometimes with onion, mushrooms, or cheese and often consumed as a takeaway food snack. It’s remarkably similar to the English steak pie.