With this week designated ‘National Pie Week’, what better reason is there to indulge in the nation’s favourite food and take some time to look at why this idea has grabbed our interest, and why we have dedicated a whole week to the humble pie? 2nd-8th March 2015 sees a week of reasons to enjoy pies in all shapes and forms, and to celebrate some classic British food. Surely many not-so-appetising pies and pasties can be found lingering on the shelves of British garages, but where did they come from and why do they hold such a warm place in our hearts? We take a look back at some of the history surrounding pies and pasties.
The Ancient Greeks developed the first proper flour-and-water pastry. By the second century BC, the Romans had developed a wide range of sweet and savoury pastries and whilst they were conquering Britain, and introducing roads, aqueducts and central heating, they also brought the idea of pies with them to the UK. In medieval England, they were called pyes, and instead of being predominantly sweet, they were most often filled with meat — beef, lamb, wild duck, magpie pigeon and spiced with pepper, currants or dates. Down in Cornwall, where tin mines had already been in operation for more than 2,000 years, the miners’ womenfolk realised that pies made an ideal packed lunch, and the idea of a Cornish pasty was born, containing a whole meal wrapped in a pastry case. Traditionally the ‘pastry’ was designed just as a casing, or as means of preserving meat or other contents, and was not meant to be eaten. It was only later, when the miners realised there was goodness and taste in the pastry, that the whole pasty was consumed. In the 13th century, the pasty made its first official appearance in British history when King Henry II gave a royal charter to the town of Great Yarmouth, requiring its citizens to send the Sheriffs of Norwich an annual tribute of “100 herrings baked in 24 pasties”. Apple pie made its first appearance in English literature as the Elizabethan dramatist R Greene declares, “Thy breath is like the steeme [sic] of apple pies.” In Shakespeare’s play Henry V111, he writes : “No man’s pie is freed from his ambitious finger.” Or, as he might have put it today, “No pie is free from the fingers of ambitious men.” In 1762 in France, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his Confessions about: “a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: “Let them eat cake”. The quote is wrongly attributed to Marie-Antoinette, thus sparking the French Revolution. During the late 19th century huntsmen staying at inns in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray took a fancy to the local pies made with pork, and thus one of the world’s most famous pies began its global conquest. In 2008, the EU declared Melton Mowbray a “protected geographical indication” (PGI), giving its pork pies the same legal status as Champagne. In 1914, Jack Gregg who was a door to door sales man selling eggs and yeast in Tyneside, was called up to fight, and in his absence his wife bought two vans to speed up distribution, unaware that her family’s modest family business would become a high street name in the years to come. In 1951 Jack Gregg opened his first bakery in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne and Greggs have gone on to run over 2,000 outlets across the UK. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Greggs saw any competition in the form of Cornish farmer Geoffrey Ginster, who began selling Cornish pasties to local retailers. This is still one of the most popular and widely recognised brands of pies.
Musical and Political Pies
A non-edible version of a pie evolved on 22 January 1972, when Don McLean’s song ‘American Pie’ hit the UK singles chart. On 20 April 2000 Ann Widdecombe became the first British politician to be “pied” as she was attacked by flying pastry at a book signing in Oxford. On 19 July 2011 Rupert Murdoch was hit by a shaving-foam pie whilst giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee. He was rescued by his wife, Wendi, who laid into his assailant Jonathan May-Bowles, alia 26-year-old “comedian” Johnnie Marbles. May-Bowles received a six-month jail sentence. As recently as 20 July 2011The EU granted Cornish pasties the same PGI status as Melton Mowbray pork pies, meaning that no pasty prepared outside Cornwall can be described as Cornish. Jubilant members of the Cornish Pasty Association revealed that they intended making 87 million pasties a year. On 21 March 2012 there was a PR pie disaster. Chancellor George Osborne removed an anomaly by which hot pies were zero-rated in a passing amendment to the VAT regulations. £30m was wiped off the share price of Greggs overnight.
Current Day Pies
Gourmet pies have recently seen a revival, with chefs like Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and Nigella Lawson flying the flag for British food. What better way to celebrate this week, than by enjoying a pie, and worrying next week about the extra inches around your waist-line?