A filling of ‘fruit, meat and vegetables’ is fairly broad, and could in theory cover any filling you desire. For meaty options, Britain can hold its head high. Melton Mowbray pork pies have protected PGI status, while London is having a revival of traditional pie ‘n’ mash shops, specialising in minced meat pies, normally made with an eel liquor. The availability of more wild game from butchers and supermarkets has made this an increasingly popular filling, while the classics of steak and ale, steak and kidney and chicken and ham, are staples on any self-respecting pub menu. Further afield, in Australia and New Zealand a meat pie is synonymous with a street food snack, while Mexican empanadas and Jamaican beef patties offer spicy variants.
Vegetables take the starring role in many pies, often with the addition of cheese for added protein and texture. Rationing during war-time Britain introduced several classic vegetable pies, such as homity pie (a simple mix of potatoes and hard cheese such as cheddar) and the mixed vegetable Woolton pie, named after Lord Woolton, who was head of the Ministry of Food at the time. In the Med, greens and salty cheeses such as feta are preferred: the Greek spanakopita is a filo pie filled with spinach and feta cheese and similarly in Croatia, the sparnik is a traditional pie with kale or chard. Indian spices add interest, and curried vegetables make an excellent base for a pastry topping. The US take a traditionally sweet take on vegetable pies, with pumpkin and sweet potato pies a staple of Thanksgiving and festive feasts.
Continuing with the sweet theme, fruit pies come in many shapes and forms. The word pie in America is more usually associated with a dessert – think apple, coconut cream, lemon meringue, banoffee, key lime and pecan pies. In a lot of these recipes, the pastry base remains but the lid is often replaced by a sweet alternative such as whipped cream, baked meringue or fluffy sponge… perhaps not ones for the health conscious! Working with the seasons, surplus crops of tart fruits, such as rhubarb, gooseberries and blackcurrants, make delicious pie fillings to balance the rich pastry, while at Christmas, dried fruits and spices take their turn.