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Lifting the lid on pies

Lifting the lid on pies

by Ella Timney 09 March 2017

As British Pie Week returns we ask when is a pie actually a pie? The question is not quite as simple as you may think.

As time marches on towards British Pie Week’s inevitable return, an argument has broken out at Great British Chefs' office that is far more contested than that blue-gold-black-white dress thing (it’s blue and black, obviously). This argument has boiled down to a simple question: When is a pie actually a pie?

We know what a pie is, right? Think of a pie. Think of pastry lovingly draped into a pie dish, filled with some kind of unctuous filling, then topped off with a glorious pastry lid. Baked to perfection, golden and comforting. This is a pie. So why on earth do I have colleagues that believe that a shepherd’s pie is a pie? Or lemon meringue pie is a pie? It’s pie time (sorry) we answered this pressing question.

The problem of "What is a pie?" seems to come down to those name-stealing dishes: shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, fish pie. These dishes believe that somehow because it’s been topped with something carby that this grants them access to the beautiful world of pies. It’s appropriation at its very worst, pie-jacking (sorry) the name for its own non-pastry ways. Just because you couldn’t come up with your own snappy name for "covered in mash" doesn’t mean you can take the good pie’s name in vain.

Sweet "pies" contain some of the worst offenders. Think about it – is banoffee pie really a pie, with its pitiful scrap of pastry on the bottom? Even then, this is often is replaced by crushed biscuits. What else has a crushed biscuit base? Oh yeah, cheesecake – definitely not a pie. Pecan "pie" and pumpkin "pie" are blatantly tarts, so I won’t even bother with them.

By calling everything a pie, perhaps we lose sight of what a pie really could be, losing our feel for the beauty of real pies, the skill it takes to keep that bottom pastry golden and free from sogginess, to achieve a perfect filling consistency, and that crisp and delicious, golden lid. Tell me, would you be happy ordering a steak and ale pie on a menu, only to be faced with a ramekin of filling with a bit of puff pastry stuck on top? Or a flan case filled with meat? Or a pathetic little dish with a covering of mash?

Don’t settle for these fakers, ask for more. Ask for a proper pie.

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