Many in New Zealand would say there is nothing like a steaming hot pie on a cold and wet winter’s day.
One of winter’s wonders besides, there’s an awful lot to celebrate about pies. There’s one for pretty much every meal. Bacon and egg for breakfast, little mince pies for a fine morning tea, a suitably healthy vegetarian option for lunch, a fruit mince number for afternoon tea, and pulled pork and cider for dinner. (Okay, you can have steak and cheese instead, if you really want.) And, even better, it's a mobile meal you can hold in one hand.
So, what’s a pie?
You can get technical on this if you want to get picky. But, basically, it’s any decent filling inside any decent casing.
Pies kicked off in Egypt. Fillings of sorts were encased in some flour and water dough-like creation, and cooked. The purpose wasn’t to eat the dough, but rather to form a vessel to cook the contents. So, being polite, pastry skills were in the “development needed” category.
The Greeks grabbed on to pastry making, and then the Romans latched hold too, and pies slowly started to, well, take over the world. Somewhere along the way, some genius figured out that adding a fat, like lard, dramatically improved edibility. Thank heavens. An invention to rival the light bulb.
And where did our pies come from?
You might think of pies as decidedly British. You know, the English steak and kidney pie, and the Cornish pasty. And it’s fair to say that early British settlers brought their idea of pies with them to New Zealand. So, with all our sheep, everyone did the mutton pie thing. Next were pie carts (circa 1930), before that got taken over by the likes of Georgie Pie (circa 1970)… If you’re old enough, you’ll remember. And now we are in the era of gourmet pies. Yay.
But let’s not forget, pastry encased little numbers go across all cultures. Think about it… Indian samosas, Greek filo parcels, Asian dumplings and spring rolls, Latin American empanadas, French tarts, American pecan pie (oh, and apple pie), Irish steak and guinness (lunch today, can’t wait!).
The big question, to top, or not?
Apparently a topless pie was called a “trap”. These days, we might call it a tart, or a flan. And if it’s wee, a tartlet.
But let’s keep things simple. If you are talking about any decent filling inside any decent casing, then they all qualify as kind-of pies.
Which brings us squarely to New Zealand, and our potato top obsession. Obviously a pie, but no pastry on the top. A trap, perhaps?
New Zealand’s pie love affair
Wikipedia advises that New Zealanders regard the meat pie as a part of New Zealand cuisine, and it forms part of the New Zealand national identity. Their words, not ours. Curiously, we apparently eat, on average, 15 of them each year. (That’s only about one and a bit a month. Surely can’t be right.)
And each year we hold a massive pie competition. Yes, really truly, we are not making this up. It’s a serious business, with all the categories you’d expect - bacon and egg, gourmet fruit, steak, steak and cheese, chicken and veg, gourmet meat, vegetarian, mince and cheese, seafood and (drum roll please)… potato top.
Around 500 bakeries enter, with literally thousands of pies entered. The current champion is, you guessed it, a potato top (from Napier). Perhaps it’s the biggest food competition we hold, who knows. Imagine being a judge!
At the end of the day, it’s casing and filling
While we don’t want to get too posh, for a good pie, having a good casing that is not soggy, and a filling that is thickened perfectly and not too runny, is the key. And the challenge.
Fillings for pies go right across the spectrum. So don’t forget it’s a great way of using leftovers - curries, casseroles, cauliflower cheese - and turning them into the next day’s packed lunch.
With all our talk here of New Zealand’s pie evolution last century, we’ve gone out on another retro limb for our pie idea. Who remembers those baked bread casings? Like we said, its just casing and filling… So, to check out our greens and cheese bread pie idea, click here.