The Story of the Humble Pie

Bird PieThis article is by Sam “Sweetwater” Savage and is used with permission from the Catron Courier.

They’ve been known by many names: coffins, traps, galettes, or pyes. But we know them simply as pies and we just love them! Pies go way back. Historians believe that the first pies were made about 9,500 BC in the Stone Age. These early pies known as galettes, made of oat, wheat, rye, or barley were filled with honey and baked over hot coals. The crust was an edible bowl, like a tostada, and sometimes too hard to eat; for thousands of years pretty much anything you ate was technically a pie.

In the days of ancient Egypt pies were even served to the pharaoh. These were made of nuts, honey, and fruit. The ancient Greeks had their own version of pie dough wrapped around meat to seal in the juices. At this time the Romans had a favorite pie, called the placenta which was more of a cheesecake and often used as an offering to their gods. The Romans were responsible for spreading these pie recipes throughout the world.

In medieval Europe “animated pyes” became a royal treat. These pies were packed with living things, such as birds, and rabbits that would pop out when the pie was opened. Sometimes these pyes contained a dwarf who would pop out and walk down the table reciting poetry and doing tricks. Recipes of the era explained how to make these pies without killing the creatures inside.

Back when America was young, the Pilgrims brought with them what they were familiar with from England, so shepherd’s pie and cottage pies were popular. Once the Native Americans introduced them to the abundant fruits and berries in the New World, the Pilgrims adapted their recipes to what we know as the fruit pie. It was the Pilgrim ladies who “cut corners” and made pies the familiar round shape familiar, literally to stretch their precious ingredients to the max.

In 1700’s, Pioneer women were responsible for making the pie part of American culture, elevating it to a critical part of county fairs, picnics, and other events. Pies changed as ingredients and life styles changed.

Even George Washington had a favorite pie made with sweetbreads, which Martha happily baked for him. Mark Twain ate huckleberry pies and cold milk to cheer himself up, but also loved apple, peach, mince meat, pumpkin, and squash pie. Here in Pie Town the most popular pies during the founding of the village were dried apple, raisin, and pinto-bean pie. By all accounts, bean pie “isn’t too bad” and tastes a bit like pumpkin pie.

Whether you’re a prince or a pauper, whether you prefer cream, meat, or fruit, pies are a delicious food interwoven into American and human history. Why not bake or eat one today and be a part of history yourself?


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