This post was supposed to come out last summer when Suzi and I were in Maine. We are in NYC this weekend before the 4th of July and contemplating, what else, pie.
It’s American-as-all-get-out to think of “pie” as sweet and dessert. And while I would never question the sense of all that — except perhaps that sometimes meals just ought to start with dessert if that pie is warm out of the oven — there is another aspect to pie that we neglect far too much. You can have pie for a main course, too, and then add that apple or blueberry pie at the end for a complete pie dinner, a full circle of crust.
Savory pies. Meat pies. Dinner pies. Full meal wondrous, rich, exceptional pies. In Colonial America, pie as the meal was a tradition inherited from Great Britain. Aside from the occasional chicken pot pie, we have lost that noble tradition. The British have not. So now you begin to see a train of wonderful pie books from Great Britain that will entertain, educate and most certainly treat you.
The first of these was the exceptional Pie by Angela Boggiano. Pie appeared in 2006 and has stood alone as the premier book for savory pies. Just recently, 2012, this wonderful book — Pies, Glorious Pies — has appeared and marvelously expands on the concept of savory pies in the grand British tradition: deep crust, meat, and veggies. Seemingly boundless flavor in every bite.
I think the title word “Glorious” is the perfect summary for this book. Food should not just taste grand, but it should appear grand. On the cover you see individual chicken pot pies, stunningly inviting. Inside the book, there is on so much more beyond the chicken. No, I did not say “mere chicken” and I have nothing against chicken, but pies can contain so much more. Suzen and I made the Smoked Ham, Leek and Mushroom Pie. I’m posting the recipe tomorrow, but here’s peek:
This pie is confusing. At that first bite, you don’t know whether to giggle or cry in delight. It’s really, deeply, truly wonderful. Author Maxine Clark is Scottish and has a life spent in the savory pie tradition. So, here you will find “regional” recipes but this time the region is not Ohio but Scotland, England and Wales. Here are some of the treats you can expect:
- Veal and Ham Pie with Sage and Capers
- Chicken and Mushroom Pie
- Bacon, Egg, and Parsley Pie [aka British Quiche Lorraine but with a double crust]
- Lamb Shank Shepard Pie
- New Year Steak Pie with Lardons and Ale
There’s some international flavor here, too. An Italian Timbalo and a Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Pie. There is a French-Canadian Tourtiere, Crab Empanada and a Chorizo and Black Olive Sausage Roll.
And, yes, because pie can, and should be served at every course, there is a section of sweet pies offered with British flair: Buttered Cider Apple Double Crust Pie and Fresh Date and Ginger Cream Pie.
Pies, Glorious Pies is an encompassing book. The introduction includes step-by-step instruction for multiple pastry recipes, with the text matched to sequences of photographs gracefully guiding you to pie success. There are absolutely seductive photos for each recipe, which makes it impossible to breeze through this book. You just stop and look and ask yourself: “Can I make that?” The answer is decidedly “yes” because the book written so strategically.
The typical recipe has several ingredients and there’s some prep work need plus the up-front task of making a pastry dough. The instructions here are detailed enough to give you confidence, not so lengthy you will be frightened away or, worse, get lost somewhere in the middle. You can easily follow the recipe and transform flour into a crust surrounding meat and veggies with a richness that you have not experienced.
And, these are solid pies. These are not “sauce-dense” creations that ooze across your plate. This is hearty, serious pie.
You have probably had at least one frozen chicken pot pie in your life, complete with ooze. They can be good. But you have no idea what “savory pie” means until you have experienced the excellence presented in this book. Even if you are pie-shy, scared of making crust, you owe yourself the opportunity to experience food that is so satisfying you’ll be thinking about a third piece.
Pies, Glorious Pies is a delightful and an important, authoritative book. There is, it turns out, life beyond apple pie and it begins with Pie, Glorious Pie.