A pie by any other name…

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters

When I think of pie, I think of a flaky, buttery crust and plenty of sweetness. But what if you take away the crust and sweetness. Do you still have pie?

Let’s start with the concept of sweetness. Despite my basic notions of pie, we already know that pies don’t have to be sweet. Think chicken pot pie and old-fashioned meat pies. They’re meat based, contain a pastry crust and are served for dinner rather than dessert.

Ok. On to the crust. Must a pie contain a crust? To answer that question, all I had to do was think of shepherd’s pie. Not only is it savory, it does not contain a pastry crust. You could argue that the layer of mashed potatoes that’s spread over top before baking is a form of crust. But it’s not that flaky, buttery pastry crust that immediately comes to mind. The answer then is no. Pies do not need a crust.

Alright, if a pie doesn’t need a crust nor need to be sweet, what exactly defines a pie? The definition of pie, according to the Oxford Dictionaries is, “a baked dish of fruit, or meat and vegetables, typically with a top and base of pastry.”

The definition confirms that pies don’t have to be sweet, but suggests that they usually do contain a pastry crust. Why then, are there countless English pie dishes that lack a crust and are still called pie?

One way to answer that question is to look up the etymology of the word pie. Looking back at the history of the word, pie may likely have derived from the name of a bird called the magpie. Some suggest that this may have occurred because the dark and light checkered quality of pie crust against pie filling resembled the coloring of the bird.

But there’s another suggestion that I think makes more sense. Magpies were known for collecting a random assortment of items in their nests. And this behavior wasn’t unlike the way medieval cooks made pie — by taking whatever they could find and baking it all together.

Also worth noting is that the Latin word for magpie is pica, which again hints at the idea of random foods. Pica is the name of an eating disorder where sufferers have a compulsion to eat a strange mix of inedible items — everything from dirt to hair.

What I’ve learned is that pie can be whatever you want it to be. If it has a crust, great. If not, it doesn’t matter. When you put ingredients together in a dish and bake them, you have a form of pie.

Here’s a pie you’ve likely never heard of: Gloucestershire pie. Don’t worry, there’s nothing inedible inside. Gloucestershire pie, also known as squab pie, came from Gloucester, England, and is made up of pieces of meat, apples and boiled onions with a potato and rutabaga topping.

I found the recipe in one of these small, regional cookbooks I picked up while in England, written by Dorothy Baldock. This one contained recipes from the Cotswold region, a rural area filled with grasslands and hills with quaint medieval villages tucked throughout.

Typically, the recipe is prepared with leftover cooked meat, such as lamb. Instead, I used ground turkey and chose to sauté the onions rather than boil them.

Gloucestershire pie

Makes one pie

1 pound rutabaga

1 ½ pounds potatoes

1 pound apples

1 large onion

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound ground turkey

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 1/2 cups brown gravy

1 ounce half and half

¼ teaspoon of grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Peel and roughly chop the rutabaga and potatoes. Cover the rutabaga with salted water in a large pot and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Add the potato and boil 10 more minutes or until both are tender.

While those boil, slice the onion and peel, core and roughly chop the apples. In a large oven-safe pan, sauté the onion for about 5 minutes. Add the ground turkey, ½ teaspoon salt, thyme and rosemary and cook until just beginning to brown. Add in the chopped apple and cook until the turkey is well browned and apples are soft, another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the gravy.

When the potatoes and rutabaga are cooked, drain the water and return them to the pot. Mash while still warm, then mix in the half and half, remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and the nutmeg. Spread the potato and rutabaga mash evenly over the top of the pan of meat and place in the oven to bake for 20 minutes.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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