On Fridays we used to get a gold coin to buy lunch at the school tuck shop. Come 12:30 this was exchanged for a meat pie whose wafts of warm pastry and unctuous savoury gravy had been drifting through the school corridors all week (hopefully not the same pie, although possibly…)
The meat pie is pretty entrenched among the icons of Kiwiana (and in Aussie imagery too). It’s food that, in our minds, people doing real work stop for.
It’s not that our pies are hugely different to pies found elsewhere, it’s just they’re everywhere and we eat more of them than anyone else – about 70 million, or 12 each, per year.
Pie: A Global History by Janet Clarkson is one of the addictive microhistories of food published by Reaktion Books. Like pie as we know it, it never takes itself too seriously.
The Pie history says pie probably began life as a way of cooking meat. Meat had always been cooked directly on the flame until the idea came about to save the fat and juices by wrapping meat in dough and placing it in bread ovens – before cooking containers came about. The crust was probably eaten too, though would have been very tough.
For pie wasn’t really pie until pastry was invented: the fine art of adding cold fat – and just the right amount of water – to flour to achieve the correct working of gluten so it’s neither too tough nor too flat, but crisp and light. Pie dates this invention to around the 14th Century in Europe.
England had a great pie tradition, where pie was often the centerpiece of a meal and a showcase of a manor house host’s abundant game and produce…. think four-and-twenty blackbirds – dining theatre. And pie and mash houses were a major presence of London working class life in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
The Kiwi (and Australian – about as fond of pies as we are) pie tradition descends squarely from British roots. However pie is no longer ubiquitous in England. That role’s been taken on by the Cornish pasty. When the British Government threatened to add sales tax to hot baked goods this year the major uproar that ensued was dubbed the ‘pasty tax’ debacle – no mention of pies.
In New Zealand you’re never more than a few kilometres from a pie, and often not a good one. The service station pie, still hot at 4am, represents a lowpoint of local cuisine. But for those of us who’ve become wary of mystery meat and other ruses of industrial food processing, there are plenty of independent cafes and bakeries offering a better quality product – with more adventurous flavours – while still providing the satisfaction of tender meat in a crispy pastry shell. Or make your own…
How to make meat pie
Here is a recipe for a classic Kiwi steak pie. The filling is good, however, I prefer shortcrust pastry for a pie base with flaky pastry on top. I followed this recipe for the steak, then made shortcrust pastry and used store-bought pastry sheets on top.
Before embarking on pastry making I read this article twice: the Science of Pie Dough at serious-eats.com.
To make your own pastry you need:
220 grams of flour
110 grams cold hard butter cut into cubes
A pinch of salt
1 to 2 tablespoons of cold water.
Cut the butter through the flour and salt in a food processer until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Remove to a bowl and add cold water using a spatula until it becomes a solid lump. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. Roll out to about 5 mm thick. Cut out the pie bases by tracing about 20 mm wider than the pie dish and press in place. Put the dishes back in the fridge for another 45 minutes before adding the cold filling and the flaky pastry top.
Bake at 200 for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Where to buy decent pies in Auckland
Taking the advice of this New York Times Frugal Traveller blogger on where to eat in my own city, I have sampled pies at The Food Room (250 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby) and The Fridge (507 New North Rd, Kingsland) – both have a selection of contemporary and classic flavours, top ingredients and fresh flaky pastry.