Pumpkin pie, I love you

Photo courtesy faerikat

I know, already, what I’m going to have for breakfast on Friday: a slice of leftover pumkin pie and a cup of coffee.

Although pumpkin pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving, it probably was not eaten at the first Thanksgiving dinner. Even so, it’s a favorite part of the meal for many (like me) and you can follow the steam of delicious baked pies back through history all the way back to ancient times. Ancient Egyptians kept records of their pie-making practices (honey and nuts were favorably involved). The Romans loved pies so much that they offered them to their deities. And in medieval England they went all out:

In medieval England, they were called pyes, and instead of being predominantly sweet, they were most often filled with meat — beef, lamb, wild duck, magpie pigeon — spiced with pepper, currants or dates. Historians trace pie’s initial origins to the Greeks, who are thought to be the originators of the pastry shell, which they made by combining water and flour. The wealthy Romans used many different kinds of meats — even mussels and other types of seafood — in their pies. Meat pies were also often part of Roman dessert courses, or secundae mensea. Cato the Younger recorded the popularity of this sweet course, and a cheesecake-like dish called Placenta, in his treatise De Agricultura.

Time Magazine

Coffins and live birds

Image courtesy Gutenberg project

Sing a song of six-pence, a pocket full of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie
When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.
Now wasn’t that a tasty dish to set before the king!

“Raised” pies, pies in which the pastry is shaped by hand into a freestanding crust, were originally considered to be disposable containers:

Its sole purpose was to enclose tough meat such as venison so that it would become tender by dint of slow, moist cooking. The most important characteristic of such a crust was its sturdiness; that it later evolved into something marginally edible was quite an unexpected development. Even as late as 1861, a recipe for Common Crust for Raised Pies ends thus: “This paste does not tastes as nicely as the preceding one, but is worked with greater facility, and answers just as well for raised pies, for the crust is seldom eaten.”

Lobscouse & Spotted Dog By Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the crust for a raised pie was frequently called the “coffin” with typical recipes directing you to “raise your coffin on what fashion you please.” Extravagant ingredients for these pies could include Peacocks or live birds like the birds in the English nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence.

Here’s a recipe , from Cindy Renfrow’s book, Take a Thousand Eggs or More, for how to ‘make Pies that the Birds may be alive in them, and flie out when it is cut up.’

Whether you go traditional or vegetarian tomorrow — celebrate Thanksgiving Day or don’t celebrate it for religous and/or personal reasons — I hope you get your slice of the pie and have much to be thankful for.


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