National Pie Day – celebrated every year on January 23 in the US, and a good enough reason to try out some delicious pie recipes here in South Africa – was started in the mid ’70s by Charlie Papazian, a nuclear engineer from Colorado in the US, who had such a passion for pies that he decided to celebrate the pleasurable pastry with its own day and chose his birth date on which to do it.
Historians trace the 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 kinds of meats, even mussels and other types of seafood, in their pies, while in medieval England, they were most often filled with beef, lamb, wild duck or pigeon and spiced with pepper, currants or dates, often to make the rich, gamey flavour more palatable.
It was only later that chefs began to experiment with sweet fillings using fruits such as apples, cherries and blueberries. A cookbook from 1796 listed only three types of sweet pies, while one written in the late 1880s featured eight sweet pie varieties. By 1947 the Modern Encyclopaedia of Cooking listed 65 different varieties and today there are literally thousands of recipes for sweet pies.
Pies today are made with everything from apples to zucchinis. The most popular sweet ones among South Africans include the classic apple pie as well as lemon meringue pie and pecan pie, while savoury favourites are pepper steak, chicken and mushroom and steak and kidney. Pies also come in the form of quiches, tarts, big pies or small pies and even dishes like a shepherd’s pie, a cottage pie or a favourite of the festive season – the mince pie.
Here’s a few fun pie facts and four recipes from chefs at Capsicum Culinary Studio, South Africa’s largest culinary school with six campuses across the country.
- The first mention of a fruit pie in print is from Robert Green’s Arcadia (1590): “Thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes.”
- Oliver Cromwell banned the eating of pies in 1644, declaring it a pagan form of pleasure. For 16 years, pie-making and pie-eating went underground until the Restoration leaders lifted the ban in 1660.
- The wealthy English were known for their “Surprise Pies” in which live creatures would pop out when the pie was cut open.
- In the 1890s, the word pie was also a common slang expression meaning “easy”, hence the expression “easy as pie”.
- The largest pie made weighed 10.540kg and was made by 17 catering students from Stratford-upon-Avon College in April 1998. It was so huge that it needed a container 9.75m long, 2.32m wide and 0.61m deep.
- In early days the crust of the pie was known as a “coffyn” and there was usually more crust than filling. Because the pies were often made using fowl, their legs were left to hang over the side of the dish and used as handles.
- The world’s most expensive pie is worth around R150000 and can be ordered from the Lord Dudley Hotel in Sydney. Prime ingredients include two cuts of premium beef, two whole rock lobsters, rare winter black truffles, two bottles off Penfolds Grange Reserve and pastry with a 24 karat German gold leaf.
BEST APPLE PIE – Cape Town Campus
- 2 sheets of puff pastry, chilled
- 7 to 8 Granny Smith apples
- 100g light brown sugar
- 100g white sugar
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- ¼ tsp ground allspice
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 egg
- Heat oven to 200°C. Peel apples then cut in half. Remove cores and slice apple halves into thin 6mm slices. Place apple slices into a large bowl. Scatter both sugars, salt and spices over the apples and toss them with your hands, coating them as much as possible. Set aside for 1 hour at room temperature.
- Roll out half of the pastry on a lightly floured work surface. The pastry should be about 3cm to 5cm larger than the pie dish you are using. Being careful not to stretch it, place the dough into the pie dish and trim any overhanging pastry to within 20mm of the edge of the dish. Refrigerate while you make the pie filling.
- Roll out the second half of pastry to a similar size as before and transfer it to a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Keep this in the fridge until needed.
- Toss the apple slices with the corn-starch. Transfer the apples into the prepared bottom crust using your hands to really pack them down. Fill until the apple slices reach the edge of the pie crust. Pour the juices that have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl over the apples. About ½-¾ cup will suffice. Cut a tablespoon of butter into 8 small pieces and dot them over the pie.
- For a double crust pie, place the second pie dough round over the filling or cut it into strips and lattice the top. If you are not adding a lattice crust but adding the top crust in one piece, use a sharp knife to cut a few slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to vent. Trim excess dough from the top crust or lattice strips and fold the overhang underneath itself, forming a thick rim. Press it together or crimp it with your fingers or use a fork.
- Whisk the egg with a tablespoon of water and use as an egg wash by lightly brushing the top crust to add shine and help the crust brown.
- Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 75 minutes, rotating a few times for even browning. The pie is done when the juices are bubbling through the vents at the top crust or lattice. Use a skewer to test the apples and if they feel too crunchy bake for a little longer.
- Cool the pie, without slicing into it, for at least 1 hour as the filling does not fully thicken until completely cooled.
BANOFFEE PIE – Nelson Mandela Bay Campus
- For the crust:
- 230g Tennis biscuits (or any plain biscuit)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 110g unsalted butter, melted
- For the filling:
- 6 tbs unsalted butter
- 6 tbs brown sugar
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 4 ripe bananas
- 1 cup double cream
- 2 tbs caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 60g milk chocolate
To make the pie crust: In the bowl of a food processor, blitz the biscuits until finely ground. Add the sugar and melted butter and pulse until you have moist crumbs. Place crumbs in a 23cm pie plate and press the crumbs firmly into an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the pie crust for 15 minutes so the butter hardens.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely.
To make the filling: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter and brown sugar and stir occasionally, until the sugar dissolves (5 minutes). Pour in the condensed milk and heat until it starts to boil, thicken, and take on a little colour (7-10 minutes).
Remove from the heat and stir in the salt. Pour into the biscuit crust and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then cover and chill in the fridge for at least two hours. Remove from fridge. Peel and slice the bananas and arrange on top of the filling.
In the bowl, combine cream, caster sugar and vanilla and beat until medium peaks form. Spoon the cream on top of the bananas, then sprinkle over chocolate shavings. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
LEMON MERINGUE PIE – Rosebank Campus
- 1 baked rich shortcrust pastry shell
- 3 eggs, separated
- 250g sweetened condensed milk
- grated rind and juice of 3 lemons
- 5 tablespoons of caster sugar
- Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
- Beat the egg yolks, lemon rind and lemon juice together until thick and creamy. Beat in the condensed milk and pour into the baked pastry shell.
- In a separate bowl, beat together the egg whites and the castor sugar until stiff peaks form. Spoon the mixture over the lemon filling and bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes.
- Remove and let the pie cool completely before serving.
PECAN PIE – Durban Campus
- 500g shortcrust pastry
- 75g butter, softened
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 175g golden syrup
- 175g maple syrup
- 3 eggs, beaten
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 300g pecan halves
- Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and line a 23cm tart tin. Prick the bottom of the pastry case with a fork and chill in the fridge for at least 30 mins.
- Heat the oven to 190ºC.
- Line the pastry case with baking paper, fill with baking beans (or uncooked rice) and bake for 15-20 mins until the sides are set. Remove the beans and paper and return the tin to the oven for 5-10 mins until the pastry is golden and the base is set. Remove and leave to cool. Bump up the oven to 200ºC.
- Use an electric whisk to beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and while still beating, pour in the golden and maple syrups. Gradually add the eggs, salt and vanilla extract and whisk until well combined. Stir in the pecans then pour the mixture into the tart case.
- Bake for 10 mins before turning the oven down to 160ºC and continue baking for 30-35 mins. Leave to cool in the tin before turning out and serving with whipped cream or ice cream.