• Julia Busuttil Nishimura serves her Maltese pumpkin and rice pie (Armelle Habib)Source: Armelle Habib
Wrapping yourself up in a pastry hug is a worldwide phenomenon that never gets old.
By
Bron Maxabella

5 Aug 2021 - 3:07 PM  UPDATED 5 Aug 2021 - 3:07 PM

--- The Cook Up with Adam Liaw airs weeknights on SBS Food at 7.00pm and 10.00pm, or stream it free on SBS On Demand. Catch the savoury pie episode Thursday 5 August. ---

 

The Americans are well-documented for the importance they place in pie. It's even used as a barometer to determine whether something is aligned with the entire country's values or not.

However, there's actually been plenty of debate about whether apple pie is even American, let alone 'as American as'. Neither apples nor pie originated in the country and the first known reference to apple pie is from the very English Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381. The Germans would also have come first with apfelstrusen, the Greeks their milopita, the French tarte tartin and the Dutch appeltaart.

Pie is life

Indeed, the pie we find most comforting varies depending on where we are from. "My husband is from Yorkshire and doesn't have a sweet tooth and he would feel more comfort with say a steak and kidney pie because that reminds him of his childhood," says Nadine Ingram, founder of premium bakery Flour and Stone in Sydney's Wooloomooloo. "Whereas I believe apples make the most wholesome pie."

Try these savoury favourites
Chicken pot pie

There's little more comforting, or satisfying, than sinking into a fresh, hot chicken pie. Using frozen pastry takes the hardest step out of the process, and from there's it's actually quite easy.

'Shepherd's pie' with sweet potato mash

I don’t think healthy food and delicious meals should be mutually exclusive things. This is one of my go-to meal prep recipes that helps me stay fuelled as an athlete but satisfied as a food-lover.

Green curry pork pie

Worlds collide in this piece of pastry art, with Thai green curry paste, slow-cooked pork, coconut cream and lime all united in pie form.

 

Fat, salt, sugar party

Whichever way you prefer it, pie ticks all the boxes for wholesome comfort food. It's full of the necessary fat and sugar or salt (depending on a predilection for savoury or sweet comfort). Eating foods high in fat, salt or sugar activates the brain's reward system.

As a matter of fact, it's the same reward system that is triggered during drug addiction. Which goes some way to explaining why we 'crave' the solace of pie.

Eating pie is a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure story.

That's not the only reason, though. Thanks to its unique construction, pie also provides a pleasing variety of textures and tastes in the one mouthful.

Apple and rhubarb pie from Flour and Stone

Eating pie is a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure story where you decide with each bite whether you're going to go to pastry-heavy or lean more towards the filling. Hence every bite is like a small dinner party in your mouth.

The heart of warmth

There's also the fact that pie is so often served warm from the oven. Pure comfort right there, especially on cold nights.

"A pie is one of the most comforting things to make and eat, especially during the colder months," says Julia Busuttil Nishimura, best-selling author of A Year of Simple Family Food. "Turning humble ingredients into something beautiful is a real joy. There is something extremely comforting about a pie which feels like a warm hug." 

Or a cool down on hot days when made with plenty of summer berries and served with a side of ice cream. Basically, pie is good to go any season, any time. 

Perhaps pie's most enduring comfort comes not from the pie itself, but from the heart of the baker.

However, perhaps pie's most enduring comfort comes not from the pie itself, but from the heart of the baker. It's simply not possible to bake a pie without loving care. This is why we so often associate a special pie with a special baker.

"My grandmother used to make a pie using a vegetable called gramma," says Ingram. "And when I recently made it at Flour and Stone I had a wave of people contact me saying it took them back to their grandmother's table. It has mixed spice in it which is also a great initiator of those  warm and fuzzy memories that evoke such a feeling of safety."

Gramma pie

It's all about the pastry

It's thought that the origins of pie were all about using up leftover fruit, vegetables or meat. The pleasure of biting into a thick pastry crust presumably hiding produce on the turn. It would also have been a clever way to stretch expensive ingredients like meat and fruit. Flour and water are cheap and who has ever turned away pie that's more pastry than filling? When it comes to pastry, the bigger the better.

"I like to leave the butter quite coarse to encourage big pockets of steam and therefore super flaky pastry." - Julia Busuttil Nishimura

"The base needs careful attention to make sure it is cooked," explains Ingram. "This means you need to make sure the pastry is rolled to a specific thickness to ensure i's browned properly by the end of the baking. Too thick and it will be raw, too thin and you won't have the correct ratio of pastry to filling. Its a careful balance."

Busuttil Nishimura agrees that it's all about the pastry. "I do think homemade pastry makes a big difference to a pie. Make sure all the ingredients such as butter and water are really cold and don’t overwork the butter into the flour too much. I like to leave the butter quite coarse to encourage big pockets of steam and therefore super flaky pastry."

Baked nostalgia

That's the thing about pie - it's just as comforting in the baking as it is in the eating. The aroma when the oven is magically transforming ingredients into pie is one that is easily conjured up. It can bring on nostalgia for everything good that has ever been. In fact, so strong is the collective feeling for pie, even the suggestion of a pie baking is enough to sell houses.

Pie is rarely something that is eaten alone. It's baked to share with others and often for special celebrations. So shared good times and all the delight that goes with them are soundly attached to pie.

"Pie is not for every day and someone we loved would have made it for us," says Ingram. "I think there is an association with family when a whole pie is cut. The fact that everyone is sharing the same pie is very special."

Never enough pie
Egg, kale and haloumi hand pies

These pies are a lovely addition to a brunch spread and are perfect for transporting and eating at any temperature. They’re simple but really satisfying, making them a perfect day-after snack.

Creamy mushroom and spinach pies with cheddar crust

Making your own pastry can be daunting, but if you’ve never done it before, this cheddar-laden version is a great place to begin.

Spicy eel and greens pie (la espinagada)

The smoked eel in this dish is a great ready-to-use product that gives the taste of the chargrill to help combat the heavy eel fats. Plus it saves a lot of fuss and mess in the kitchen!

Pumpkin pie (greixonera de carbassa)

Butternut pumpkin pie from the Spanish isles, traditionally baked in a terracotta dish (greixonera). If you have one, it's well worth using, as it gives a wonderful thick crust.

Date ma'amoul pie

This pie combines the goodness of dates encased in a slightly crumbly oat pastry, which will absolutely make an impressive festive dessert. Enjoy it with a scoop of ice cream or dollop of cream

Silverbeet pie

In some cafes, these tarts have a thick layer of béchamel sandwiched between the filling and the top layer of pastry, so when the ‘tarta’ is reheated it is presented in a pool of hot, white cheesy sauce.

Kataifi chicken pot pie

Made with Kataifi, these thin strands of noodle-like pastry make an excellent crispy topping for this hearty chicken pot pie.

Banoffee custard pie

This here is a banoffee pie as it should be – where the caramel infuses a baked custard filling and is then topped with bananas.

Västerbotten cheese pie

This pie, made of Swedish Västerbotten cheese, nearly always crops up at midsummer and crayfish parties and at Christmas. You can substitute Västerbotten with mature cheddar cheese. 

Apple hand pies

A sweet and comforting recipe for apple hand pies, delicious pockets of warmth.