In the past, people often thought the universe was unchanging and eternal… at least until the invention of the pie. Philosophers, after Plato, thought this world was somehow an imperfect copy of some ideal existence. This world was a mere shadow cast on the cave wall, of the perfect world. But as Francis Bacon discovered centuries later in one of his earliest true scientific experiments, putting pasty around some meat changes everything.
Although, the Greek philosophers, notably Heraclitus, had first noted that people rarely wanted to eat the same meal twice in a row. So, shoving some meat, veg and gravy into a pie crust was the best way of making a new meal from an old one. Unfortunately, at the time this never really caught on.
Although, there is recent archaeological evidence from Hadrian’s Wall that the Roman soldiers, especially those previously stationed in Cornwall, were rather partial to a pasty. But, in typical Roman engineering style the pastry was somewhat over fortified and took a brave legion to take on a pasty on their own. Some historians have contended that the Roman’s famous tortoise manoeuvre on the battlefield owes something to the traditional Roman military pasty with its hard impenetrable shell. Although this does remain speculation, more and more historians, faced with the archaeological evidence are coming around to this view.
The medieval pie however was something entirely different, especially in their attempts to stuff what amounted to an entire menagerie, or on occasions – an aviary, into the space under the piecrust. Some medieval pies were so large a team of serfs or even on occasions, horses or oxen were needed to bring the pie to the table. It was not uncommon when cutting open the pie, to find that one or more peasants had set up home in the pie in what was more commodious and luxuries accommodation compared to the usual peasant hovel.
However, the Black Death bought communal pie eating to an end for a while. The rise of the mercantile class from the late medieval onwards saw a number of pie shops open. However, things got so desperate in the rapidly expanding towns and cites that the pie makers soon ran out of things to put in the pies. This, many historians, contend, is what lead to the infamous London eel pie.
The Victorians – of course – famous for their engineering skills – soon developed the forerunner of the modern pie. It was IK Brunel of course who first invented the first steel-hulled pie dish. Many commentators at the time scoffed at him, saying that the metal pie dish would not keep the gravy inside the pie and that the pastry would not be the same as that from the traditional pie dish. But Brunel’s great vision proved them wrong.
The Victorians too experimented with the fruit pie, sometimes using exotic fruits from the far-flung corners of the British Empire.
It was about this time one of the greatest of pies was invented in the Caribbean – the curry patty. These patties caused a sensation at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Prince Albert said the curry patty was one of the greatest inventions of all time. With that, the modern pie in its myriad forms was firmly established at the top of the food chain where it has remained ever since.