A meat pie is a savoury pie with a filling of meat and other savoury ingredients. Principally popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, meat pies differ from a pasty in the sense that a pasty is typically a more portable, on-the-go item, as opposed to a more conventional pie.
The beginnings of the meat pie can be traced back to the Neolithic Period, around 9500 BC. The ancient Egyptians’ diet featured basic pies made from oat, wheat, rye, and barley, and filled with honey and baked over hot coals.
These pies were eventually adopted by the Greeks, and it is there that a flour-water paste substance closely resembling pie pastry was created and was first filled with meat. In Greece, these pies were usually fried or cooked under coals. The Romans, tasting the delicacy from the Greeks, incorporated it into their own diet with little changes. According to the records kept by the wealthy, Romans used a variety of meats, oysters, mussels, lampreys, and fish as filling and a mixture of flour, oil, and water to keep it in. This ‘pastry’ cover was not meant to be eaten and was thrown away.
This pastry became a staple dish in medieval times, and was eventually called “pyes” or “pies”. The origin of this name comes from the type of meat commonly used as filling. Beef, lamb, and duck were employed, but a majority of the time it was the magpie pigeon that was the main ingredient. Magpies in medieval England were originally named pie. Some historians think that the popular usage of ‘pie’ birds led to the pastry dish being named pie as well, while etymologists suggest that pies were named after these birds “from a supposed resemblance between the miscellaneous contents of pies and the assortment of objects collected by thieving magpies.” The first use of the word “pie” as food is referenced in 1303 by the Oxford English Dictionary; also stating that the term became popular and widely utilized by 1362.
The French and Italians specialized in redefining the pastry of the pie, making it flakier and tastier by new methods of adding butter, rolling, and folding the dough. In 1440, the Paris pastry guild was recognized and started to expand their product—and so something like the modern day crust began to be used.
Missionaries and explorers spread the meat-based pie dish across the globe. The English Pilgrims of the North American colonies brought the recipes across the ocean with them. The crust of the pie was useful to preserve food during the long winter months in America (just as the pies were used in antiquity). But the pie was not considered popular there until the 1800s, and today meat pies have lost their popularity to be replaced with sweet pies.
Today, there are different types and variations of meat-pies enjoyed all across the world.