The pie, to quote one Victorian writer, `is a great human discovery which has universal estimation among all civilized eaters'. Of course, there are a number of different views about how to define a pie and Ms Clarkson resorted to the following quote by Raymond A. Sokolov: `I may not be able to define a pie, but I know one when I see it.'
Have you ever wondered about the origins of the pie, or about the number of different varieties of pies available? If you like eating pies, do you enjoy making them? Is your favourite pie sweet, or savoury?
Janet Clarkson, who writes regularly on culinary history, has written this delightful book all about pies. Ms Clarkson begins by looking at the history of the pie and of pastry-making, and then discussing different pie designs and fillings.
`A pie is invariably acclaimed as a treat and a sign of a caring cook.'
Did you know, for example, that pies were sometimes called coffins? Or that early pies often had a crust several inches thick, and that this crust was not intended to be eaten, but to preserve the contents for up to a year? The pie was once a very pragmatic dish with a very long shelf-life. These days, pies are often an expression of creative culinary art.
Pies are adaptable and portable, and they can be nutritious and tasty. It all depends on the cook and the contents. The contents? A pie can be `an economical investment for all miscellaneous savings' as Charles Dickens wrote in `Our Mutual Friend', it can even contain blackbirds or dancing girls. Personally, I'd prefer chicken or fruit.
I enjoyed reading this book on a cold autumn afternoon. In addition to all of the wonderfully informative facts, and even a selection of historical recipes, there are some delightful illustrations. It's interesting, too, to consider the various international variations: Britain's pork pie; America's apple pie and Australia's meat pie. And let's not forget the role of pies in modern culture: from Sweeney Todd to Laurel and Hardy, the pies have it.