All the dictionary definitions of a “pie” suggest a dish covered in pastry. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary describes it as “ A dish composed of meat, fowl, fish, fruit or vegetables, enclosed in or covered with a layer of pastry and baked.” Its known usage goes back to Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” when he writes that one of the pilgrims, “kould… wel bake a pye”.
But the two most renowned British pies, apart, of course, from our famous Devon or Cornish pasties, are Cottage Pie and Shepherds Pie, neither of which have pastry! So what really is a pie?
Well, the curious fact is that our tasty pies share their name with the “magpie”, sometimes known simply as the “pie”, a native British bird known for its proclivity for collecting things, even trinkets picked up through open windows. It is thought that the culinary use echoes the bird’s name. A “pie” is no more than a collection of odd ingredients, put in a dish and baked together!
As we enter British Pie Week, this may be the time to make a tasty and hearty Cottage Pie. And it’s so easy to prepare!
You will simply need 800 gm. Top Meadow Farm minced beef, two or three onions and three or four good-sized floury potatoes. Peel and boil the potatoes until cooked, mash with plenty of butter and a little milk. Meanwhile fry the onions until clarified, adding the minced beef and seasoning, including chopped mushrooms, herbs or garlic if you wish.
Place the meat and onions in an oven dish and cover with the mashed potato, adding a few knobs of butter on the top. Bake until golden brown and serve in the oven dish, with peas, carrots and spring greens. My mother used to grate a little cheese and add a few slices of tomato on top before baking, which makes it even more savoury.
Well, whether a Cottage Pie is really a pie or not, all that doesn’t really matter when you have this rich and tasty dish in front of you. And for me the best bit is those crisp, golden, scrunchy bits around the edge of the dish, as well, of course, as the delicious Devon beef. DELICIOUS!