This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The Pie, both in its name, and in its nature, is peculiarly national to England, and interwoven with the history of our country's culture.
"No soil upon earth is so dear to our eyes,
As the mud we first stirred in terrestrial pies; And what are the prizes we perish to win,
To the first little minnow we caught with a pin? "
Pepys tells of going (January 6th, 1661) to dinner to Sir Wm. Penn's (his wedding day), "where we had, besides a good chine of beef, and other good cheer, eighteen Mince-pies in a dish, - the number of years that he hath been married." "Mincing of meat in pies," quoth Bacon, "saveth the grinding of the teeth." The Christmas pie of the Restoration Period (seventeenth century) was a noble dish rarely weighing less than fourteen pounds, and often exceeding several stones in weight. The meat ingredients then represented nine-tenths of this minced, or shred pie, with only a flavouring of dried fruits, plums, raisins, and citron peel, which were then expensive luxuries; but nowadays the meat ingredients have shrunk, and shrunk, until only a mere trifle of chopped-suet remains as a reminder of the solid fare of a robuster age. The Pie is an English institution which when once planted on American soil, forthwith ran rampant, and burst forth into an untold variety of genera, and species. In the City of New York there exists a monster pie-baking company, one of the oldest trusts in the city; tens of thousands of pies (as consumed there daily) are produced at this particular bakery. Each season has its favourite pie, but all the year round Apple pie is well to the fore.
Hot pie is the proper thing, according to the judgment of the pie-men; there is as much difference between a piping-hot luscious Apple pie, fresh from the oven, and a cold edition of the same pie, as there is between wine, and vinegar. After Apple pie, the next favourite, especially at Christmas, is "Mince." Peach, Pine-apple, Lemon Custard, and Cocoanut pies are in demand all the year round. This great Baking Company uses a hundred and ten thousand eggs daily. Huckleberry, Cherry, Cranberry, Pumpkin, Strawberry, Plum, Gooseberry, Currant, and Blackberry pie are in great demand, each in its particular season. "Meringue" is a cold-weather sort of pie, and only a moderate favourite then. The notion that pies properly baked are indigestible is treated by the manager as a delusion exploded long ago by medical authority. The late P. T. Barnum used to eat his three slices a day, and he lived to be eighty-two years of age, being a model of good nature, and shrewd amiability. "My observation is," says the Manager, "that persons who confine themselves to animal food are gross in structure, and intellect.
There is no animalism in pie; and your reasonable pie-eater is a man of fine texture physically, and among the stars mentally." Our English fruit pies are not correctly called "tarts"; in the true tart the fruit (or jam) is put within a ring of baked dough, as evolved from the Roman twisted ring called "torte."As long ago as in 1863, The Lancet admonished the public concerning Meat pies, in words of warning which are just as necessary now as then for careful heed: "All learned chemists, and toxicologists have to be reminded of the important fact that if a Meat pie is made without a hole in the top crust to let out certain noxious emanations from the meat during cooking, then colic, vomiting, diarrhoea, and other symptoms of poisoning, in more, or less degree, are likely to occur, particularly in pies made of beef, and rabbit. Herring pie was a favourite dish with our ancestors; and from Great Yarmouth a hundred herrings are still sent once a year by the Burgesses to the Sheriff of Norwich to be made into twenty-four pies for the King.