The History of the Aussie Pie
History, I've always loved it and tried to learn from it.
The human events that have previously happened on our planet never cease to amaze me. The building of the pyramids, the philosophies of the Greeks, the aqueducts of the Romans, the Mongol empire, the dark ages, the gruesome tortures undertaken by humans in the name of their gods, the French revolution, the industrial revolution, the rise of the working class and the bourgeoise, the great wars, the Russian revolution, the rise of the USA, the cold war, perestroika, England winning the ashes in 2005; I mean all the important issue are laid out for us to carefully consider and learn from.
Amongst many human constants there is the pie.
Pie is food and food has been with us since we began. We need food to live and when we started the agricultural revolution and farmed cereals it didn't take long for some Heston Blumental wannabe to mix flour and water to create a basic pastry. This dates back at least to the Greeks and then the Romans where meats and sweets were put between basic pastry, if only to provide a shield from food decay.
There is clean line of sight on the history of the pie from medieval times. Most meats cooked in medieval ovens were wrapped in thick pastry to prevent the meat from burning and then of course, the food became portable because the pastry "coffin" as it was known, was like a ready made sealed briefcase.
Apparently the most baked pie was Crow pie which would be baked with the feet sticking out the sides, which were used like handles. Or, in what really must have been Heston Blumental's ancestors, they'd bake a humongous pie on scaffolding and then inside that large pie, they'd place a smaller pie with live animals inside, including birds. Then they would crack open the large pie, whereupon the birds would fly out. Hence the nursery rythme:
Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds, Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish, To set before the king.
Anyway, slowly chefs came to realise that the pastry, hitherto just a filling receptacle, could actually be made to taste alright and be part of the meal. As sugar became more generally available, particularly in Blighty, fruit pies began to be placed on the table. Queen Elizabeth the first is credited as tasting the first ever cherry pie, although it is unknown whether the chef then presented her with a blend of cherries and coconut wrapped in old gold chocolate.
And so, as the British empire expanded, the meat pie expanded with it. Captain Cook almost certainly had some aboard the Bounty and I'm pretty sure, but can't yet prove, they were served at regular intervals, as the first fleet sailed down to Terra Australis, with some of their finest citizens aboard, incarcerated for stealing pies from the London magistrates' staff canteen.
Meat pies were probably the meal of choice when the fleet finally arrived at Botany Bay but apparently the pies were better in Wooloomooloo, so that's where they eventually pitched up....allegedly. However, it is a part of recorded Australian history, that pies were on the menu of the first official banquet in Sydney to celebrate the Kings birthday in June 1788.
Then, in 1789, James Ruse, a former convict and the future name of one of Sydney's prominent high schools, grew the first wheat harvest. It didn't produce enough grain to make flour but it produced enough seeds for the following year's harvest and slowly at first, but then increasingly, wheat became a major part of Australia's agricultural history. And wheat was turned into flour, that was turned into pastry, that was turned into pies.
It wasn't until the early 1800's that a commercial wheat mill started operations and the rest is history. The meat pie was born to be produced and eaten is Australia. We now had a wheat mill, making copious amounts of flour that could be turned into copious amounts of pastry. And equally importantly we had plenty of meat, a luxury in many countries, but as we all know, even a swagman down by the billabong, could find a jumbuck or two to provide filling for pies.
Therefore by the mid 1800s, pie sellers were all around our cities. One of them, William King, was nicknamed the flying pieman. He was credited with selling pies to passengers at circular quay, and then running the 18 miles to Parramatta to sell the remaining pies to the same passengers as they disembarked. Now, I'm no athletic historian but I would have thought that "feat", not only required some serious running but some pretty pacey swimming. But who am I to quibble, onya Kingy, that was one hell of a piece of pie salesmanship.
As we previously noted, one of the great benefits of a pie is its portability, sometimes over long distances. And Australia has plenty of long distances, so it was textbook travelling tucker, or on a cold winter morning it was the perfect "pocket warmer" before you snaffled it down for lunch.
By the mid-1800s, pies were part of our lexicon, Aussie and Meat Pie were joined at the hip. And the pie floater was born, a pie in a bowl of pea soup, you just can't beat it. Large scale manufacturing began in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The famous Sargents pies started up in Paddington around 1890. By the time of the opening of our first parliament in Canberra, an incredible amount were baked to celebrate, in excess of 10,000.
As we headed into the the twentieth century, Australia's affinity with the meat pie became part of our society. The pie shop stood alongside the pub as the permanent fixtures of every town and city, from coast to coast. Wherever Australian's gather, be it the beach, the footy, our schools, universities, train stations or country shows, there is the meat pie, available for all at an affordable price and able to be eaten with one hand.
But now, it's time to be a bit honest and say that some of our mass produced pies seem to come from unknown and doubtful parentage, where the rush for profits gets in the way of quality fresh ingredients and decent pastry.
And of course, things sometimes go the other way; there are ongoing attempts to elevate the humble Aussie meat pie into something more than a pie for the masses. Goodonya to those who want to do so.
However, you just can't beat the classic home cooked Aussie meat pie, made from quality ingredients, in a wet but not drippy gravy, light and tasty, with a firm short-crust pastry base, a flaky puff pastry lid, topped with far too much tomato sauce, wrapped in a paper bag, with your name written all over it.
And that is what The Aussie Pie Shop is all about. Tasty and healthy tucker for all.
Which brings us to why The Aussie Pie Shop started in London....ahem, please stand to attention for the following.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!
Though Earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I'll love that wide brown country
And all its Aussie pies.*
* with apologies to Dorothy