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Pie Lore History


The History of Pie

pielore_history_history2Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians. The first pies were made by early Romans who may have learned about it through the Greeks. These pies were sometimes made in “reeds” which were used for the sole purpose of holding the filling and not for eating with the filling.

The Romans must have spread the word about pies around Europe as the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word pie was a popular word in the 14th century. The first pie recipe was published by the Romans and was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie.

The early pies were predominately meat pies. Sometimes these pies were made with fowl and the legs were left outside the pie to act as handles. Pyes (pies) originally appeared in England as early as the twelfth century. The crust of the pie was referred to as “coffyn”. There was actually more crust than filling. Often these pies were made using fowl and the legs were left to hang over the side of the dish and used as handles. Fruit pies or tarts (pasties) were probably first made in the 1500s. English tradition credits making the first cherry pie to Queen Elizabeth I.

Pie came to America with the first English settlers. The early colonists cooked their pies in long narrow pans calling them “coffins” like the crust in England. As in the Roman times, the early American pie crusts often were not eaten, but simply designed to hold the filling during baking. It was during the American Revolution that the term crust was used instead of coffin.

Over the years, pie has evolved to become what it is today “the most traditional American dessert”. Pie has become so much a part of American culture throughout the years, that we now commonly use the term “as American as apple pie”.

Courtesy of the American Pie Council,


Thought on the Origin of the Word “Pie”

pielore_history_thoughts2Excerpts from World Wide Words, copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996-2003.

There’s some doubt about the origins of pie, but the consensus is that it comes from the Latin word pica, which meant a magpie. Linnaeus borrowed the word for the genus of these noisy large birds and our European magpie, the one the Romans knew, now glories in the duplicated cognomen of Pica pica. The old name for the bird in English is just pie.

The first pies in Britain contained a mixture of meat and vegetables, what one writer has disdainfully called “stews in a pastry case” (still a fair description for some meat pies). One historian of the language has suggested that the food was named after the bird because the varied ingredients reminded people of the birds’ habit of collecting together all sorts of bits and pieces in their nests.

The printer’s sense is an obvious extension of the same idea, of type which has got muddled like the ingredients of a meat pie into an inchoate mess, useless until it has been carefully sorted back into its constituent parts. And, as an incidental point, printers re-borrowed the original word pica from medieval Latin for a size of type.

Another very obvious characteristic of the magpie is its patches of black and white colouring—you have to get quite close before you see the other colours on its wing and tail feathers. So the word came to be applied to anything multicoloured in patches, though not always black and white.

Piebald horses are coloured in blocks of black and white, and many birds and other animals have pied in their names, such as the pied wagtails that I often see bobbing about outside my window.

And pica, in English pye or pie, a set of rules for calculating the dates of moveable Christian feasts, was apparently so named because the black-and-white text on the page reminded clerics of the patches on a magpie.


Fifteenth Century Cherry Pie Recipe

pielore_history_15century2Take the fairest Cherries you can get, and pick them clean from the leaves and stalks: spread out your Coffin as for your Pippin-Tart and cover the bottom with Sugar, then cover the Sugar all over with Cherries, then cover those Cherries with Sugar, some sticks of Cinamon, and here and there a Clove; then lay in more Cherries, and so more Sugar, Cinnamon and Cloves, till the coffin be filled up: then cover it, and bake it in all points, as the Codlin and Pippin Tart, and so serve it: and in the same manner you may make Tarts of Gooseberries, Strawberries, Rasberries, Bilberries, or any Berry whatsoever.

15th Century Cherry Illustration, artist unknown.