Pies hark back to Roman times, when they became very elaborate dishes to be celebrated and relished. Today’s modern versions are much simpler, but are still incredibly tasty.
In general, they are made from a pastry casing and can contain all manner of fillings – meat, vegetables (or a combination of the two) or fruit. A filled, or single-crust, pie usually refers to one that has pastry lining the baking dish, with the top left open, while a top-crust pie is one which, as the name suggests, simply has a pastry topping or other covering added before it is baked. You can also try a two-crust pie, which is completely enclosed in a pastry shell.
The beauty of a pie is in its sheer versatility. There are so many ways to cook and enjoy pies – and they don’t have to be unhealthy either. You can add different ingredients, fillings and accompaniments to suit your own local larder, seasonality, budget and diet. There really is a variety to suit every taste.
Another great joy is in the memories a pie can conjure up, whether it’s from recipes passed down through generations, perfect picnics in summer or an indulgent dessert in your favourite café or restaurant.
But, while the thought of making pastry can send fear through the hearts of some home cooks, creating pies at home is a lot easier than you might think. It's worth giving it a go, and it's one of those techniques where practice really does make perfect. If you're still not quite brave enough, potato-topped savoury pies or single-crust sweet pies can be a good place to start.
There are some fantastic producers in Scotland making fresh, homemade pies. Simple Simon's Perfect Pies are delicious, hand-crafted, incredibly fresh and flavoursome, and if you don't have time to make your own they are an ideal mealtime solution. There is a magnificent selection, using only the finest, freshest ingredients. I recently tried the breakfast pie at the launch of Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight – a full hearty breakfast in a pie. What could be more comforting than a combination of fresh shredded potato, bacon, egg, beef sausage, beans, tomato and mature cheddar? It's enough to set anyone up for the day.
If you're looking for something a little more classic, a traditional British pork pie can't be beaten. The beauty of this dish is that it can be enjoyed hot or cold. You can make one big pie to feed the whole family, or a selection of smaller, bite-sized pies as snacks, lunches or autumn picnic-fillers.
Game pie is another of my favourites for autumn. It's a great way to use up a combination of delicious seasonal meats, from rabbit and hare to grouse and pheasant. Whatever pie type or filling you try, it's worth putting in a little effort. You will certainly get the reward back as soon as you slice into it and release the fresh, memorable aromas as they escape through the house. n