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Pie galore

 

The ancient Greeks' cooking trick to keep their food from getting burnt has become one of the world's favourite delicacies

It is time-saving and perfect for a household on a budget.

Nelly Skoufatoglou

The pie isn't a modern invention. Its roots in fact go back to ancient Greece and Rome, thousands of years ago.
When men used fire and stone ovens to cook their meat, much of the time it would get burnt as it was directly exposed to the flames, or it ended up being dry and tough.
The 'cooks' of the time knew they had to be more resourceful.
In order to keep the juices in the meat, the ancient Greeks began to wrap the meat with leaves and mud.
A servant came up with the idea to cover the leaves with a mixture of wheat and water (a rustic crust), which he thought looked like mud and would save him time from cleaning the meat afterwards.
This is how the first meat pie was born and was adopted by the Egyptians.
Meanwhile, the Greeks started to use another technique. They placed a thinner, sweeter and more flavoursome dough within the original rustic crust, actually creating the first pies - quite similar to the ones we recognise today.
The Romans loved sweet meat pies, which they baked in wine or honey as a dessert, calling the dish 'secundae mensea'.
The initial idea moved from Egypt to Europe and became a traditional cooking technique which remained until medieval years, known as 'bake-mete'.
The crust of the 'pie' was used as some form of baking dish, with the tradition going on for hundreds of years. Pretty much everything was baked in a pie.
However, no one had considered eating the crust as it mostly served as a storage container and helped preserve the meat and food for a longer period of time.
It was then renamed a 'coffin' and became several inches thick to withstand many hours of cooking. These were very hard and inedible.
Households would throw out the 'coffins' outside their gates and the hungry beggars would eat them.
During the winter, the sick and poor would reuse the crusts to thicken boiled stew as a roux or flavour additive to boiling water.
During Medieval times, the beggars began to call the crusts 'pyes'.
Rich Britons had already started to cook in pans made of clay and metal, gradually using thinner layers of dough, mostly filled with meat like beef, lamb, wild duck, currants and dates.
Meanwhile, in the rural villages of Greece during the Byzantine Empire, women had the bulk of the domestic duties, and would take care of the children, clean the house, milk the cows and harvest the crops, whilst cultivating their own vegetables.
Cooking was time-consuming and intensive, mainly because families consisted of many members.
As there were no refrigerators, the women of the house had to find ways to preserve foods and produce year round.
Especially during the Ottoman occupation of Greece, food was extremely hard to find.
A 'pita' (pie) was an easy-to-make meal that would fill people up.
Pies also saved the Greek population from starvation during the Albanian and the two World Wars.
Since then, the basic recipes have come a long way, holding a long tradition in western, central and northern Greece.
Epirus is also famous for its corn-based and dairy recipes, while Rhodes and Pontus are the masters of sweet and spicy pies respectively.
Cheese pies are common in Crete, central Greece, western Macedonia, while spinach, leek and horta pies are island specialties.
The Ionian islands love sour cabbage pies and ones made more like a crustless quiche, while the Cyclades specialise in puffy filo pastry and fried wrapped appetisers.
The humble pie has risen to a gourmet standard, and chefs from all over the world add the traditional Greek savoury pites to their elaborate menus.
Pies are meant to be comfort food, but for those wanting to adopt a healthier diet it makes sense to make your own crust, filo and puff pastry, storing large quantities in the freezer for future use.
It is time-saving and perfect for a household on a budget. No matter what ingredients you choose to experiment with, a pita will almost always be a crowd-pleaser.
Sources: TIME, The Telegraph, Foodtimeline.org, Piecouncil.org, whatscookingamerica.net


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