The great pie debate

Rhubarb pieYou might not think that the definition of pie would cause controversy, but you’d be wrong. As British Pie Week approaches, there’s an online debate raging about how to define pie. The Telegraph explains that the feelings run so high one irate pie lover “launched a Government e-petition to make wrongly describing a casserole with a pastry lid a criminal offence”. The petition currently has around 5,000 signatures, falling somewhat short of the 100K needed to be considered for a debate in Parliament.” Judging by the strong opinions expressed on the subject, it’s clearly something that many people in the UK take quite seriously.

The dictionary definition of pie fluctuates depending on which dictionary you use and which version of the dictionary. The creator of the “pie-tition,” who goes by ‘Bill T Wulf’, claims that the Oxford English Dictionary defines a pie as “a baked dish of fruit, or meat or vegetables, typically with a top or base of pastry”. However, the article’s author notes that the 6th edition of the OED describes a pie as “encased in or covered with pastry.” The online version of the OED says a pie “frequently also has a base and sides.” The Oxford Companion to Food, explains that the meaning of the word pie has evolved over the years and has regional variations.

If a pie has to have both top and bottom pastry crusts, many of the world’s great pies would no longer be considered such, like lemon meringue or shepherd’s pie. Interestingly, the British Pie Awards only allow pies with ‘a filling totally and wholly encased in pastry’. When asked why they don’t allow other types of pie, chairman Matthew O’Callaghan said “We had to stop somewhere otherwise any dish with a bit of pastry or potato might have been entered. The awards are about celebrating the craft of pie making. It’s a lot easier to put a bit of pastry on top of a dish and call it a pie. A real pie encased in pastry means getting the ingredients right, making the pastry, and ensuring an even bake throughout.”

So what to call the likes of lemon meringue, pumpkin, or shepherd’s pie? O’Callaghan suggests that pies with only a top crust be called “pastry-topped casseroles.” Mash-tops are “potato-topped casseroles.” And open-faced pies are simply tarts. “We don’t want tarts anywhere near the British Pie Awards,” he says.

So far the online poll at The Telegraph does not agree with this assessment. What do you think? Is a pie with only has a pastry lid still a pie?

Photo of Rhubarb pie and a spot of pie art! from The Pink Whisk by Ruth Clemens

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  • Jane  on  February 26, 2015

    To me anything with pastry on top is a pie – if there is also pastry underneath it is a double-crust pie. Anything with pastry just underneath is a tart. And anything with no pastry is not a pie even if it has pie in the name. So it doesn't matter what it is called, it's what it's made of that matters.

  • MissQuin  on  February 27, 2015

    I must admit I am always very disappointed when I order pie (this is a savoury pie I'm talking about, not sweet) at a pub or cafe only to have a casserole topped with a bit of shop bought puff pastry come out. It is lazy and in my opinion definitely not a pie. If I had known this was what I was getting I never would have ordered it in the first place!

  • HerBoudoir  on  February 27, 2015

    So if it only has a bottom crust, is it not a pie either? But I'd agree – on a savory pie, I prefer both bottom and top crust. (Says she who makes chicken pot pie with a biscuit topping on occasion…..)

  • sir_ken_g  on  February 27, 2015

    The bottom crust just gets soggy anyway. Leave it.

  • darcie_b  on  February 27, 2015

    The solution to soggy bottom crusts for my chicken pot pie is simple (and allows me to get dinner on the table quicker): cut four founds of pie dough just slightly smaller than the serving vessel – a straight-sided deep bowl. Bake the dough rounds while you make the filling on the stovetop. Place one crust in the bottom of the bowl, add hot filling, and top with another crust. No soggy crusts and you have one on top & bottom. But can we consider this a pie?

  • darcie_b  on  February 27, 2015

    One more thing – I distinguish between tart crust and pie crust. To me, a lemon tart is not the same as a lemon pie even if the filling is the same.

  • ellabee  on  February 27, 2015

    :: "We don't want tarts anywhere near the British Pie Awards," he says. :: LOL!

  • BethNH  on  March 1, 2015

    Chocolate cream pie is one of our favorite pies. It is not a tart – it is a pie. There is no reason a pie must have a top crust.

  • Rinshin  on  March 1, 2015

    Maybe these people are looking for a pie in the sky. LOL

    Pies can have top, bottom, sides or all those using pie plate or tin.

    Tarts have to use tart mold/tin.

    Casseroles must use some form of casserole dish etc. I make chicken pot casserole using casserole dish. Sometimes I make chicken pie pie using pie plate that may or may not have the bottom crust.

    Anyway, that's how I see it.

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