Upper crusts: How to make your own savoury pies
What can be more satisfying in the winter than curling up in front of the TV with a pie - those one-dish wonders that you can you eat with just a fork?
Whether savoury or sweet, round or rectangular, topless or bottomless, family-sized or individual, the ubiquitous pie is the very definition of the perfect food.
They can be prepared in advance and contain whatever filling suits your tastes or dietary requirements; they can be as big or as small as you want them and be as complicated or as simple as your cooking skills or inclination allows; and they can be a meal in their own right or served as part of a full dinner menu. But forget the shop-bought varieties - make your own and your choices are limitless.
Who ate all the pies?
The idea of baking ingredients inside a pastry case is universal, and goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It's thought that the word 'pie' derives from 'magpie', the bird that collects all sorts of different things for its amusement, since early versions of the pie contained a variety of ingredients.
The Oxford Companion to Food recounts the tale of an Egyptian scholar from the 12th century who witnessed the making of an enormous pie with an incredible filling. It contained no less than three lambs stuffed with spiced beef then covered with 20 fowls, 20 chickens and 50 smaller birds stuffed with eggs and minced beef. The whole lot was then cooked in a pastry shell made from 17kg of flour and sesame oil.
Get your fill
Nowadays, thankfully, pies are much less of a mouthful, and fillings are simpler. Indeed, some of the traditional pies contain only a single ingredient (such as the Scottish mince pie) or a combination of just two or three - think of the classic chicken and ham combo, or sweet apple and blackberry.
We tend to think of most pies as having a crust, usually pastry on top or lining the dish, but think of our native fish and shepherd's pies that are topped with mashed potatoes. And the Americans have championed the topless sweet pies. (There's even a restaurant chain over there called 'House of Pies' that literally has dozens of different sweet pies on offer. Honest.)
So get the oven warmed up and try your hand at these delicious home-made pies. You can speed up the process by using ready-made pastry, but take the time to enjoy making your pies - there's something comforting and homely about it that makes it an ideal distraction from the winter cold.
Chicken and Ham Pie with Sweetcorn and Peas
Beef and Guinness Puff Pastry Pie
Spinach, Tomato and Feta Cheese Filo Pie
Fish Pie with Potato and Spring Onion Mash
Vegetable and Cheddar Crumble Pie
Cornish Pasty Pie
What's your favourite pie filling? Tell us about it on the Quick & Easy Cooking message board.