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Photo: British Pie Awards
One of Britain’s most traditional pies is the Melton Mowbray pork pie. It was granted protected European Union status. (Can that protection last post-Brexit? The Law of Unforeseen Consequences strikes again.)

My husband loves learning about the origins of language. He recently sent me an article about English pies and pie-related expressions.

Norman Miller at the BBC explained, “Every March, St Mary’s church in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray becomes a cathedral of pies: it fills with tables bearing more than 800 pastries.

“Some recipes are particularly offbeat. While the quirkiest entry in this year’s Speciality Meat category was a cricket pie, one celebrated past winner was Phil Walmsley’s squirrel pie in 2014. Walmsley told me that it has medieval origins, but still sells out at Market Harborough’s twice-monthly farmers’ market. ‘They’re also a great way to deal with a pest,’ he laughs. …

“Even in their early days, pies served different purposes for the rich and poor: as show-off delicacies for the former and portable food for the latter.

“So while wealthy feasts might include pies containing anything from game birds to mussels, the less well-off used simpler pies as a way to have food while doing outdoor work or travelling – the crust both carried and preserved the tasty filling. …

“Pies have been adding rich flavour to the English language for centuries. Even Shakespeare got in on the act, writing in his 1613 play Henry VIII that ‘No man’s pie is freed from his ambitious finger’, giving English the phrase ‘a finger in every pie’. …

‘Eating humble pie’, meanwhile, comes from medieval deer hunting, when meat from a successful hunt was shared out on the basis of social status.

“While the finest cuts of venison went to the rich and powerful, the lower orders made do with the ‘nombles’: a Norman French word for deer offal. Anglicisation saw ‘nombles’ pie become ‘humble’ pie. …

“One gigantic 16th-Century royal pie concealed a gaggle of musicians who began playing when the pie was cut, while another trick saw people burst out of a pie to recite poetry. Concealing live birds was also popular – hence the ‘four and twenty blackbirds’ in the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence.”

Be sure to read about some great English pastries here, especially the traditional pie with sardines gazing up from the crust that commemorates a 17th century fisherman who saved his village from starvation.

As for squirrel pie, if Erik doesn’t find a way to keep a local squirrel from getting into the bird feeder, I fear that scalawag’s fate is sealed. Hungry, anyone?

Photo: Aubrey K. Huggins

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