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Meat Pot Pie Has a Colorful History : Pastry Dish, an Old Standby, Goes Back to Roman Empire

July 05, 1985|TOM HOGE | Associated Press

That old American standby, the meat pot pie, has a long history. Back in the days of the Roman Empire, these pastries were served at banquets, sometimes with live birds under the crust, which must have startled unwary guests.

In the 16th Century, the English gentry revived the ancient custom of meat pies. The fad soon swept the country, moving a British food writer to comment that his countrymen were especially fond of deer meat, "which they bake in pasties, and this venison pasty is a dainty rarely found in any other kingdom."

In fact, Britons during that era consumed meat pies of all sorts, including pork, lamb and game. They were especially fond of birds, and during the reign of Elizabeth I, English cooks made pot pies using "chicken peepers," which consisted of tiny chicks stuffed with gooseberries.

Around the middle of the 16th Century, one cookbook included a sort of telescopic pie in which five birds were stuffed one inside the other, then wrapped in dough.

This trend toward the grotesque reached its peak when an English food writer took a page from the ancient Romans and featured a recipe that began "to make pies that the birds may be alive and fly out when it is cut up. . . ."

This fondness for meat pies soon spread to the New World. In the 19th Century, Americans became enamored of a pie that featured robins.

The settlers who came to America took their pot pie recipes with them when they moved westward. By the present century, chicken pot pies and meat variations have become as American as corn on the cob.

Here's a recipe using leftover chicken. LEFTOVER CHICKEN

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced

1 cup whipping cream

6 tablespoons butter or margarine

Salt, pepper

Dash ground nutmeg

1 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup chicken broth

3 cups cooked, chopped chicken

1/4 teaspoon thyme

4 eggs

Bring potatoes to boil over high heat in boiling salted water to cover. Reduce heat to low and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and mash, adding 1/4 cup cream, 2 tablespoons butter, salt to taste, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg. Cover and set aside.

Melt remaining butter in large skillet over medium heat. Saute green onions and celery 3 minutes. Whisk in flour and cook 3 minutes. Add broth and remaining cream and heat. Stir in chicken, thyme, salt and pepper to taste.

Spread chicken mixture on bottom of greased 9-inch pie plate. With pastry bag, pipe 4 potato rings on top of pie mixture. Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and carefully break eggs into rings. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired, and return to oven another 15 minutes, or until eggs are cooked to desired doneness. Makes 4 servings.

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