Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

pie, at its most elemental, consists of some food completely or partially enclosed in dough and baked. This simple concept has given rise to an almost infinite number of variations, including some of the most popular and iconic dishes in the Western world.

In the English language, the words for various categories of pie are first attested in the medieval period—specifically, “pie” appears in 1303, “pasty” in 1296, “flan” (as “flawn”) in about 1300, and “tart” in about 1400. See flan (tart) and tart. The actual physical pie, however, undoubtedly predates the written record by millennia. Wrapping food in dough before cooking is a very ancient and widespread practice (it is most likely that cooking on hot rocks or boiling preceded oven-baking the dish, as less fuel was needed) and probably developed simultaneously in several areas where cereal grain was the staple food. We know that the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed food wrapped in dough, although existing records do not contain sufficient details of ingredients or methods to be certain of the type of pastry used or the style of these “pies.”