I grew up in a pie family. My mother was a terrific baker and although her apple pies were world class, she’d put just about anything under a crust, like cherries and plums and the peaches from the tree in our backyard and strawberries from the big patch near the goldfish pond.
But she didn’t stop with the sweet versions. She also put all sorts of leftovers into pie. Like chicken and roast beef. She combined chunks of whatever leftover meat there was with frozen mixed vegetables, folded in some condensed canned soup and plopped it all into a casserole dish. Then she topped it with crust and in 45 minutes we had yummy dinner.
These are some swell, delicious memories. Not gourmet of course, but we don’t always need food to be grand, do we?
I followed suit when it was my turn to cook. My husband Ed loved my pot pies. But when my career veered off into a culinary direction I got a bit fussier about ingredients. Leftovers are fine and I use them often, but I prefer the vegetables fresh and the sauce homemade. I’ve also branched out beyond beef and chicken to fish (firm varieties that hold up well with sauce or heat, like salmon, halibut and cod), duck, turkey and hearty vegetables such as Portobello mushrooms, sweet potatoes and winter squash.
The crust? I still use my mother’s recipe for standard pie crust whenever I’m cooking a large sweet or savory pie for the family. But recently I started making individual pies and these require a different wrapper.
Individual pies (call them Pasties or Wellingtons, Empanadas or Sambusak) are charming and make a lovely presentation on the plate. In addition, I can work them into a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on when (and to whom) I will be serving them.
These pies are also extremely useful. I usually make a big batch and freeze them individually covered in doubled layers of plastic wrap, so that whenever I don’t want to cook, I can take out as many as I need for dinner. Or, when my kids come and need lunch or a snack they can reheat just one or two. That makes individual pies a lot handier and more versatile than one big one.
Individual pies require a richer dough that will hold up nicely when stuffed and also complement the savory ingredients inside. Over the years I experimented with recipes and use one that’s similar to standard pie dough but uses more butter or margarine and vegetable shortening.
Let me confess something else. I also sometimes make the pies with puff pastry but don’t make my own. I buy Kineret frozen puff pastry squares, which are perfect.
The Cornish Pasty recipe is an old fashioned favorite. You can swap ingredients – use chicken and sweet potato, for example. Same with the Salmon Wellingtons – use boneless chicken or a different fish variety.