Ever wondered why Aussies love their takeaway Meat Pies so much? Or questioned what their Meat Pie is made from, when you see the dark brown gravy oozing out? Even mentioning the name of this enduring national food have Aussies who have moved abroad homesick!
When you hear the song “Football, Meat Pies, Kangaroos and Holden Cars” you will realise that Meat Pies are entrenched in Australian history!
1. Why have Australians got such and obsession with meat pies?
The humble meat pie has been introduced to Australians from an incredibly young age. Years ago, in poorly heated schools, there was nothing like holding a warm meat pie! The smell and savoury tastes added to the comforting handwarmer would have been sensational!
As the meat filled pies were small enough to fit into their hands, the squarish casing was solid enough to retain the shape, even when it was eaten past the halfway. The flaky pastry on top with tomato sauce squeezed on top was a culinary delight.
This pie obsession happily thrives into adulthood with no road trip being complete without a pit stop for a pie. The good old meat pie accompanies as an icon in a football game and is a must, along with the passion for the team to win.
The Aussie meat pie is comparable to the UK fish and chips! It is the favourite snack whether for lunch or a late night and up there with the Pavlova, damper, Anzac biscuits, and Lamingtons. It was defined by the NSW Premier Bob Carr, in 2003 as Australia’s “National Dish”.
2. How did Australia come to adopt the pie as its culinary symbol?
Whilst not as unique as Lamingtons or Pavlova the Aussie meat pie reign started because all the ingredients were at hand. Australia grows wheat and has plenty of cattle going to market, so with the priority ingredient being meat it soon became a perfect food for the early Europeans that settled here.
The first pies or “coffins” were savoury meat pies with the pastry being straight sided, tall, and sealed on all floors as well as the lid. Amazingly the pie was initially invented to as a way preserve meat and the pastry was not meant to be eaten.
The meat filled handheld pie now seems to be almost unique to Australia and New Zealand. In America, the word “pie’ signifies a sweet dish, usually filled with fruit. In the UK, the pork pie has an entirely different crust and is served cold.
3. How were the meat pies introduced to Australians?
The pie arrived in Australia at the same time as the First Fleet. The British and Irish brought along traditions to the new colony and one of those was the meat pie. As English pies can be traced back to medieval times and the thick pastry preserved the meat this must have influenced pie makers.
Pies were even on the menu for Sydney’s first official banquet in honour of the King’s birthday in 1788. Then in the 19th century street sellers would move from place to place with selling their pies. The question of the quality and hygiene does come into play as the sellers would pierce the top of each pie with the thumb and there was speculation about the filling due to a disappearance of neighbourhood cats! The filling of the pie with better quality meat was mainly for the wealthy.
Pea and pie nights came in during the early 20th century and have been long associated with Aussie Rules football.
Rhymed songs and nursery rhymes are filled with characters such as “Georgie Porgie pudding and pie kissed the girls and made them cry” and Little Jack Horner who sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie”. The Four’n Twenty pie brand owned by Patties Foods was styled from the song “Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie” has been used to pie brand.
4. How popular are meat pies in Australia?
The popularity of the Aussie meat pie starts with the fact that you can fit it into your hand to eat. Because of this they are often sold as a snack in bars and on the street. Their size means they can be eaten as a takeaway such as burgers and hotdogs. It is just about the only snack food that Australian’s will eat at football games, nearly hundreds and thousands are sold at AFL finals games.
It is thought that Australians consume 12 pies a year on average. That is 270 million pies a year! As well as freshly baked nowadays the Australian meat pie is so ever present and is even found frozen in every Coles and Woolworths around the country.
The popular brand Four’n Twenty produces 50,000 pies an hour! The classic meat pie is filled with mutton and beef, mainly shoulder meat in a spiced gravy with carrot and onion.
5. What is the most popular pie in Australia?
Australia has a yearly contest, the Great Aussie Pie Competition, where the Pie and Pie Makers can be voted the best of that year.
Bakers and Pie Makers from all round Australia come together in Sydney and Melbourne each September to compete for the award. If there are no covid restrictions the 2021 competition in Sydney will be held at the Fine Food Trade Show, ICC Darling Harbour on September 6-9 to compete for the most sought-after award in their industry.
Entries are either hand delivered or delivered using TNT freight service. An elite team of 16 judges from the baking industry judge the competition over a four-day period.
There are ten categories of pies, a Plain Meat and Chunky, Gourmet Meat/Gourmet Section from red meat, poultry, game, seafood, gluten free, vegetarian, breakfast (brekkie) and apple.
Another competition including the one that is run in May by the Baking Association of Australia (BAA is Australia’s Best Pie and Pastie Competition. Last year 12 judges contemplated 1,794 products from 338 bakeries with a cold and hot pie submitted for each entry.
Amongst the many points they were looking for in a hot pie were the top pastry or puff being light and crispy, the filling not too sloppy runny, thick, or starchy. With the cold pies, some of criteria the judges looked for were pastry thickness, shape, and filling ratio.
Whereas the classic choice used to be a steak and kidney pie. Nowadays the best pie which many Aussies in the entire Australia say is the Satay Chicken, while their Beef and Mushroom pies also make the list of the top ten best meat pies.
6. Which brands are the Must Try Aussie Meat Pies?
The versatility of allowing room for different fillings means that lots of bakeries can come up with new ideas for fillings and flavourings.
The brands which have stood the test of time.
- Four’n Twenty, can be traced back many generations. At football matches it is the cellophane wrapped Four’n Twenty’s Classic Meat Pie or the Chunky Beef Pie with a blob of ketchup.
- Balfours is the oldest bakery in Australia and has a square Footy Pie which is another dominant pie at AFL games. Balfours say that five square pies are sold every minute!
- Mrs Mac’s best sellers are cocktail sized pastries which are apparent at most social events.
- Queensland’s Yatala Pies sell about 3,500 pies a day and are a landmark in the area. Their best seller is their beef, bacon, and cheese pie.
7. Are Aussie meat pies healthy?
The Food Standards Australia has a code that the meat pie must contain 25% of meat flesh. Meat flesh means the skeletal muscle of the carcass of any slaughtered animal, cattle, pig, poultry, sheep etc as well as any attached animal rind, fat, connective tissue, nerve, blood, and blood vessels. Whilst gristle is of poor eating quality the code still allows this to be labelled as meat.
Wild animals (bush meat) cannot be used. The meat in most pies is mainly mince and often impossible to determine exactly what parts of the animal are used.
The meat in a “meat pie” is not necessarily from cattle, it could be from a buffalo, camel, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, or sheep as the type of animal does not need to be specified on the label.
The rest of the pie is mostly pastry, gravy, and vegetable protein. There is always a label with the list of ingredients.
Sadly, the supermarket bought meat pie are not that great as a regular part of your diet. On average an individual meat pie provides around 450kcal. The biggest problem is the 12g of saturated fat inside it, which is more than half the daily guideline.
As most of the fat is in the pastry by making your own meat pie you can lower the amount of saturated fat in the pastry and of course choose quality meat from a known source for the filling!
8. What is meat pie slang?
‘Pie Eater’ as a phrase has been around since the 1940s symbolically referring to a person who has a narrow view of the world, which is given away by them eating nothing but meat!
A ‘Pie Eater’ is a person who is insignificant and of little or no importance. They have a narrow view of the world by the fact that they eat nothing but meat pies.
Another meaning of the slang phrase ‘Pie Eater’ is that is an abbreviation or shorthand for ‘resident of South Australia’. Some people even use the phrase to mean a ‘small time crook’.
Many Aussies’ call a meat pie which is smothered with tomato sauce a ‘dog’s eye and a dead horse’ as a type of rhyming slang! This phrase is associated with Cockney speech which has thrived in Australia.
9. What is the Pie floater?
A Pie Floater is an upturned pie submerged pea soup with tomato sauce garnish. From the look of it this unique South Australia creation is what some would think you must be drunk to eat it!
These floaters were originally served fresh from a mobile pie cart on the streets of Adelaide. Even today older Adelaideans have an enduring memory of Balfour’s Pie Cart outside the Railway Station on North Terrace in the CBD
It is often up to the customer to garnish it with tomato sauce, and they may then add a combination of salt, pepper, mint sauce, or malt vinegar depending on their preference.
10. What is the best frozen pie?
In the 20th Century the invention of refrigeration meant that the humble street snack became big business. Even more so with the convenience of buying in bulk from supermarkets the frozen meat pies are just as popular as the freshly baked ones.
In the Canstar Blue 2021 review the best frozen pie brands McCain’s frozen pies were rated the best for overall satisfaction, best taste, and quality of ingredients, followed by Coles and Four’n Twenty. Others in the line-up were Woolworths, Sargents and Mrs Mac.
Recently Herbert Adams is making its mark with its Wine Infused Slow Cooked Beef Pie with Shiraz & Cracked Pepper.