Where have all the sweet pies gone?
Other than the apple pie and, at Christmas, mince pies, the UK has a double-crust-sweet-pie paucity problem, says food writer and superfan Nicola Miller. Why don’t we see more sweet pies in British establishments instead of endless displays of cakes and brownies?
Has the British tradition of sweet double-crust pies been allowed to dwindle – or do you say good riddance? Let us know what you think…
No Brecons vista was as awe-inspiring as the display cabinet in the café in Bronllys, where we’d stopped for lunch. Before me was an array of magnificent double-crust pies for dessert, an increasingly rare sight in the cake and traybake-obsessed UK. No, it wasn’t December, and these weren’t mince pies. It was the peak of summer.
It was a sight so rare, I thought I’d stepped through a wormhole to the USA, where dessert pie has yet to lose its cachet. Even modest American establishments will offer several sweet pie varieties, sold by the slice. Visit Pie Town (I kid you not) in New Mexico, home to the Pie-O-Neer Cafe, and you can choose from endless permutations, including blackberry, lemon and buttermilk, apple-cranberry-walnut and classic rhubarb.
Contrast this with the UK, where a pie shop and café in a famous northern tourist spot sold only the savoury kind and where, for pudding, all we were offered was a wedge of cake. In a pie shop! I was furious. Who in their right mind would choose a dry slice of red velvet – that ubiquitous travesty of a cake – over a slice of warm, crumbly fruit pie with a scoop of ice cream or pool of custard? How could we let this happen?
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy savoury pie (because I am not an idiot), but why don’t we see more sweet pies in British establishments instead of endless displays of cakes and brownies?
"Who in their right mind would choose a dry slice of red velvet – that ubiquitous travesty of a cake – over a slice of warm, crumbly fruit pie with a scoop of ice cream?"
There’s a noticeable absence of sweet pies at the finer end of dining, too. Chef Calum Franklin is a double-crust pie master extraordinaire. He wrote a book, The Pie Room, about his beloved creations, yet in it, even this master of the craft eschews the sweeter kind, offering tarts and steamed puddings instead.
It’s puzzling because, as a nation, we love the idea of pie (and we love to get pie-eyed, but that’s something completely different). On Instagram, the comments go mad whenever I post a photo of a sweet pie, and our food media do all sorts of clever things with this most traditional of desserts. (delicious. has an amazing mini plum and sauternes version, if you’re interested.) But this spirit of experimentation no longer filters down to the high street where, if we’re lucky, we are offered a lacklustre slice of apple pie.
One proprietor I interrogated blamed the product’s short shelf-life for its (relative) absence, which puzzled me because scones, lemon meringue tarts and cream-filled sponges don’t keep well either. Might the solution be to sell single-serve pies? It works with mince pies… Is the only other option for sweet pie lovers to seek solace in places catering to diasporic populations, proudly selling Greek bougatsa, buko pie from the Philippines or Polish szarlotka? After all, sweet double-crust pies aren’t the sole preserve of the British.
Business owners: I am not suggesting you ape medieval pie makers from whose creations sprang forth musicians and jesters. Nor do I expect you to offer six or more different kinds – but please consider switching one of your other bakes for a sweet pie that’s not just filled with apples. Is the idea really so pie-in-the-sky?
Make your sweet pie dreams come true with over 30 recipes to make at home, from chocolate cream pie to lemon meringue.
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