The Polish pie mystery

I’ve seen a lot of nice things to eat in Poland, but none of them were pies. The more I think about this the odder it seems. You may wonder why would I spend any time at all thinking about this, but then you don’t know me. Let me get one thing straight from the very beginning: this is not a rant, complaint, criticism, or belittlement – I’m genuinely mystified as to the absence of Polish pies. The pie is one of the simplest, most ancient, and most convenient forms of food preparation. I don’t understand how it never caught on here. Or did it and I’m just not seeing them?

pork_pie

A pork pie. Pastry on the outside, mechanically reclaimed pig meat and mysterious jelly on the inside. Mmm…

The essence of the pie concept is the containment of sloppy, hard to handle food in a firm, crusty, edible package called pastry. Pastry is just flour, water, and a little fat rolled flat and baked. Even the fat is optional. Pies can contain just about anything. The idiomatic mom’s apple pie, the standard by which Americanness is measured, is a classic sweet version; the steak and kidney pie, a British pub staple, is a classic savoury version.

apple-pie

Apple pie. As American as being the butt of cheap bombing jokes

steak and kidney pie

A steak and kidney pie in its natural habitat.

If you’re mentally putting together the elements of a flour and water casing around a sweet or savoury filling and coming up with the answer “pierogi,” don’t worry I’m way ahead of you. Clearly there are similarities, but there are also crucial differences. Crucial difference number one is that pierogies are boiled, not baked, and crucial difference number two is that pierogies are individual bite-sized items served in a group while a pie is a single big item from which slices are taken. Both of these have a bearing on the convenience and longevity of pierogi as compared to pies – pierogi are wet and sloppy and don’t keep.

As if this post wasn’t exciting enough already, I have more. As part of my customarily extensive research on such things I happened across a Ukrainian dish called “pyrih” that looks suspiciously like a pie. Even more interestingly, as if that were possible, the Russian word for this Ukrainian dish is apparently “pirog,” and the Polish word is “pieróg.” Seems there is more to this than meets the eye. Polandian readers will undoubtedly be able to enlighten me further.

pyrih

A pyrih, apparently. Looks like a pie and lives just across the border in Ukraine.

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57 thoughts on “The Polish pie mystery

  1. dobowet says:

    Again pierogi”s”, can I remind You that word pierogi is plural itself and there is no need to put s.

  2. Ewa says:

    I think you’re on to something here (about the pies, not the pierogis…). I’ve now had a similar conversation with a number of Poles who love them! From what I’ve read, baking in pastry was a way of preserving bits of meat in medieval times (the word ‘pie’ comes from magpie – a bird that collects various odds and ends), so I suspect that pies were unknown to the Polish nobility. According to “The Last Food of England” by Marwood Yeatman, pies really took off in the north of England in the 19th century. I guess the industrial revolution meant that workers needed filling, portable and self contained food to eat at work and as many women also went to the factories, production of food was taken over by by bakeries and then commercialised. Maybe the Polish art of pie making died out over time.

  3. Scatts says:

    Even in English?

  4. Bob says:

    When I first started doing business in Poland in 1990 I thought it was the pie capital of the world. As I would jog through upper Sopot I would see many signs on gates and fences proclaiming: “UWAGA ZLY PIES”. Then I asked my assistant what all these Zly Pies were about……………………………… and they were certainly not what I thought.

  5. Scatts says:

    Jamie, I hate you. Blatant displaying of mouthwateringly good pork pies in a country where they are not available is ILLEGAL and SADISTIC!

    I think the apple pie is a bit of a red herring as sweet pies are available here. Not quite the same as an English fruit pie but close enough.

    How do you feel about gołąbki – meat wrapped in a case, just happens to be cabbage instead of pastry. You could remove the steak & kidney in that picture and replace with a couple of nice gołąbs without them looking out of place.

    I know where you’re coming from though. You need to visit the frozen section of M&S food corner in Zlote T, there they have pies! Fish pies, meat pies, cottage pies, shepherd’s pies………….

    I’d give my left arm for a decent Cornish Pasty though! Slightly shocked it didn’t get a mention in dispatches.

  6. island1 says:

    You can remind me, but as a punishment you will have to put up with me reminding you that the word “you” only has a capital letter if it’s at the beginning of a sentence, or happens to be some poor unfortunate’s name.

  7. island1 says:

    I’m definitely on to something, no idea what though. I’ve often thought pies might go down a storm here if they were introduced, seems like the kind of thing Poles might like. Also cider, but that’s a story for another time.

    The pie does indeed have a long and glorious history. They are a great way of preserving food and making it portable – see the Cornish pasties mentioned by Scatts.

    I just find it weird that there is no tradition of pastry here. Any idea why?

  8. island1 says:

    Certainly could have been a nasty surprise :D

  9. island1 says:

    I’ve seen something like a sweet pie (open topped) but the point is they don’t have a pastry base – it’s something more like crushed biscuit, like in an American cheesecake. What I’m really getting at is that there doesn’t seem to be any pastry, i.e. baked flour, water, and fat, which seems odd.

    Apologies for the blatant pork pie porn, I was going to put in a picture of a giant succulent game pie but relented at the last minute.

  10. airam says:

    I felt the same but the other way round when I came to the UK and saw a fish&chips bar:

    Fish
    Chips
    Springrolls
    Pies…

  11. island1 says:

    Never seen one. Looks delicious though and certainly qualifies as a pie. From reading some of the articles associated with the image search it sounds like it is a regional dish from eastern Poland, i.e. close to Russia, Ukraine etc.

  12. island1 says:

    :D This is how nasty rumours get started

  13. pinolona says:

    Chimera (in Kraków) does ‘pies’ – well, sort of. You can get a kind of pastry ‘pieróg’ thingy with grzyby and kapuszta or something like that, and then they have that famous broccoli tart: definitely crumbly savoury pastry with butter in (leaning slightly more towards the French pastry side of things).

  14. Ewa says:

    Where have you been eating? Pastry (flour, fat, water or sometimes egg) is what mazurki, tarty and babeczki (shortcrust pastry), ciastka francuskie and paszteciki (puff pastry), strudle (filo), faworki (choux) are made of.

  15. Some Dude says:

    Well, the pie tradition hails apparently from the nineteenth century, when Western Europe became industrialized. The ovens, to that point inefficient and reserved only to the financial elites, started to appear in the streets, and the pie became a popular food of the working class.

    Poland, thanks to its general backwardness back then, did not enjoy the mass popularity of pies, and the later wars and unpleasant events successfully blocked the culinary exchange.

    I can talk like this all day, but I can’t get a job in Poland. Frustrating, innit?

  16. MaterialGirl says:

    To Kulebiak (kind of pie with meat or fish or cabbage) I will added also: Kołacz old slavian feast pie especially wedding-pie (but rather without “top hat” when with filling and usually in the sweet version with white cheese rubbed with eggs yellow and sugar).
    Now is soup in bread (zupa serwowana w chlebie) in role of polish pie in many restaurants who wants to be noble / szlacheckie!
    And what about all paszteciki/pastry/patty with meat or cabbage or mushrooms with cabage – my favourite? They are little pies in fact! I recommend “pierogi szwedzkie” on Długa Street in Kraków, they are swedish variation on this subject.
    In Galicja there still exists (but rather in private houses) strudel! Inheritance after C.K. Austria Deceased.

    When I made pie or quiche in home, my mother criticise it as “byle co” = nothing good to eat. (Nothing to laugh as I am perceived as quite good cook as every women in our family).
    I think the problem with strudel, pie and quiche is – they are the best warm= served and eaten fresh after baken. And polish people prefer cakes which can be served and are still good 2-3 or more days after baking (in the case of unexpected guest).

  17. MaterialGirl says:

    Airam jesteś Marią naprawdę? :-)

  18. airam says:

    Naprawde jestem! ;-)

  19. Ania says:

    what do you do?

  20. Ania says:

    I wanted to write that ;)
    kulebiak:
    http://pychotka.pl/przepisy-kulinarne/inne-wypieki/kulebiak-dro%BFd%BFowy-z-kapust%B1-i-grzybami..html

    paszteciki:
    http://www.wielkiezarcie.com/recipe13172.html

    You might be right about the industrial revolution. But it has a good side – one can have a full dinner comprising of meat, veg and a staple in every milky bar, and a soup. This is as Granny used to cook, so can’t possibly be bad for you!

    About the pies – some of them are excellent, but I recall that Scatts has been grossed out by unknown meat, and what else is in a pie?

    I much prefer the roast dinner with veggies and gravy, and the pie for pudding (hehe, I love that expression). Rhubarb pie, or bramley apple pie. And definitely a glass of bitter or Rioja.

    You have some really good Rioja here, you know? It’s not quite miód, but very nice. ;)

  21. Malcolm says:

    I just got a LIDL catalogue from my Reklama box. Next week they will be selling English food (and guess what? there’s a photo with Big Ben in the background), and, according to page 3, they will be selling steak pies. They will also have real marmalade and mint sauce! It’s a pity they won’t have penguin bars, marmite or powdered gravy though…

  22. MaterialGirl says:

    Cieszę się! To piękne imię! I większość Marysiek jest fajnych! :-)

  23. Ewa says:

    Pies were on the menu in Elizabethan England. As domestic kitchens didn’t have ovens, the British housewife used to take her pies to the bakery to be cooked during the day, while the baker was selling the bread he’d baked overnight.

  24. island1 says:

    Just found it online:

    http://www.lidl.pl/pl/home.nsf/pages/c.o.20091020.index

    Favourites so far are Fisch and Chips, Sos angielski (mustard?),
    Syrop z czarnej porzeczki (is blackcurrant juice English?). No custard I note.

  25. island1 says:

    I want feast pie. Sounds great.
    There have been lots of suggestions, but they’re all very obscure rather reinforcing my point that pies and pastry are largely unknown here. I’ll have to check out these Swedish pierogi.

  26. island1 says:

    Okay, but it’s about as Polish as a Big Mac. Will look more carefully next time I’m in there.

  27. slandi1 says:

    Guess who this is

  28. dobowet says:

    Sorry for that, in polish is a custom to show respect for receiver by witting you with capitol letter.

  29. dobowet says:

    It’s the same situation like English word cattle, or sheep. Plural itself no need to put “s”

  30. island1 says:

    Only kidding with you, no need to apologize :)

  31. Randybvain says:

    Eskimos is a plural as well, but we say Eskimosi, aren’t we?

  32. kika says:

    Hi Bob, hilarious he he – I was laughing my head off :))
    Zly Pies – dobre !

    See ? There is pies all over , Island must have missed it :))

  33. kika says:

    Island, I love Cornish Pasties, they are my favourite, and the
    potato & cheese pie, and the beef pie…

    But saying we do not know no pastry ?
    That’s an official offence!
    Pierogi , kopytka, pyzy, knedle , kulebiaki, kolduny…-
    if that’s not pastry – I will eat my …whatever.
    I do understand why you are missing your pies ( nie psy) so much – as much as I miss my pierogi, which you can’t make, and have no idea about them here at all!!
    Thanks God for Polish shops….

    We come from two different ends of Europe, we have a different tradition in cooking and the climate determines what we eat and how we eat.
    There is no doubt about it.

    So – quit wondering, and start cooking :))
    By the way – I surely think the Briths pies would struck a big success with the Polish stomachs :))
    That’s our sort of food .

  34. kika says:

    Eskimos = one man, Eskimosi = many

  35. kika says:

    It’s like ” nos ” = 1 nos , 1 piece, it doesn’t mean
    it’s plural…

    Nosy = many of them , plural

    Funny but that’s true

  36. Steven says:

    pie … rogies hmmm… almost funny.

  37. pinolona says:

    Isn’t sos angielski custard?

  38. pinolona says:

    Chimera, not Polish?? Don’t be fooled by the abundance of imported Mediterranean vegetables: why, I’ve seen gołąbki in there many a time! (not always vegetarian either…)

  39. Roberto says:

    I am pretty sure there is some connection with the kanapka.
    Like some kind of refusal for anything that implies covering food with bread or anything even vaguely similar.

  40. Norman says:

    Good to know – i must remember that… ;]

  41. MaterialGirl says:

    slandi1 = z pewnością jakiś porąbaniec? :D

  42. pinolona says:

    ohhh syrop z czarnej porzeczki is clearly Ribena :)

  43. adthelad says:

    Internet fraud squad here –

    NOTICE
    Complaints have been received and an offence has been reported under section P, subsection i), paragraph e) of the IWC (Internet Whoppers Code): Picture no.3 purports to show a Steak and Kidney Pie in its natural setting whereas the photograph in fact depicts a Steak and Kidney Pudding.
    You shall hereby correct the error and pay the fine of much grovelling and apologising. As yet not injuries, domestic altercations or street brawls have been reported as a consequence of this error but it is only a matter of time, hence swift action should be taken to avoid further legal consequences.

  44. MaterialGirl says:

    I find special offer for island1. Just because I wanted to make him good! :D

    Jamie, imagine! You can win a trip to… London by bying and eating your lovely pies, especially your steak pie!!! There’s a week of british cuisine!!!

    http://www.lidl.pl/pl/home.nsf/pages/i.home

    http://www.lidl.pl/pl/home.nsf/pages/c.o.20091020.p.Danie_z_wolowina

    Disgusting is this that on the steak pie it is written… succulent! Equals that british quisine will be a cactus in your throat dear taster?

  45. Scatts says:

    Interesting to note that Lidl tried the same British food extravaganza in Germany over a year ago. Here are a few people talking about it – http://www.toytowngermany.com/lofi/index.php/t97987-0.html

    I wonder if they are doing the usual trick of sending all the unused stock to Poland? Better check the sell-by dates.

    Also, it seems this “Hatherwood” brand is dreamed up by Lidl rather than being anything genuinely British so these dishes will be a Germany interpretation of British food, made to a low price-point. Yum!

    I’m a bit out of date with British tastes but Cheddar cheese displayed alongside tiramisu is a little unusual. Potato waffles? Royal Rum and Irish Cream tea bags? Lord Nelson tea?

    I do need a jar of Sweet Pickle though. I’ve a tin of corned beef in the fridge that’s waiting for a pickle accompaniment.

  46. Pawel says:

    One thing about pies, that explains why they don’t exist in Poland: fuuuuj.

  47. MaterialGirl says:

    Scatts you stole my topic I wrote yesterday!

  48. PMK says:

    The pie is something that is completely lacking in Polish cuisine. People are often befuddled when I try to explain it to them, to which they just reply, “Oh, it’s a tart.”
    As for that apple pie comment: I don’t get it.

  49. dublinu but polish (VERY pround of my language of course) says:

    well, i think we do not do those pies here with meet because they are just…. not good for us. if we do pastry i must be sweet and with meet it is just…fuuuuuj!

  50. dublinu but polish (VERY pround of my language of course) says:

    with meat of course, sorry for typing error!

  51. andy says:

    thats it i’m opening up a good old fashioned pie and mash shop with liquer of course that get them going!

  52. adthelad says:

    Internet fraud squad again.

    We note there has been no correction to the labelling of picture nr 3 (which describes a Steak and Kidney Pudding as a pie) and as such this web log topic has been reported to the European Internet Regulatory Authority for telling porkies!

  53. Mike says:

    Not too many people know but french quiche lorrraine has polish roots. Here is an example of polish version of quiche: quiche recipe

  54. Nika says:

    My friends father (sic!) would make that baked pieróg (not pierogi but one huge one per person or two) on Sundays usually with meat or veggies inside… delicious… :) it is more like a pie just not baked in a form. It looked a bit like this: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornish_pasty And i make something like that made of ‘pizza pastry’ looking a bit like that pyrih (in construction) so as you can see there are people in Poland who make pies :) though you can’t really get them in shops…

  55. […] absence of pasty also intrigues me, and it’s something I’ve written about before in The Polish pie mystery. My conclusions from the numerous comments under that post are […]

  56. Lena says:

    Hi, people, I am from Czech. We have a gorgeous pie-like meal called “klobásník”, which is mixture of minced meat with onion, garlic, egg and spices, all rolled into a long or round shapes, wrapped in a delicious dough and baked. We eat it mainly during Easter. I am surprised that they do not mention it on Polish side of border, it is just an hour and half from my place. Who would like to see how it looks like, here is a link: http://www.toprecepty.cz/recept/4475-klobasniky/

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