Eleanor Margolis: sapphic cynic at large

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Against the horror of the bottomless “pie”– it's just stew with a pastry hat

The disillusionment of plunging a fork into something that claims to be a pie, and almost immediately hitting plate, is like no other.

A real pie has pastry all the way round, like this one. Photo: Ruth Ellison on Flickr, via Creative Commons

As Joseph Goebbels infamously said: “The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.” For a genocidal fuckhead, the guy made quite a lot of sense. As anyone even vaguely politically aware knows, society is force-fed untruths like a French goose on its merry way to Pierre’s Maison de Foie Gras. Nixon said he wasn’t a crook, Clinton told porkies about blowjobs and, closer to home, Blair set fire to his pants over Iraq. But the biggest lie; the most insidious, grave and ubiquitous falsehood on which we’re so disingenuously nurtured is not political.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “pie” as “a baked dish of fruit, or meat and vegetables, typically with a top and base of pastry”. By definition, a baseless pie is atypical. But what the OED, in all its faceless objectivity, fails to get across is that a pie without a pastry bottom isn’t just an anomaly, it’s an unequivocal lie. On Thursday, a picture appeared in the Guardian that took a massive, rusty chainsaw to some of the most fundamental culinary truths. You’d probably expect an article about “how to make the perfect pie” to be accompanied by a nice picture of, well, a pie. Instead, they illustrated the piece with an image of a stew with a pastry hat. The bottomless “pie” is an insult to all things baked. This wasn’t an article about how to make an average pie, or even some kind of ambiguous ersatz pie; the crime against pastry pictured claimed to be the perfect pie.

As we’ve established, the bottomless pie is, in fact, not a pie. It’s, at the very best, Stew Version 2.0. The disillusionment of plunging a fork into something that claims to be a pie, and almost immediately hitting plate, is like no other. Typically, one of these glaring disappointments is topped with puff pastry. And therein lies the first offence of the bottomless pie. Puff pastry isn’t absorbent. It’s the gastronomic equivalent of that onion skin-textured loo roll from public toilets in the 90s, which literally repelled wee. In a proper pie, the inner pastry (which absolutely has to be short crust) absorbs all of that glorious, meaty gravy and turns it into a gooey, squidgy orgy of texture and flavour. This is equally true of a fruit pie, in which the pastry absorbs the sweet, tangy syrup. With the bottomless pie, the nebulous pastry lid sits atop a languid dollop of meat and gravy, or chunks of fruit that have given up on life entirely, looking about as comfortable as a bamboo raft on a choppy Atlantic.

“Well, I suppose I’ll hang out here for a bit – as long as no one minds,” says the puff pastry lid, “I’d hate to be an imposition.”

Tragically, the bottomless pie isn’t a rarity. It’s become a gastro pub stalwart, along with pretentious, seventeen times cooked chips and steaks on wooden planks. Hint: if your so-called “pie” comes in a ramekin, it’s going to take a Hoover to your soul. And until menus throughout the country change the word for mendacious “pie” to “insidious lie”, we’re doomed.