The chicken pot pie from Meat Street Pies is wrapped in paper, allowing it to be held like a hamburger – one bite into the soft crust reveals a hearty stew infused with carrots and a hint of rosemary. It’s a traditional pie, common in English pubs, but it has evolved from its roots dating back hundreds of years.
Jonathan Avis, co-owner of Meat Street Pies, grew up in the United Kingdom, where meat pies have been popular as far back as the 13th century. But, Avis says, their popularity really expanded in the 18th century when Cornish pasties became standard lunches for tin miners. Their hands were covered in arsenic, so they held the pastry – like a disposable Tupperware container – ate the stew and discarded the edges.
Today, Avis’s food truck features pies from many different parts of the Commonwealth, where the crust is as important as the diverse ingredients. A traditional British pie would have simple ingredients and spices – chicken and carrots, or beef and mushrooms seasoned with thyme and pepper. But a pie from Jamaica, a favourite of Avis’s customers, is made with Scotch bonnet peppers and cinnamon to create an abundance of flavour, followed by a slow, spicy burn.
The tourtire, a traditional Quebecois pie, contains cinnamon and allspice. Avis also sells a Scottish Bridie, and a gluten-free and vegetarian quiche with a spaghetti squash crust. Each pie’s gravy is also made differently – the tourtire is thickened with rolled oats, the Jamaican pie enhanced with bread and the British pies mixed with cornstarch.
“We’re selling nostalgia,” says Avis, explaining that people from many different backgrounds come to his food truck hoping to have a pie similar to those they enjoyed while growing up.
Jamie Scott, co-owner of South Island Pie Co., agrees. “It’s made me realize how many foreigners live in Edmonton,” says Scott, who was raised in New Zealand. Meat pies are so popular in his home country, even gas stations sell them. According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, 66 million meat pies are consumed in New Zealand each year.
He keeps his menu as authentic to his Kiwi roots as possible, with options including steak and cheese, mince and cheese and a bacon, egg and cheese pie. Scott uses aged cheddar to reflect the stronger cheeses found in New Zealand, and occasionally adds Vegemite to his gravy.
Meanwhile, Brennen Morrison, owner of Little Jack Horner Meat Pies, has a French-Canadian and Irish background. He serves traditional pies from Quebec, along with several classic British ones. Morrison tries to make the pies as true to their original recipes as possible, as evidenced by the Melton Mowbray pork pie. His aunt bought the company from the original owner, a gentleman who had travelled to Cornwall, England, to learn the recipe, which dates back to the days of King Henry VIII.
According to Morrison, the most challenging part is making the pastry covering, likening the techniques to chemistry. On a rainy day, he’ll adjust his water levels, and a hot day can affect mixing times.