The first pies, called “coffins” or “coffyns” (the word actually meant a basket or box) were savory meat pies with the crusts or pastry being tall, straight-sided with sealed-on floors and lids. Crusts were made several inches thick to not only withstand hours of baking, but to hold the assorted meats and sauce components and originally built similarly to a casserole without the pan. A major difference from today's pies were that these early American crusts often were not eaten, but simply designed to hold the filling during baking. It was during the American Revolution that the term crust was used instead of coffyn.
The Pilgrims brought their favorite family recipes, such as shepherd’s pie, mincemeat pie and cottage pie, with them to America. When in the New World, the colonists’ pies adapted simultaneously to the ingredients and techniques available to them, mostly using fruits and berries pointed out to them by the Native Americans.
Historians have recorded that the roots of pie can loosely be traced back to the ancient Egyptians during the Neolithic Period or New Stone Age beginning around 6000 BC. Pie recipes have been similar to the development of man, constantly adapting to changing conditions and ingredients, but has remained a consistent staple throughout time. You can read the full history of Pie here. Scroll to the bottom for the history of individual types of pies, such as apple or pumpkin!
Here is an example of a mincemeat pie that a Mayflower Pilgrim may have served in their home. This particular recipe has not been adapted to a modern palate, so approach with caution!
Recipe and image from the cookbook of L. Cromwell. Folger Shakespeare Library. V.a.8, https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory.htm
To make minced Pyes
Take a peece of the Butt of beefe &
boile it a little then cut of the outside
of it & waigh the rest & to 10 pounds of
beefe take 13 of suett, mince them smale
together & take 12 apples & mince uery
smale & put to the meate then of cur=
rence take 7 pound of reason 8 pound
of pruens 2 pound 8 Nuttmegs 4 ounces
of dates cloues & mace 1 ounce halfe an
ounce of sin: beaten a little beaten san=
ders a pint of rosewater a little pepper
& salt & beaten ginger & carraway seeds
& 3 orrange peeles minced smale.
(nb. “sin:” likely refers to cinnamon)
To make minced pies. Take a piece of the butt of beef, boil it a little, then cut the outside off it and weigh the rest. To 10 pounds of beef take 13 of suet. Mince them small together. Take 12 apples and mince very small and put to the meat. Then of currants take 7 pounds, of raisins 8 pounds, of prunes 2 pounds. 8 nutmegs. 4 ounces of dates. 1 ounce of cloves and mace. Half an ounce of cinnamon, beaten a little. Beaten sandalwood. A pint of rosewater. A little pepper and salt. Beaten ginger and caraway seeds, and 3 orange peels minced small.
Recipe for 17th century mincemeat pie and mirth can be found here: https://shakespeareandbeyond.folger.edu/2017/12/12/mince-pies-mirth-recipes-17th-century/
Pie has become so much a part of American culture throughout the years, that we now commonly use the term "as American as apple pie." Do you have a favorite pie recipe? Let us know: Communications@theMayflowerSociety.org