KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While growing up on Chicago’s south side, I was pretty lucky because in the back yard behind the two flat we lived in on East 90th St. was one large cherry and one equally large apple tree next to the old garage with cinder flooring. Each year during the growing season, my mom and paternal grandmother would make apple sauce, bake a million pies in a small two-pie oven in the basement and use the baskets of picked apples and cherries to make a lot of other dishes for months. The trees bore so much fruit I remember the cherries and apples would eventually fall and rot on the ground and the area under the trees smelled like vinegar for weeks.
As a result, I became a pretty big fan of fruit pies at a very young age. Years later, I also began to like pot pies. When I was a teen and living with my mom in an apartment in a far south suburb of Chicago, we routinely ate frozen chicken, turkey and beef pot pies for dinner as they were economical and fairly easy to bake in the oven once she got home from work. One brand of pot pies cost a mere 10 cents a pie (this was in the mid-1960s) as it only had crust on top of the pie. This may not sound like much to eat, but it really was good and satisfied our appetites. Back then, microwaveable pot pies didn’t even exist – countertop microwaves for the home were still several years away from being introduced.
Fast-forward almost several decades later… I was introduced to French Meat Pie during one Christmas holiday season. It was ground-beef-and-pork-based and contained a variety of spices and seasonings. The recipe was French Canadian and was a tradition with one family of French-Canadian heritage I was very close to at that time 35 years ago. It remains one of the best-tasting pies I ever ate — and the woman who made it explained it wasn’t easy to make. Nevertheless, everyone in her family begged her to make several each holiday season and she would always oblige.
I can’t understand why such a product was never introduced large-scale at retail or foodservice in the US. None of my friends had ever heard of it, yet once they tried a piece for the first time — they loved it. Ingredients include ground beef, ground pork, onions, mashed potatoes, ground allspice (the secret ingredient that makes this dish pop!), salt, pepper, pastry pie shell and melted butter for the top of the pie crust. Fifteen years later, I had lost touch with this family — but I still often thought about their French Meat Pie every holiday season.
As fate will have it, I was assigned to cover an International Congress of Meat Science and Technology (ICoMST) meeting in Auckland, New Zealand during the 1990s. I stayed at an old, small hotel deep in the center of Auckland. Since the hotel did not have a restaurant, I had to find a place for breakfast each morning during the week I was there before the convention started. It just so happened that on the first morning as I walked down a steep hill for several blocks admiring some of the older buildings, I came across a small grocery store that offered small, home-made, hand-held lamb or beef pies for breakfast. I bought several and headed back to my room to eat them for breakfast along with a bottle of fruit juice – and were they good! I ended up going there for breakfast the rest of the week, and each morning when I entered the proprietor had a big smile as he was so pleased that a visitor from another country really liked his home-made, hand-held meat pies.
Remembering this trip got me thinking again…a portable, hand-held meat or poultry pie that could be eaten at any daypart should be popular with certain niches of US consumers. Yet, other than pot pies, I still haven’t seen such products in frozen or refrigerated aisles of a supermarket or on a menu. In recent months, I have seen smaller units of fruit pies (two-serving pies) both frozen and refrigerated. And thanks to advancements in microwave heating and microwaveable frozen pot pies that have entered the marketplace in recent years, I am back to enjoying chicken pot pies on a somewhat regular basis after a 30-year hiatus.
Here’s hoping some entrepreneurial US processor will at least test offering hand-held meat -or poultry –based pies in the future. It should be microwaveable and care must be taken not to include too much hot gravy that would drip down the side onto one’s hand. As long as they taste good, are drip-proof and aren’t priced through the roof, I’d be very surprised if they didn’t sell well. And if someone could please create a great-tasting French Meat Pie in a hand-held format, I’ll buy them by the case.