Food How to Make the World's Very First Pie Recipe
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Like beer, plumbing, and, is better today than it’s ever been. No longer do we have to choke down the crow pies so beloved of medieval England—where the birds’ very feet may have “made useful handles in a pre–oven mitt era,” . Nor need we suffer the tragedies of our grandparents’ generation.
Still, our ancestors in the pie kitchen tossed up a few good ideas. Check out the American Pie Council website, for instance, wherethat the very first written pie recipe “was published by the Romans and was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie.”
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I read this some years ago and it stuck with me—it sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Every so often since then I’d recall the rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie and dig around the internet for a recipe, either the Roman original or some twee modern-day interpretation that called for, like, goat’s-milk ricotta and orange blossom honey or something.
But it was for naught. The APC's mention has been cited in various, but in all my searching no actual recipe presented itself—anywhere.
I emailed the pie council’s PR rep, asking if she could point me toward a source for the information on the rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie. Sorry, she said—no one at the council actually has any idea where that particular bit of history came from.
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So I turned to the academics. Robert Curtis, an emeritus professor at the University of Georgia who's written articles with names like “,” emailed to say that while he doesn’t know much about the history of pie, “the cheese and honey pie (actually more of a cake, I think) that you are searching for is probably the one mentioned in Cato De Agricultura 76 where it's called placenta.” (Mouthwatering, right? In Latin, “placenta” means )
And Rosemary Moore, a classicist at the University of Iowa, also pointed me toward(who published in 160 BC): “My first instinct is that this is a recipe with some modifications,” she wrote in an email. “Cato is unusual in providing some really specific instructions for that period, though, as I'm sure you know, ancient recipes were written with much less guidance than those today.”
does indeed go into a good bit of detail, and would also appear to create a placenta the size of a coffee table. “Materials, 2 pounds of wheat flour for the crust, 4 pounds of flour and 4 pounds of prime groats for the tracta,” the recipe begins—tractum being a kind of biscuit that’s layered alternating with the cheese. The cheese, by the way? Sheep’s milk, 14 pounds of it (“sweet and quite fresh,” please), sweetened with four and a half pounds of honey.
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But this didn't exactly solve the problem of the rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie, which can only be the "first published recipe" referred to by the American Pie Council if we imagine in ingredients that aren't there: Cato makes no mention of rye, and calls for sheep's cheese. And Cato's recipe looks a little basic, to be honest. You can take your Roman placenta and bury it in the backyard—where’s the recipe I want?
I decided that if I was going to make the rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie of my imagination, I'd have to figure it out my own self. Following Cato, I envisioned a homey, cheesecake-like dessert, but baked into a single, rye-flour-spiked pie crust—something along the lines of a custard pie.
In this recipe, rye stands in for a bit of the all-purpose flour in the crust. As that bakes, mix up the filling: soft goat cheese and cream cheese, a little honey, eggs added one at a time. A bit of milk at the very end lightens the texture. Pour the filling into the prebaked shell and stick it in the oven awhile. As with pumpkin and other custard pies,here: You know it’s done when the center of the pie jiggles a little, but isn’t firm—it’ll continue to set at room temperature. And once you take this out of the oven, cover it with another, inverted pie tin to slow the cooling. This'll help prevent the top from cracking.
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The pie is pretty lovely on its own—tangy, mildly sweet, creamy—but it seemed to be missing something: some fresh, bright counterpoint. So I decided to saute sliced apples in butter, then caramelize them with honey and a little fresh thyme, which complements the savory notes of the goat cheese in the filling, and serve that mixture alongside.
"Bake the rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie you want to see in the world," Mother Theresa once said. I’m happy I finally got around to it. Of course, if it's authentic placenta you're after, you'll be delighted to learn that Robert Sietsemafor Gourmet in 2008. Next up? .
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