Chicken, beef, lamb, apple, rhubarb, mushroom, fish, beans, pasta, cheese ... wrap anything in a case of pastry and you have perhaps the most Australian food you can get your hands on, literally.
Whether you're eating one at the footy, or serving the family a comforting dinner, pies are among the most loved of meals.
June 1 is National Pie Day, an idea that started in the Southern Highlands of NSW in 2017 - the region renames itself the Southern Pie-lands for the month of June - but across the nation pie makers, and pie eaters, are getting in on the action.
All-round Aussie legend Robert "Dipper" DiPierdomenico is the official Pie Minister, and he wants us all to top up the sauce bottle and get involved.
"You can wrap anything in pastry and it will taste good," he says. "There are all kinds of pies these days, square pies, oval pies, round pies, and so many different kinds of fillings as well.
"Pie Day, or really June is Pie Month, is a great opportunity for us all to support our pie makers and get out and meet them and buy their pies."
He loves the idea that every town in Australia boasts "Australia's Number One Pie"; he admits he's quite often offered bribes - "not the done thing for the Pie Minister I know" - by pie makers wanting him to show some favour.
We both agree there's nothing like a pie at the footy.
"You line up for too long, get your pie, take the cellophane off and it drips all over your shirt," he says.
"Then you take your first bite and it's boiling hot and you burn your mouth, but you know you're at the footy."
I can't quite come at the way he eats his pies.
"It's all about the crust," he says. "I take the lid off with a spoon, scoop out the filling, mix it with some sauce, mix the lid back in with it and then put it back in the pie and eat it."
Across NSW regional foodie groups are getting involved.
The Sapphire Coast has been working with local foodie, Paul West of River Cottage fame, to showcase their region's best pies.
"Paul West has been pretty pumped about meeting our local pie makers and seeing the high-quality local ingredients and the amount of love that goes into their flavoursome pie offerings," says Anthony Osborne, managing director for Sapphire Coast Destination Marketing.
"He's appointed himself our region's Pie Minister, wanting to give his national counterpart, Dipper, a run for his money."
Steve Rosa, group manager of tourism and economic development with Destination Southern Highlands, is happy to see other regions get on board.
"Aussies love a good pie and will travel far for a really magic one," says Rosa, recommending The Wharfie, a "seriously tasty flathead and ling, mussel and mornay pie" from Merimbula's Wharf Restaurant.
"Several regional areas have got their pies into the oven and we're thrilled that the Pie Time brand has gained traction outside of the highlands. It's about regions supporting each other, breaking down borders with quality food offerings, and encouraging tourism back into our regional areas. NSW really is the premier pie state after all."
Oh hang on. I'd like to throw Canberra in the mix there. As always, the ACT is punching above its weight when it comes to pies. Here are Food & Wine's picks of the best pies in Canberra, worthy of a mention on the national pie-rometer of tastiness.
We've picked our best pies of Canberra based on a few things: crust, generosity of filling, flavour of filling, level of holdability (it's important that hand pies can be held in the hand), how family pies hold up when you cut them, and sheer tastiness.
Did we miss your favourite pie? Let us know.
Best family pie
A baker in a butchery is like the perfect storm of pie making. Patrick Lau is the genius at Griffith, making the pies on site using the butchery's excellent range of meat. We love the family pies, their squarish sides and generous crust. A proper family meal, serve it with mashed potatoes and veggies.
Crust: Golden and crunchy, the bases hold up upon reheating and it's a superb pastry.
Filling: Full to the brim. Flavours include traditional beef, sweet chilli beef, beef and kidney, beef and mushroom, Mexican chilli beef, chicken and vegetable. We tried the lamb curry and it was a well-spiced lamb mince with a little kick and plenty of flavour. Lau changes up the flavours occasionally too.
How it holds up: The family pies cut well without oozing out over the plate and slices keep their shape. The hand pies fit well into a (biggish) hand.
In your piehole? Definitely. Canberra's best pie.
Sonoma has recently launched a beef and beer pie, made in collaboration with Young Henry's brewery showcasing its Motor Oil Porter. This pie features tender beef chunks, mushrooms, onions, celery, carrots and red capsicum. After cooking the beef to perfection, Sonoma allows it to braise in Young Henry's beer until the meat falls apart. The uniqueness of this combination permeates not only the filling, but the dough, that is made with butter pate brisee and Motor Oil beer, giving it an unique colour and bitterness that pairs perfectly.
Crust: The dough's made with a butter pate brisee and Motor Oil beer, giving it an unique colour and just a little bitterness.
Filling: Featuring tender beef chunks, mushrooms, onions, celery, carrots and red capsicum, it's braised in Young Henry's beer until the meat falls apart.
How it holds up: The pie was quite heavy and teetered on the over your shirt edge but a few bites and it was all gone.
In your piehole? For sure, a fancy Braddon pie. Check out the other winter offerings in store.
Best local icon
Who was Elaine? Can someone help me out? The women at the Dickson shopfront assured me there was an actual Elaine but were too busy serving the masses at lunch to offer any more information. What they did offer was a range of pies that looked more like little balls of tastiness given their round shape. Stories in Dickson, Phillip and Fyshwick.
Crust: Golden and a little firmer than others. How does it sit on that round shape?
Filling: Top marks for generosity of filling. The globes are full of dense filling. We tasted the chunky chicken, great big chunks of tender chicken breast. Felt like a proper meal. Range of steak pies, a shepherd's pie, even a macaroni, bacon and shallots pie. Tasty.
How it holds up: Best eaten with a knife and fork. You're not getting your piehole around this one.
In your piehole? A full meal in a pastry case. Get it in.
Best value for money
During Covid lockdown in 2020, Aaron Clark started driving his delivery truck around Canberra's suburbs, like a Mr Whippy van but with pies and pastries instead of ice cream. And it proved so popular he's still doing it. Check out Husk Bakery on Facebook for what suburb he's hitting up this week. Or order ahead and pick up from Capital Region Farmers' Markets at EPIC or the Southside Farmers' Markets. Get in early to buy on spec, it's his range of flavours and great price that makes customers keep coming back.
Crust: Golden shortcrust with a puffy top.
Filling: We love the range of flavours, lamb and mint, French veggie, Moroccan lamb, beef and pepper, even mushroom and blue cheese.
How it holds up: Well. A traditional pie shape with supportive base. Filling is firm enough to stay in place.
In your piehole? At $5 each, or six pies for $25 do you need another reason? Delicious.
A vegan pie? You bet. Emily Brindley at Braddon's vegan cafe Sweet Bones is partial to a good pie and has perfected a vegan pastry over the years. The menu changes depending on what mood she's in; we tried "pepper steak" and "chilli non carne", a Mexican inspired fiesta of a pie. The taste testing team didn't know the pies were vegan and didn't care. All about the flavour.
Crust: The vegans in the office want the recipe.
Filling: Brindley is clever enough to know it's all about flavour and works from there. The chilli non carne pie had all the flavours of the traditional meaty meal; it's minced tofu and kidney beans with Mexican spices. And pepper steak? It's mushrooms and house-made seatin (you can find the recipe in Sweet Bones: The Cookbook) in a bechamel sauce.
How it holds up: A great size and passed the bite test. Stayed together well.
In your piehole? For sure, even for meat eaters.
Three Mills Bakery
Thank you lockdown for giving us the Three Mills bake-at-home range. Not only is there a range of pastries and sweet treats but pies galore. These generous family-sized pies come in three flavours: beef, shiraz and native pepperberry; Murrumbateman mushroom; and chicken, leek and riesling. Keep one in the freezer and bake it when the time is right. Like tonight.
Crust: The pies are housed in a sour cream pastry crust with their signature Pepe Saya butter puff pastry top.
Filling: Classic flavours cooked to perfection.
How it holds up: The bake-at-home process is easy to follow and testers all report success in the home oven. Slice well and keep their shape.
In your piehole? How could you not, a close second for Canberra's best pie.
Best sweet pie
From the team that brought you the FreakShake, comes an apple pie like no other. They're only available on weekends, or by special orders, I'm thinking of passing one off as my own creation at a wintery dinner party soon, much is their homemade look. Because they are homemade by Anna Petridis and her team at the Manuka cafe.
Crust: A delicious, biscuity, sour cream pastry, cooked to golden perfection.
Filling: Each pie is loaded with one kilogram of hand-cut, cinnamon spiced apples.
How it holds up: Don't mind a bit of ooze in a sweet pie, all the better mixed with the ice cream.
In your piehole? Make sure you keep room for dessert.
Flute Bakery and Patisserie, Fyshwick: May be known to covet these for lunch. There's usually a chicken and leek one on the menu. Try to ignore the cakes.
Country Pride Butchers, Lyneham: yes, it's my local, I know. But Phil and the lads make the best family-size meat pies, perfect with mash. Full of tender meat and golden pastry. They had a super chicken and leek on the menu for a while too. Bring that back.
Dobinsons, various locations: always a great selection of flavours. Try the beef and Guinness pie. They also do a great range of bake-at-home which I've seen in various IGAs around the place.
Bakehouse, Ainslie: Does Ainslie still offer the perfect hangover pie - "The Mongrel" - which combines a secret-recipe spicy mince with layers of bacon, tomato and egg.
The Public Place, Chisholm: We've heard rumours of a lasagne pie down south. Has anyone tried it? Want to join next year's taste-testing team?
Crust Bakery and Cafe, Fyshwick: Head to the markets for a large range of pies, from chickpea and curry to steak, cheese and bacon.
Gum Tree Pies, Capital Region Farmers' Markets: You've got to get in early to get your favourite flavour. Don't miss the Thai green chicken curry or the creamy cauliflower.
- Pie Time 2021 runs for the entire month of June. For more information on Pie Time visit pietime.com.au
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