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A brief history of the Australian meat pie

November 3, 2011 - Jo Lane

THE Australian meat pie is so well liked around the nation it could almost be termed a national dish.

Where the Americans eat hot dogs at their football games, for Aussies the meat pie is the cuisine of choice at their own sporting fixtures and indeed any other event.

Basically this pie consists of a hand-sized pastry filled with minced meat and gravy – although it may also be filled with onion, cheese, mushrooms, chicken, seafood, crocodile, camel, vegetables or other fillings. Typically it is smothered in tomato sauce (ketchup).

Pic: Mrs Macs.

Its origins are thought to have developed amongst the early settlers who found the pie a good choice with its basic, readily available ingredients. The English and Irish that came out to Australia already had their own pie versions – Cornish Pastry, Steak and Kidney and Guinness pies. For the English the pie has been part of their cuisine since medieval times.

In Australia mutton was mostly used in the first pies as it was often cheaper than vegetables. Pies with golden crusts and gravy were available in Sydney from about the mid 1800s as a counter lunch in hotels and were soon distributed in pie carts at places of entertainment, holiday destinations and sporting events. These were often kept in tin boxes and warmed by a charcoal stove.

They were later taken around by horse-drawn carts and then vehicles until mass produced pies began operation. Popular brands today such as Sargent trace their pie making to 1893, Mrs Mac’s to the 1940s and popular Four’N'Twenty to 1974.

Pic: Sargents pies.

Today supermarkets across the nation are filled with varieties of the pie and fast food outlets and bakeries usually stock a number of options for their customers. It is estimated that Australians consume an average of 12 meat pies each per year.

While there has been a move in recent years to more healthy eating, it looks like the meat pie is here to stay. It is estimated an Aussie rules Final crowd in Melbourne would eat 90,000 pies in just a few hours. The amount of tomato sauce to go with those pies is also substantial!

And with the changing tastes of the multicultural population pies also have spicier, tangy flavours to accommodate everyone, along with the old favourites which still remain best sellers for many of the companies.

Mrs Mac’s lists their products at being sold in 2330 postcodes and available in some rather remote places like the Cocos Islands, Norfolk Islands and Aboriginal Missions in outback Western Australia. That means in your travels around Australia you should never be too far from the ultimate Aussie snack!

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