Join 3,553 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


With four and twenty black-and-white birds, here's the history of the pie
November 22, 2011 12:01 PM   Subscribe

NPR's food blog gets wordy: for the origins of "pie," look to the humble magpie. Though the etymology of pie doesn't present one clear path, the possibilities are fascinating. English surnames point to pie and pye as a baked good in the 1300s, with a Peter Piebakere in 1320 and Adam le Piemakere in 1332. Chaucer referred to "pye" as both a baked good and a magpie (Google books). Or perhaps the fillings were like a magpie's collection of bits and bobs, similar to haggis. You know, like the French "agace," or magpie (Gb), and similar to chewets, those baked goods, or another name for jackdaws (Gb), relative of the magpie.

One additional tangent is the possibility that the contents of medieval pies could be seen as light crusts and dark filling, as "pied" refers to a jumble of colors, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin (1842) (Gb). Jump ahead to the 1850s, and piebald appears, blending (mag)pie and bald, meaning spotted or white.

If all this talk of pastries filled with whatnot, Gode Cookery has medieval recipe translations for your perusal and enjoyment.
posted by filthy light thief (21 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Of note: the NPR article has a lot of links to Oxford English Dictionary entries, which are limited in access.

Another tangent: Sing a Song of Sixpence is another interesting story.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:03 PM on November 22, 2011


here's the obvious source of the name
posted by delmoi at 12:09 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Today is a good day for pie!
posted by General Tonic at 12:12 PM on November 22, 2011


In French agace also means to irritate or tease, I never knew it was tied to the magpie. The English word pius is also pie in French (like the pope and metro stop Pie IX) and I wonder if those are related somehow.

It's also worth noting that the French pronunciation of 'pie' (as in magpie) is much like the anglophone pee, and matches the chirp it makes pee! pee! ...which reminds of this difficult question: how many animals can you think of with onomatopoeic names?
posted by furtive at 12:37 PM on November 22, 2011


People used to be stupid or something.
posted by Bonzai at 12:50 PM on November 22, 2011


how many animals can you think of with onomatopoeic names?

151.
posted by baf at 1:21 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


151

Ah, but in which language(s)?
posted by jquinby at 1:38 PM on November 22, 2011


I am amused that the Latin for magpie is pica.
posted by Lou Stuells at 1:50 PM on November 22, 2011


One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl, four for a boy.

It's also worth noting that the French pronunciation of 'pie' (as in magpie) is much like the anglophone pee, and matches the chirp it makes pee! pee! ...which reminds of this difficult question: how many animals can you think of with onomatopoeic names?

The folkname for lapwings round my end is peewit or pyewipe, both obviously mindful of its call. But I think magpies have a much different call, not like "pie" or "pee", at least in Europe.
posted by Jehan at 2:08 PM on November 22, 2011


Pie is one of the weird Spanish words that's been borrowed from English without being respelled or having its pronunciation rearranged. So it's pronounced /pai/, more or less like in English, and it means, you know, "delicious North American pastry."

Problem is, Spanish already had a word spelled P-I-E. It's pronounced /pje/, and it means "foot."

So you'll see pie de queso on restaurant menus sometimes, but if you pronounce it like it's spelled you end up saying "give me a cheesefoot" and people snicker at you.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:09 PM on November 22, 2011


I'm pretty sure the Spanish word for pie is pastel, or for a meat pie, empanada. Unless it's different for Europe than for the Americas.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:15 PM on November 22, 2011


Yeah, it's been in Central America that I've seen it, and mostly for recipes imported from the US: pie de queso, pie de cereza, etc. Pastel is used generically there for just about any sweet pastry: cakes, pies, eclair-type things, whatever.

Wouldn't surprise me at all if things were different in Spain — or even in other parts of Latin America. It's a big place.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:44 PM on November 22, 2011


For Halloween I went as the pieman. With a pie full of 4 and 20 blackbirds. My mom made the pie from beige felt, my dad and I sprayed many dollar-store birds black, and then we stuffed the 'pie' with the birds. Couldn't fit them all in, so a few were tied to the outside of the crust. (I put white glitter on the crust so it looked all sugary). Then I dressed up like a chef, with the hat and everything, and a really bad, really awfully outrageous moustache.

It was an awesome costume.

Not really relevant to the story at hand, it just reminded me of my pie. My awesome blackbird pie.
posted by sandraregina at 6:00 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


how many animals can you think of with onomatopoeic names?

My wife's favorite is the pitohui, a Hawaiian bird which is the only poisonous bird in the world.

In other news, there are a shitload of birds with onomatopoeic common names.
posted by localroger at 6:22 PM on November 22, 2011


On lookup, not Hawaiian, but New Guinean. Same ocean at least.
posted by localroger at 6:24 PM on November 22, 2011


This mushroom pie from Gode Cookery is fantastic. I make it ALL THE TIME.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:30 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've just been reading a book about the West Indies sugar barons, and now I'm wanting to tie the history of sweet vs savory pies (pasties) into the mix somehow. The availability of cane sugar at a lower cost as the West Indies plantations come online has to have some effect on the actual pies, if not on the linguistics.
posted by immlass at 7:36 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's an owl (tawny frogmouth) commonly known as a 'mopoke' because that's what their call sounds like.
posted by h00py at 4:44 AM on November 23, 2011


I've been making a lot of pies recently. I enjoyed this.
posted by h00py at 4:45 AM on November 23, 2011


Started a pie-a-week project last August and have been obsessed with pies as a result. This week I'm taking an awkward week off from pie-baking, so this is a nice mental treat instead. Thanks for the links!
posted by Erroneous at 8:21 AM on November 23, 2011


When is an owl not an owl? When it is a Tawny Frogmout.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:35 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older Today the South African parliament, dominated by t...  |  Training in 'concrete thinking... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments