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“Portable” Pies

The notion of “portable pies” might elicit a chuckle, but the fact remains that for centuries, cooks have been crafting little stuffed breads or pastries filled with both sweet and savory fillings that are inexpensive, easy to make, and small enough to stick in your pocket or purse. While these tiny pies had all sorts of different names through the centuries, the most common kinds of portable pies available today carry names like turnover, pierogi, empanada, or calzone.

Some of these little self-contained pies have a definite link to a particular ethnic group. The pierogi, for example, is a Polish and Russian favorite and today is served in households all over America. Empanadas are Spanish, calzones are Italian, and turnovers are believed to have first hailed from Europe, probably England.

Nonetheless, these are tasty delights that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their ethnic origins. In most instances, they’re fun to make, can be filled with a variety of ingredients, and are even a favorite with kids.

The Turnover

This is by far the most popular “portable pie” available. Food experts note that the word “turnover” first appeared in print at the end of the 18th century, referring to a small pocket of dough filled with apples. Indeed, apple turnovers are probably the most popular version of this small pastry, which is formed by making a square or circle of dough, placing the filling on one side, and then “turning over” the other side to cover the filling. The edges are then crimped so that whatever’s inside remains inside. Then they’re baked or fried.

Fruit turnovers are commonplace and you can often find them in bakeries or even in the frozen food section of your supermarket. However, turnovers can also be filled with meat and vegetables. The Germans make one called a Bierock, which is filled with a mixture of savory beef, onions, and cabbage. It’s popular around Oktoberfest time. A similar Oriental version includes ground beef, onion, bean sprouts, and water chestnuts.

Empanadas

Speaking of meat turnovers…the empanada is the Spanish version of a meat turnover. As Spanish and Mexican food continue to grow in popularity in the United States, you’ll find this food not only in restaurants and specialty stores, but also in your supermarket freezer case with other Mexican favorites. However, they are believed to have originated in the Galicia region of northwest Spain, the site of one of the first kingdoms in Europe.

Empanadas can be stuffed with meat (often spicy) or fish and the dough is a simple pie crust-like mixture. Often, you can purchase pre-made dough circles in quantity at a Spanish or Mexican grocery store. Empanadas are crafted the same way as turnovers but after they are assembled and the edges crimped, they are deep fried in vegetable oil until lightly brown. Yum!

Pierogis

The pierogi – or “dough pocket” comes in a few different forms. In Polish culture, they tend to be a bit more like a ravioli than a pie. The outer portion is pasta-like and inside you’ll usually find a mixture of ingredients that include mashed potatoes, cheeses, cabbage, or meat.

The Russian pirog, however, is more similar to a traditional portable pie or turnover. The crusts are generally likened to a flaky pie crust but can also be yeasty and bread-like as well. They are filled with all sorts of ingredients – both savory and sweet – and may be fried or baked. You’ll find these little pies sold on street corners throughout Russia and they are often paired with a hot bowl of soup.

Calzones

Many people describe the calzone as an inside-out pizza and that’s a pretty accurate description! This Italian favorite is believed to have originated in Naples but can be found throughout Southern Italy, sometimes baked and often deep fried as well.

The typical American calzone is sold in most pizza shops and many casual Italian restaurants and is usually made of pizza dough stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and sometimes meat, including ham, salami, or pepperoni. Tomato sauce is served on the side so you can dip each bite. In some places, they’re referred to as a pizza puff.