Meat Pies – A Survival Food with a Long History

meat-pies-as-survival-foodMeat pies date far back into antiquity to around 9500 BC. The Greeks used a flour water paste that resembled a pie crust which they fried or cooked under hot coals. Later, the Romans used the crust for baking, storage, and serving the filling. They ate the filling and threw the crust away. The crust was too hard to actually eat because it was made several inches thick. It took hours to cook in a medieval/renaissance central hearth or fire pit. These pastries were known as “coffins” or “coffyns,” which means a box or basket, because they were encased in a top and bottom crust. Known as “bake metis,” these pies were made of cheap cuts of beef, pork, venison, lamb, duck, rabbit, or fowl. Often a combination of meats were either broiled or boiled in cauldrons. Next, the meat was cut into bite size pieces or made into a meat paste. The Crusaders brought the recipes to medieval Europe and these recipes were eventually developed into pastries made with lard or butter. Later, the Italians and French made a much tastier crust.

In the 1600s, the pilgrims brought these recipes to the Americas. For the settlers, these pies were especially practical because it took less flour and time to make a pie than to make bread. Plus, the pie was delicious and fuel efficient. As was done in antiquity, the crust of the pie was used to preserve the food in the cold winter months. Meat pies remained a common food in the developing American colonies. Did you know that George Washington liked steak and kidney pie? Much later in our history, hearty meat pies were made during the depression to feed many a hungry family. Pie crust is made with flour, which was a cheap way to fill empty bellies.

Making a Meat Pie as Survival Food

This is not a recipe, but rather an overview of the process for making meat pies as survival food. In a survival situation, the recipe would depend on what you have available to you and it would probably change each time you make them. You can cook meat pies on a wood burning stove, in a fire pit or in a fireplace with a Dutch oven. Place hot coals under and on top of the Dutch oven. Just remember that when you are baking in a Dutch oven with coals, the heat will usually come more from the top than the bottom. Use a 3:1 lid to bottom ratio for placing your coals. Check the fire often and remove or replace coals as needed. Bake pies in the Dutch oven at about 350 for 35 minutes to an hour.

There are many variations on recipes for pie crust. You can use your favorite recipe for delicious crust, or use a simplified flour/water paste to create a thick crust for storage. When there isn’t enough meat to completely fill a pie, adding vegetables is a great way to make the pie stretch a little further. Adding gravy to the mixture pulls the whole meal together and turns this survival food into a delicious treat. Stir the meat and vegetables together until they are evenly covered with the gravy. Pour the mixture into the pie shell and add the top crust. Cook the pie until the crust is a nice golden brown, about 35-60 minutes at 350 degrees.

In a survival situation, a great way to cook these pies is to make a smaller pastry by cutting the pie dough into circles. Place the filling in the center and fold the edges of the crust over to seal the filling in the center. Poke the top crust with a fork to allow steam to vent as the pie bakes. You can bake these smaller pies in a Dutch oven, as you would a larger pie, at about 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes; or you can fry them. These pastries are easy to pack and easy to eat on the go. They’re perfect to have if you need to bug out, and they even taste good when eaten cold.

Thanks to Susan Norgren for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest. We have over $1,500 in prizes lined up for the current writing contest, with more to come. Here is a list of the current pot of prizes:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $380 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $279 value
– 1 year of free membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $240 value
– A copy of The Summer of Survival Complete Collection from Life Changes Be Ready, a $127 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $60 each
– The complete 2014 Grow Your Own Food Summit interview series, a $47 value
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $42 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $40 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $32 each

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This post was written by Alayne Merenstein


  • I didn’t know this had posted! Personally, I love homemade pot pies made from left overs. Pot pies will be great made with stored survival food mixed with fresh veggies from the garden. Many times before a payday, this dish has come in handy.

    1. JJM says:

      I enjoy (Banquet) pot pies, particularly when my son will not be joining for supper and there are no leftovers to devour.
      Understand that the pie needs to vent while cooking. Questions:
      Doesn’t the vent hole need to be sealed at some point to prevent spoilage??
      Also, what are the storage requirements and duration???

      1. Hi JJM, I usually make one pie for the family dinner but I have also made small individual pies. I store all my leftovers in the refrigerator. They can be frozen and heated. For lunch, they can be wrapped in foil and eaten cold. Unless you live where it is very cold I recommend refrigeration, these pies do not have the thick coffin crust that seals the food.

  • RAY AKE says:

    Being from the south I grew up with meat and fruit pies and always loved them. Passed them on to my kids and grandkids. Everyone should eat these.

    1. HI Ray! Fried fruit pies! Yummmm, they are the best! Love Southern cooking! Thanks for the yummy memories!

  • Debbie says:

    Now this is an idea I have never heard before. Are you saying that food can actually be preserved this way? I would think that if this were the intent, the crust would need to be quite thick and dry, with no holes for air/bacteria to enter. What will prevent the juices from the filling from seeping into the crust and making it soggy? Do you have any more specific information, such as actual recipes? Otherwise, it should still make a good meal to be eaten fresh.

    1. Debbie, even though I know this has been done in the past it is not something I recommend for food storage. The pie crust was originally made as a container like a thick one or two inch sealed bowl. If it is cold enough (as in snowy, cold winters), the pies could be stored as the pioneers did it but only during the winter months. So much safer in this day and age to just freeze it or make it fresh for a great meal.

  • Fran says:

    Meat pies have been my favorite meal since I was a toddler. Mom’s recipe called for boiling/simmering ground beef and ground pork together, spooning off the excess fat, but I have used ground anything and sometime chunks of anything. The key to the flavor of Mom’s recipe, and I assume for its preserving effect, was the powdered cinnamon. A mashed potato for binding agent and a sauteed diced onion for flavor and preserving effect, rounded out the recipe. But I also occasionally added vegetables and/or gravy as well. Eating cool or at room temperature is indeed almost as tasty as warmed. The less meat fat inside the better it is cool. If you want a recipe I can give you Mom’s but as said in the article, use what you’ve got. Enjoy

    1. Fran, I would love your mom’s recipe! The cinnamon sounds very interesting. Did your mom use two crusts or use the mashed potatoes as the crust? I love a bit of melted cheese on top of those mashed potatoes!

  • LynneMarie says:

    Need to know how to store the meat pies and how long they will last in storage? Please let me know, thank you.

    1. I don’t recommend this for food storage, but using food storage for this pie is great. The pioneers made this pie to feed their families with the leftovers probably eaten the same day for lunch.

  • Brenda Jones says:

    My husband grew up on meat pies (called pasties) that included rutabaga, potatoes, veggies, and meat. We put a gravy over the top after the pie is cooked. I usually make up a bunch and freeze them for quick meals later.

    1. Hey Brenda when are you going to invite me for lunch??? Pass the gravy! Pasties as so versatile!

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