Savoury pies are non-sweet, “salty rather than sweet” pies served as meals or snacks, rather than as a dessert.
Savoury pies were — and still are — a good way of stretching meat that is limited in quantity.
Throughout most of history, the pie crust wasn’t eaten (see separate entry on pastry crust.) But now, generally, unless the dish is something such as shepherd’s pie and cottage pie where the “crust” is mashed potato, a minimum of a bottom crust is both expected — and consumed. And, for savoury pie fans, a top crust as well, and a side crust is a real bonus. For them, a savoury pie is all about the crust.
Historically, pies used to be all savoury for the most part: it is sweet pies that are the innovation in food history.
In the Middle Ages, the crust wasn’t meant to be eaten, it was just a container to cook in. You broke it open and ate the stuff inside and left the crust. The crust would have been made from cheap flours such as rye. Its purpose was just to act as a container to keep all the moisture in and stop what you were cooking from drying out. Later recipes had the crust made from wheat flour, which would have been more expensive, and butter, so by that point the crust would have been eaten.
Literature & Lore
“However, there are pies and pies. The English custom serves a meat or game pie, either hot or cold, for breakfast, and this is certainly more to be commended. Pie being among those dishes considered rather indigestible, even for the hearty and robust, should be given plenty of time during the most active hours of day for digestion: therefore, the morning or midday meal is the proper time for pie-eating. The immunity enjoyed by those, who, in certain rural sections, still observe the custom of serving pie for breakfast, may be accounted for by the active, outdoor life they lead which calls for a larger amount of “staying” food than the less active and less exposed workers could possibly accommodate with comfort of safety.” — Table and Kitchen Column. Trenton, New Jersey. The Trenton Times. Thursday, 23 January 1902. Page 6.
The following is a World War One pamphlet issued by the USDA encouraging people to make meat go further by using it in pies.
Pie was spelled “pye” in Middle English. “Coffyn” was the word for crust.