Latticed and layered, filled with berries and fruits or steaming vegetables and meats, pies come in all shapes and sizes. But no pie is quite as savory and Southern as the Natchitoches meat pie.
It’s a Louisiana recipe so tasty and traditional that it’s been named to the list of official state foods. The recipe itself is fairly unvaried. Most cooks begin with a wheat pastry crust (an important element—more on that later), rolling out the dough to about five or six inches in diameter. The shell is then stuffed with the delectable filling, including ground beef, ground pork, onions, peppers, garlic, and oil. The meaty mixture is usually prepared a day before in order for the flavors to mingle and marinate. Once the pies are stuffed, folded, and crimped into crescent-shaped shells, they’re fried up in peanut oil (favored because of its high smoking temperature).
The flaky, flavorful meat pies may be a classic Louisiana cuisine, but they’re not completely unique to the region. You’ll find their crispy cousin across once-Spanish territories in the form of the empanada. In fact, the traditional ground beef empanada of Argentina, Empanada de Carne, is almost indistinguishable from the Natchitoches version. Regardless of the meat pie’s similarities to empanadas, one thing’s for sure—this chow is delicious and her origins lie in Northern Louisiana.
Today you can find Natchitoches meat pies far outside of the city’s limits. A spicier version of the pie is popular in the southern part of the state and you’ll often find them slung around as bar snacks in New Orleans. But the recipe undoubtedly hails from the northern part of the state, specifically Natchitoches itself. Anyone disputing this statement has quite a few facts to contend with.
For one, the name; they don’t call it a Natchitoches meat pie for nothin’. Secondly, the recipe has been floating around the northern part of the state for well over two centuries, a popular provision since the 1700’s. But in The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, a New-Orleans–bred cachet of the culture’s favorite foods, a recipe for the meat pie is glaringly absent from the over 1,000 southern Louisiana recipes.
If that weren’t enough, there’s the matter of logistics and that little ingredient we mentioned earlier: wheat pastry crust. Corn has been grown locally for centuries; it’s a common ingredient in traditional Spanish and Native American recipes. Wheat, on the other hand, is almost impossible to grow in the humid and hot conditions that pervade Louisiana. In the years before planes, trains, and automobiles, the commodity had to be imported to the sticky state via two avenues: the Old San Antonio Road, or the French port on the Red River—the French port in Natchitoches.
Wheat was still an expensive luxury, reserved for the upper echelons or special occasions, but in a port town like Natchitoches it makes sense that it would be more easily incorporated into regional recipes. As residents developed their recipes for the Natchitoches meat pie (featuring wheat), the snacks began to drift South. From pies perfected in household ovens and shared at hometown gatherings, they became a sellable snack around the early twentieth century: housewives would peddle them out of their kitchens, and street vendors sold them from wandering carts. By 1967 Natchitoches meat pies were being produced in commercial kitchens, and today you can find them in restaurants and grocers across the northern half of the state.
If you taste your first Natchitoches meat pie and fall in love, be sure to return to the town for the annual Meat Pie Festival. The event is held every September and hosts such pie-centric festivities as meat pie making demonstrations, a meat pie cook-off, and live music. Fans of the Natchitoches novelty arrive from around the globe to get their fix of the fried pie—but don’t worry, there’s always plenty to go around.
SEE MORE NATCHITOCHES MEAT PIE PHOTOS HERE