Chicken Pot Pie's Roots Trace Back To Ancient Rome

Before we get into the origins of chicken pot pie, let's pin down just what constitutes a pot pie. We're all familiar with the various frozen examples of chicken pot pie, and some of us may even have tried making homemade chicken pot pie (here's a recipe, if you'd like to give it a shot). Is there anything that makes a pot pie different from any other type of meat pie? Not really, except for the fact that pot pies always have top crusts, unlike, say, shepherd's pies where mashed potatoes are used instead. They're also baked in what Oxford Learner's Dictionaries calls a "deep dish," which could be a pie pan or a casserole, so they're not hand pies. Having established what constitutes a chicken pot pie, we can now differentiate the ur-pot pie from any other kind of original savory pie, which allows us to trace its probable roots to ancient Rome.

Some food historians may consider the ancient Greek artocreas to be the ancestral pot pie, but while that was made with a meat filling, it didn't have a top crust, so it doesn't qualify. Instead, that honor may go to a later Roman variant that had both a top and bottom crust. The earliest known recipe, dating from the second century B.C., has a honey-goat cheese filling, but later versions included various types of seafood and meat. Was chicken among them? We can't say for sure, but we do know this meat was consumed by the Romans.

How chicken pot pie has evolved since olden days

It's a long, long road from the kitchens of ancient Roman villas to the microwaves of today, so how did chicken pot pie make the trip? As far as we're aware, its next stop — at least, the one from which it bothered to send a postcard — was also in Europe but during the Middle Ages. One chicken pie recipe from a late 14th-century Italian cookbook calls for dates and raisins in the filling along with chicken seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper. Another, livelier recipe from 16th-century Italy called for birds that would fly out once the pie's top crust was cut open, but we presume these weren't chickens as these mostly-flightless fowl wouldn't make such a dainty dish to set before the king.

By the 18th century, chicken pot pies had reached the New World. One early chicken pie recipe was included in a 1796 cookbook with the clever name of "American Cookery," while a recipe that used the exact wording "chicken pot pie" (or "pot-pie") seems to have made its first appearance in an 1839 cookbook called "The Kentucky Housewife." It would take over a century more, however, before Swanson started producing its famous frozen chicken pot pies — these are a fairly modern invention since they've only been around since 1951.