The History of Apple Pie, Poutine, Bratwurst, Shepherd’s Pie, and Dumplings

It is amazing that viewers from so many different countries have taken the time to look at my culinary history blog! This is very exciting; for fun, I decided I would select the 5 countries with the most viewers of my blog and select an iconic dish from each one to discuss the origins of the dish. The five countries with the most visitors to my site were the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and China; below are the dishes I have selected that we’ll discuss. 

  1. United States: apple pie
  2. Canada: Poutine
  3. Germany: bratwurst
  4. United Kingdom: shepherd’s pie
  5. China: dumplings

You’ll be fascinated to find out that apple pie isn’t as American as it sounds, and bratwurst influenced the creation of the popular hot dog in America. 

United States – Apple Pie

It's Not Just For Dessert Anymore

A slice of apple pie. Photo by cogdogblog.

A slice of apple pie is known to be the ideal American dessert. The phrase “ as American as apple pie” only accentuates the relationship between America and apple pie. With its caramelized apple chunks and flaky pie crust, the apple pie goes well with a scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream. While apple pie is a dish that one would typically associate with the United States, it actually isn’t so American and has a longer than expected history dating back to Europe. Interestingly enough, apples are native to Asia, and apples have been in Europe for centuries prior to being in the United States. 

In the 14th century, the English added apples into their cuisine but made crust-less apple pies due to the high cost of sugar. This was not surprising since the English were known for having pies and pastries as part of their food culture.  The apple pie we know today with lattice-style pie crust wasn’t created until the 15th century by Dutch bakers. These pies eventually made its way across Europe as apple pie grew in popularity.

apple pie 1

Lattice-style apple pie. Photo by aphexious.

It was during the 1600s when apple trees were first brought over to America through overseas trading routes. Apples were first grown to make cider in the US; these apple trees and seeds brought over from overseas produced tart apples, the kind that was fit for cider but not so much eating. It was only after years of settlers growing apple trees that apples became sweeter over time; cross-pollinating different apple trees made it easy to select different traits and also for many apple varieties to be grown. The apple pie itself was believed to have been brought over by Dutch or British immigrants, and it was quickly accepted as a part of the American cuisine; many books referencing Apple recipes left out its European origins and touted it being of American origin. 

Canada – Poutine

Poutine is a Canadian dish that includes a heaping pile of french fries topped with cheese curds and drizzled with brown gravy; it is the ultimate Canadian junk food and tastes as delicious as it sounds. 


A container of poutine. Photo by starbright31.

I was in Alberta, Canada for work when I had some poutine. Poutine can be found in the United States, but it is always a great experience to try a dish in the country it originated from. It originated specifically from the province of Quebec in the 1950s. At the time, the poutine dish was one with regional reach when it was first created due to a few reasons. Seen as cheap junk food, poutine was eaten at diners, pubs, food trucks, and hockey games. Cheese curds, the poutine’s main ingredient, has a very short shelf life and as such poutine was served only in some parts of Quebec on the outskirts of the city. It had limited reach depending on the proximity of dairy farms. It was only after a few decades had passed that poutine was eventually introduced by food trucks, restaurants, and fast-food franchises to Quebec City. However, the low-quality cheese curds used by some vendors kept the poutine dish from getting as popular as it could have been. 

The poutine dish exploded in popularity when fine-dining chefs began serving it and bringing attention to this calorie-laden dish. Fine-dining chefs began elevating the dish by adding their own twist to it; Martin Picard of bistro Au Pied de Cochon began serving a foie gras poutine in the 2000s. The dish’s success led other chefs in other regions of Canada to offer up poutine as a dish. In the last decade, poutine has become very popular in all types of restaurants in Canada and has even spread internationally.  There is even Poutine week, which is an entire week dedicated to poutine in Quebec. Now that’s a lot of poutine. 

Germany – Bratwurst

Germany’s most popular dish is the bratwurst, which is a type of German sausage made of either veal, beef or most commonly pork. The word bratwurst originated from Old High German; Brat means finely chopped meat while wurst means sausage. Cooking bratwurst or any sausage is one of the oldest recipes; the oldest record of a sausage recipe dates back to the book Apicius, which is a collection of Roman recipes believed to be written in the 1st century AD. 


Bratwurst vendor cooking up a variety of bratwursts. Photo by HerryLawford.

Bratwursts are mostly pork as Germans believe the pig is a symbol of good luck and have a preference for pork. The sausage was originally popular as a dish to make and eat as it was a great way to use up all the excess meat trimmings and preserve food for the cold winters in Germany.  Today, bratwursts of all kinds of meats and ingredients are offered in many places in Germany as a snack by street vendors, taverns, and beer halls. Bratwursts are typically served with sauerkraut and served in a soft pretzel bun and mustard. According to the German Food Guide Site, Bratwursts vary in recipes depending on region and it is said that there are over 50 kinds available in Germany.  


Franconia: Nurnberger Bratwurst. Photo by sstrieu.

Another fun fact – it is said that bratwursts influenced the creation of the hot dog in the United States. It was believed that the first hot dogs were sold by a German immigrant who sold sausages as a food vendor in New York in the 1860s.

United Kingdom – Shepherd’s pie

One of my favorite English dishes is shepherd’s pie, which is a meat pie of ground lamb with a crust made of mashed potatoes. It typically consists of minced meat cooked in a sauce or gravy with onions and other vegetables such as peas or carrots and then baked in a layer of mashed potatoes.

shepherdpie 2

A slice of shepherd’s pie with a side salad. Photo by salerie.

Shepherd’s pie was first known as cottage pie in the late 1700s when the potato was introduced to the poor as an affordable crop; cottage referred to a small dwelling that the lower class would live in. It wasn’t until the 1850s that the phrase shepherd’s pie came to be. While there was no difference back then between cottage pie and shepherd’s pie, the difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie today is the meat; shepherd’s pie is lamb, while cottage pie is minced beef. This dish was originally a poor person’s meal as the shepherd’s pie was made using leftover meats and was lined and topped with mash potatoes since potatoes were cheap. It is believed that housewives invented these pies as a way of using up leftover meats and creatively adding mashed potatoes as a crust/layer to get their husbands and kids to eat it. 

China – Dumplings 

Dumplings are a universal and ancient food that consists of a piece of dough that is usually stuffed with a filling. Examples include the Polish pierogis, the Nepal momos, and the Italian ravioli. Dumpling recipes show up in Roman cooking books and the Chinese have eaten dumplings for over 1,800 years. Chinese dumplings, also known as jiaozi, consists of thin pieces of dough wrapped around a filling that typically contains a mixture of chopped up meat and vegetables and is either boiled, fried, or steamed.


Plates of various meat and vegetable dumplings. Photo by cherrylet.

Dumplings were said to be originally invented by Zhang Zhongjing, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine in ancient China. During a harsh winter, many starving people were suffering when Zhang Zhongjing stumbled upon a few who had frostbite. He made medicine by boiling mutton and mixing it with chopped up herbal medicine ingredients. He then wrapped the mixture into a wheat flour skin to create ear-shaped balls. He boiled these ear-shaped balls in a medicinal soup called Qū hán jiāo ěr tāng, which is a brew that drew upon centuries of Chinese medicine practice in the Han dynasty. 

Zhang Zhongjing provided these medicinal snacks to many sufferers until the eve of Chinese New Year. After eating the medicinal snacks, many people recovered from their ailments. As such, many people celebrated their recovery at the time of the New Year at the Spring Festival. Since then, it is tradition to eat dumplings during Chinese New Year for good health. 

I hope you’ve learned a bit from this! I had fun writing it and be on the lookout for my next post!  If you liked this post, please check out my other culinary food history posts below!

The History of Oysters –

The History of Korean Barbeque, Banchan, and Dry -Aging

The History of Sushi

Food History of Hawaii


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: