The Story of Pies – Part I

The first week of March is extremely exciting for people like me, that is co-owner of a British café and market, albeit in Florida. I am ready to make British Pie Week international so in the spirit of transatlantic relations, I did some research and traced the history of the pie. Let’s not be piqued that neither Brits nor Americans were the inventors of the western world’s first street food, we have reinvented that wheel perfectly. For all of us, our story begins long ago.

Beef & Guinness Pies at Sealantro

Egyptians have been credited with inventing beer but it looks like they might have been responsible for the concept of a “pie and pint,” a common British source of nourishment at one’s local pub. Evidence of early sweet pastry crusts have been found on the tomb walls of Pharoah Ramesses II (ruled 1304 to 1237 BC), while a recipe for chicken pie surfaced on a writing tablet before 2000 BC.

References to pies are made in ancient Greek literature around the fifth century BC, but it is the Romans who took pie making to the next level, as only the Italians could.

The Romans first used pastry to keep baked meats and fowl from drying out. The pastry wasn’t intended to be eaten in this case, but a richer pastry was common for small pasties that contained eggs or little birds. Pie case recipes appeared in the 1st-century Roman cookbook  Apicius.

Once more, the Romans were on to a good thing. As the Empire spread across Europe, so did pie cooking. Fillings were upgraded to different types of meat, and even seafood, based on local availability.

Fast forward to Medieval times and pies had definitely become a thing. Fillings at this point included “…beef, lamb, wild duck, magpie, pigeon – spiced with pepper, currants or dates.” The Roman habit of using pastry as a vessel to cook the filling was commonplace. Since most homes didn’t have convection ovens, or ovens for that matter, it was commonplace to cook the pastry over the fire, or for the home cook to take their pie to the local baker.

POP QUIZ #1: What was the name given to pies in early Medieval recipes? Coffyn. Yes, these pies had straight, sealed sides and a top.  Coffyn meant basket or box. 

By the 14th century, the pie was firmly entrenched in Britain, and while the Crusaders’ marauding in the Middle East was far from politically correct, the religious righteous returned with new pie filling ideas – rabbits, frogs, crows, and pigeons. (There’s a pattern here – invade a region of the world, enslave and slay the population, but bring back pie recipes…).  Within the next hundred years, pies contained all kinds of birds, apart from song birds which were protected by Royal Law. Apparently peacock pie was featured at King Henry VI’s coronation in 1429…

Pies and Scones Fresh Out of the Oven at Sealantro

This leads us to POP QUIZ #2. Where did the expressions “eat crow” and “four and 20 blackbirds” originate? Yup, they were popular pie fillings in Tudor times.

But what about fruit pies? These started to appear in the 15th century. Fillings included custard and dried fruit. Fresh fruit wasn’t widely used until the price of sugar dropped in the 16th century; fruit pies until that point were called tarts and did not contain sugar.  In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I was served cherry pie. This is the first record of fresh fruit pie.  Apple pie was first referenced in 1589 by the poet R. Green.

Good Queen Beth’s reign also saw a “line extension” of pie fillings (probably due to all the marauding and slaying again), including “Red Deer Venison, Wild Boar, Gammons of Bacon, Swans, Elkes, Porpus and such like.”

Then along came the Puritans who, in an effort to curtail fun completely, banned mince pie eating as a frivolous activity. Good job Oliver Cromwell isn’t around today… The ban was lifted with the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.  Meanwhile pie making had literally ascended to new heights with pies becoming huge elaborate affairs. In the 17th century, Ben Johnson compared a skilled pie cook to a fortification builder as he cited one who made “citadels of curious fowl and fish” and “ramparts of immortal crusts.”

At this point, the Pilgrim fathers and mothers settled in the New World and brought with them their pie recipes as Romans and Crusaders had before them. I’ll save the story of pies in North America for Part II.

Today the most popular pie fillings in Britain are steak, cheese and onion, steak and kidney, steak and ale, chicken and mushroom, minced (ground) beef and onion, shepherd’s pie, and pork pie.  We have all of those at Sealantro British Café and Market in Vero Beach, Florida. Don’t worry, we won’t try to tempt you with peacock, porpose or magpie fillings.


Jayne Withers Clifford is the author of Mile High & Healthy: The Frequent Travelers Roadmap to Eating, Energy, Exercise, and a Balanced Life (Story Farm, 2016). Hailing from northern England, she is a staunch pie fan. That said, her Floridian husband, Michael Clifford, loves British pies and, as Sealantro’s chef, is an avid British pie maker. His sausage rolls are awesome too.

Avoiding Illness During Air Travel

Today the world lost a great chef to COVID-19. Floyd Cardoz was an inspiration for anyone with a love of Indian and classical cuisines; he was regarded as the master of their fusion.  His cookbook, Flavorwalla, is one I actually read from cover to cover rather than just dipping in to check out recipes. Two weeks ago he was filming an episode of a Netflix show and opening a new restaurant in Bombay. Now he’s gone.

Mr. Cardoz flew to New York from Frankfurt on March 8th en route from his native India.  Traveling during these crazy times, let alone traversing the 4th busiest airport in Europe, is incomprehensible to me.  I don’t know why anyone would want to budge from the sofa right now.

Some people don’t have a choice. I’m reading posts in social media groups from fellow Brits who have to leave the US or risk their visas expiring if they stay put for their own and other people’s safety. They have a bigger fear of dealing with the US Customs and Border Protection in the long term than risking their lives by traveling now.   I know Canadians who have had to cut short their winter sojourns in Florida and rush home.

Here are some tips for anyone who absolutely has to travel. Four years ago, I wrote a book about staying healthy while traveling.  Here is an excerpt from Mile High and Healthy: The Frequent Traveler’s Roadmap to Eating, Energy, Exercise and a Balanced Life. Some of it may seem obvious but that doesn’t mean that we all do the obvious when it comes to health (drink more water, eat more greens, exercise every day). Consider these tips to be gentle reminders.

(Note: I should add that tray tables and arm rests are the most germ ridden spots on airplanes. Be sure to clean them with antibacterial wipes as soon as you take your seat).

Airborne illnesses

Travelers often complain about picking up colds or the flu after flying. I’ve certainly blamed the odd cold on fellow passengers. Confined spaces, reused blankets and pillows plus proximity to other people over the course of several hours mean exposure from breathing, coughing and sneezing as germs are released into the air.

A 2004 study in the Journal of Environmental Health Research revealed that 20% of passengers reported colds five to seven days after a two-and-a-half-hour flight. 

According to Mariana Calleja, M.D., founder of, “Touch is the most common way to get infected during air travel. For example, everyone without exception has some kind of contact with other people’s germs whenever they go to the toilet and grab the door handle, or when they touch seat heads as they walk through the aisle during flight, or when they are talking to a hotel’s front desk staff, exchanging documents and waiting with arms on the counter during the check-in process.”  Dr. Calleja says the simplest way to avoid infection is to wash one’s hands as often as possible.


By the way, it’s wise to monitor yourself for a few days after a trip because symptoms may not appear immediately.  Continue to hydrate and look for signs, such as digestive trouble, unexplained fevers or headaches, and skin reactions.

Proximity to others is the primary factor that causes germs to spread. There is a misconception at large that the recirculating air in the cabin is to blame.  A 2002 study by the Aerospace Medical Association concluded that there was “no evidence that organisms pass from one person to another through the aircraft ventilation system.”  Note that in newer aircraft 50% of the air in the cabin is recirculated and passes through filters that remove bacteria, fungi and most viruses.  The other 50% of the air comes from outside. These findings were corroborated by further studies in 2010.

So why do people get sick so often after concluding a hectic travel schedule? You got it—travel can imperil the immune system. As we’ve seen, you’re dealing with dry cabin air, potential fatigue and very close and continuous contact with a bunch of other human beings.  Your ability to resist infection, thanks to the strength of your immune system, will strongly influence whether or not you catch an infection on a plane.

A 1997 study in the European Respiratory Journal suggests that low humidity impairs your ability to resist germs because the mechanism that protects against colds slows down or stops when there is low humidity.  This would be your Mucociliary Clearance System which traps viruses and bacteria before moving them from the nose and throat to destruction in the stomach.  When dry, the mucus becomes too thick to be moved by the cilia (little hairs) that normally push it along.  The infectious bodies hang around and you get sick. This is another most excellent reason to stay hydrated.

© 2015 by Jayne McAllister

Mile High and Healthy: The Frequent Traveler’s Roadmap to  Eating, Energy, Exercise and a Balanced Life (Story Farm LLC)

Why Locally Grown Can Be Better Than The USDA Organic Designation

We are often asked if Sealantro Catering uses only organic produce in our meals, to which we respond that we use organic or local produce than has been grown to a higher standard than the USDA Organic designation. That’s the short answer! It’s an important topic and merits far more explanation, so here goes.

The USDA “certified organic” classification is an expensive and unsurprisingly bureaucratic process. Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.

Costs are high enough for small volume farmers. Irrigation, fertilizer and seeds are way more expensive than conventional.  (An ounce of organic, non-GMO cauliflower seeds can cost as much as $275).  Hence, many local farmers prefer to farm to their own standards that are higher than the USDA requirements, forgoing the government labeling.  This is truly a labor of love.  The work is manual and irrigation brings its own set of challenges but these farmers remain committed and maintain control of how their produce is grown.

Jan Pence, director of Florida Fields to Forks in Malabar, one of Sealantro’s purveyors, says “We go beyond what the government regulations require to certify a farm as organic.  Being certified organic is no guarantee that your food is pure and that you are not getting GMO foods, and that toxic pesticides and fertilizers are not being used.”

Florida Veggies and More is another of Sealantro’s preferred suppliers. The manager, Heather, agrees that there is a ridiculous amount of paperwork that accompanies the expense of USDA Organic certification. She adds, “Your hand selected local farmers have higher than organic standards. They are farmers, not accountants.

Happy Cows

When it comes to meat, we buy Florida raised. Steve Nettere of Okeechobee Farms is another character in the band of passionate, committed locals with whom Sealantro works. Okeechobee Farm’s Angus beef cattle feed on 100 percent living Florida grasses and legumes. Nettere claims that makes his operation the only authentic 100% grass-fed beef provider in the country since “virtually every other grass fed beef producer in the USA uses hay and silage.”  Most facilities cannot guarantee grass-fed year round. Because of the effects of winter on crops, grasses have to be dried. Nettere explains that Florida is different because the state is not impeded by inclement weather; hence the superior quality of local meat in the Sunshine State.

Pence’s meats (lamb, chicken, beef and pork) are all USDA inspected, approved for humane farming methods and certified by the American Grass Fed Association.

As strict as our local purveyors are about not feeding their cattle and poultry antibiotics and hormones, they are equally disciplined about the quality of grass on which their animals are pastured.  This means no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides; sensible pasture rotation, pure rain water and diluted seawater for minerals. Stock roam free and are killed humanely in a less stressful environment.

Many factory farmed cattle and poultry are trucked for days before being slaughtered, creating angst and stress for the animals. These emotions are present at a cellular level, just like they are for humans. Think about how your muscles tense when you’re afraid or stressed out because your sympathetic nervous system is telling you to be on guard.  This affects the quality of the meat; pardon the comparison but this is just as if you were being eaten by a lion at your time of stress.

At Sealantro, we say “you are what you eat eats” so choosing animals that have had the best diet possible and that have been kept in the most humane conditions is the healthiest way to go.

baby-broccoliAnother huge consideration for Sealantro is that many organic fruits and vegetables are flown or trucked in from other states or countries.  If you have environmental concerns, supporting local farmers and offsetting the impact of transportation will ease your conscience.  Fewer carbon dioxide emissions in transportation mean lower rates of asthma and other respiratory conditions, as well as decreased school absence days for children.

Per, the average American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the US. This makes sense if you’re eating pasta from Italy or kimchi from Korea but if you’re eating oranges from California when you live in Florida, it’s a little nuts.

By using local purveyors, we at Sealantro serve fresh, seasonal produce to impact the local economy and to support our agricultural communities.  We know the people that grow our food and we are honored to share the fruits of their labor with you.  In fact, we will be listing the purveyors of all the ingredients on our menus so you can get to know these wonderful folks too.

Welcome to Sealantro – Our Story

The Sealantro Story: Jayne Withers tells how it all started.

I had been running a successful weight loss program for several years, priding myself on getting clients into the kitchen and blowing the dust off their wooden spoons. Nevertheless, I was continually approached by participants who said that they loved the food and the recipes I was recommending but they didn’t have time for shopping and prep.

It occurred to me to offer meals as an optional part of the program. I was astonished at the response. Two thirds of the participants jumped right in. My only issue was how I was going to make this happen.  I knew my dishes inside out but with a full time coaching business and traveling for speaking engagements, I was in a similar predicament to my clients who didn’t have time to cook!

Michael was right there under my nose but I didn’t think of him. We had just started dating and he had a busy job, plus he’s from the South and I knew he had a penchant for biscuits and gravy. One day I made a pot of mustard greens with coconut and sweet potato.  A few hours later, I couldn’t find them. He’d wolfed the lot and said they were the best greens ever. I discovered that he likes spicy food and big flavors as much as I do.

Michael’s first healthy dish to prepare was quinoa tabbouleh, even though he had never used quinoa or had tabbouleh before. It didn’t matter. He has an amazing palate so it came out perfect and the clients loved it. That was it, he was hired – in more ways than one! Food definitely brought us closer together. We ended up sharing a home and a love of experimenting with regional cuisines. Our pantry looks like a cross between an Indian bazaar and an Italian market, with several other international stops in between.

Sealantro grew by word of mouth. We started to personal chef for clients with long term weight loss goals. I make sure the menus are healthy and Michael executes, bringing his flair and expertise to each dish. Our clients were happy with the healthy, delicious food and their weight loss results. In fact, in the group program, the clients who had us prepare food for them lost the most weight. And there’s no starvation, deprivation or counting of carbs, calories or fat units in any program I offer.

Before long, we were asked to do small events, including an afternoon tea. It made so much sense since I’m British. We added afternoon teas to Sealantro’s menu of services. They are a hit for showers and other small gatherings. There had to be a healthy option too, so in addition to a traditional afternoon tea menu, we created vegetarian offerings and our Tea-Tox which is vegan and gluten free.

Meanwhile I was approached to give healthy cooking demonstrations. I can talk about healthy eating all day long but I have the worst knife skills on the planet – as evidenced by my collection of Bandaids- so it made sense that Michael and I would team up for these events.  We created a series of eight classes that can be given in interactive or demonstration formats. We make them fun and everyone’s allowed to have wine – unless it’s breakfast.

We’re excited to watch Sealantro grow.  We know that many people in this community want to eat healthily but they have busy lives and don’t always have time to “shop, chop and cook.” We’re looking forward to helping them out.

If you are interested in hiring Sealantro to help you eat healthier, please write to us at or call 772-713-7730.

UPDATE: Jayne and Michael joyously married on June 24th, 2019. Sealantro continues to grow as does their love for each other.