It’s #MouldyMonday redux!
Up today is kueh pie tee (first pic). In the second pic are a shiny but roughly-finished new pie tee mould with sharp top edges, and a taller vintage mould with bevelled top edges and much smoother facets.
Pie tee have a curious name and a mysterious background. I theorise that they derive from ‘patty shells’ made with American ‘patty irons’ or ‘timbale irons’. These date back to at least the early 1900s, likely originally brought to the US by Scandinavian immigrants. Forged by metalmongers such as Wagner, Griswold, Hirco (fourth pic, found on eBay) and Mrs Wheelock (fifth pic, ditto), they usually came in sets with other mould shapes, often floral ones, hence their other name, ‘rosette irons’. “Patty shells” were mentioned in our local newspapers as far back as 1936. Pic six is a recipe for them in the 1958 edition of the YWCA Malaya cookbook: in the same year, the Singapore Free Press paper mentions a “kwei patty iron” as a boon for the well-equipped kitchen. Pic seven is of Susie Hing’s ‘kwei patti’ recipe from her cookbook of 1952, In A Malayan Kitchen. Both recipes boast distinctly Anglo-style fillings, whereas Peranakan kueh pie tee filling is near identical to the pork-prawn-bamboo-bangkwang (yambean, jicama) braise wrapped into Nyonya popiah. These thin-skinned crepe rolls, like their cousins Filipino and Indonesian lumpia, descend from a Fujian dish.
So how might these cultures have collided? Perhaps an enterprising Nyonya took a cookery class at the YWCA – which began around 1914, by the late 1930s spanning even Russian and Japanese cuisines – learned how to make patty shells, and then had the brainwave of stuffing them with popiah filling. Perhaps the idea soon caught on and spread: it was certainly well known here by the 1950s - the Straits Times cites pie tee being sold at a Wesley Church fundraiser in 1954. Indeed, a 1978 New Nation piece mentions Joo Chiat’s Kway Guan Huat selling white and egg popiah skins, plus “”kway pie tee” cups (crispy patty shells)…eight cents each.” National Monuments Board, may I suggest for your consideration a statue dedicated to this Unknown Nyonya? You know what shape it could be.😄