When you visit Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in Melton Mowbray, they always have the stella triumvirate of geographically protected classic pork pies (D&M, Mrs King’s and Walkers) on display. However, they also have a range of other speciality pies.
I once picked up a creamy chicken and white pie for just a quid which was fantastic, and of course, they also have all kinds of pork plus something else pies.
Today’s therefore is a pork and pickle (?) pie. What type of pickle? I have no idea. Let’s call it Branston. I don’t know if this is accurate, even upon tasting it, as this particular type of pickly accompaniment isn’t really one of my go to preservatives. Nevertheless, let’s see what this portable Ploughman’s Lunch (dinner!) brings to the table.
I take the pie out of the fridge and let it settle before homing in on it. It’s not Branston pickle at all, it is more of a fruit based topping. The sweet, chutney style topping is tangy, with apples, berries and possibly a few sultanas and a bit of spicy kick on the follow through. The absence of a pastry top crust, however, presumably renders it ineligible from its own Melton Mowbray based pie award.
Inside, there is the familiar, coarse, greyish pink sausage meat, encased in a thin layer of jelly and an even sided hot water crust. The combination in the mouth of mildly peppered pork and fruit layered topping is a winner for me. And whether this type of pie is your go to flavour and style or not, you can’t help but admire the craftsmanship.
The sad part about refreshing my database, as I continue to collate my new book, is finding out that so many fine, traditional bakers have fallen by the wayside. Sure, new entrants have come along. Lockdown, in particular, for all it’s drawbacks, has given lots of people the chance to seize an opportunity that they might never have taken, to don an apron and try their hand at a career change.
With me working from the beginning, I am finding that the landscape has changed considerably in ten years and East Manchester in particular has suffered from the closure of two giants of their time. We join this tale just after I had visited The Crusty Cob and was heading towards Westwell’s Bakery. One time supplier of tater hash to FC United when they were still at Gigg Lane:
Westwell’s Meat and Potato Pie
Wow! I’m beaming away like a small child in Openshaw Matalan car park, being observed closely by a fag toting security guard, who is probably wondering what the hell I’ve got to be so pleased about on a drab Saturday morning.
But there’s more! I make for the Openshaw/Droylsden border down a side street which is tail to bumper with erratically parked white vans, full of blokes stuffing their faces. Hello hello, what have we here?
Westwells, home of previously mentioned Tater Hash, is a corner plot and very rustic inside. Sandwiches, pies and two pans of peas and gravy and a fridge full of cans. No price list and when she orally presents the bill for my purchase, I am inclined to clean my ears out…
Premises: Droylsden, Manchester
Purchase: A meat and potato pie for EIGHTY FIVE PENCE
Place: 8 I’m kept waiting a while as the hi viz gentleman in front orders his sides of peas and gravy but the old girl behind the counter quickly shouts her co-worker for assistance in a lovely Mancunian accent, so deep it makes Barry White sound distinctly soprano
Pastry: 8 A bit crumbly, but again distinctly home made, with a teasing little peephole in the middle
Presentation: 8 The foil tray is so furnace-like, it appears to be burning a hole in my hand, but the smell of gravy emanating from inside, means this pie is destined for a quick larruping
Package: 8 Intensely full inside, easy on the eye with potatoes that are so sodden with gravy, they’re dark brown in colour
Palate: 7 The spectre of the tater hash rears its ugly head again (on a previous trip to FC United world renowned food critic, Orrible Ives of the Norley Hall estate in Wigan, decreed the tater hash “dry and tasteless” – nor did he pay for it the ungrateful bounder!) It was a touch dry in parts, however the divine softness of the filling compensates for a slight lack of flavour
Price: 9. I repeat: EIGHTY FIVE NEW PENCE
Portion: 7.5 Slightly raised in the middle in order to accommodate more content
OVERALL: 55.5/70 A splendid price and a great looking pie but the (arguable) lack of seasoning only enforces the suggestion that you might want to team up this little cracker with some peas and gravy.
The finer details:
The original review took place on Saturday 28th January 2012. I have since discovered that, just like The Crusty Cob, Westwell’s has also pulled it’s last pie out of the oven a couple of years ago and the premises have now been converted to flats. Sad times but fond memories!
Happy New Year! I found myself in Bakewell with family over the festive season, of course the kids wanted to bring back some Bakewell Tarts. No, not Bakewell puddings and I know that is sacrilege in local circles.
I picked up a couple of pies, to be reviewed later but also on our mini tour de Bakewell (toy shop, sweet shop, full English at a café and the Tart shop) I also spotted Ginger Butchers, or more importantly, their strapline which read: “speciality pork pies sold here”.
I made my excuses and left the wife and children for a minute, only to find a queue of a dozen people inside. Foiled at first attempt but thankfully when I passed by again a few minutes later, the queue had subsided.
As you’d expect, it is a busy establishment with cooked meals and meat galore but it doesn’t take long for me to hone in on the pie selection. There are steak, meat and potato, chicken and mushroom and what appears to be stilton topped pork pies. I have decided I just want a pork pie and spot a picnic pie, individually sized and priced at £1.95.
However, after placing my order I spot the larger sharing pork pies for £3.95 and upgrade to one of those instead. It feels like a house brick in my hands, but hey it’s Christmas and you’ve got to have a big pork pie at Christmas, it is the law.
I take it home and choose to eat it from the fridge after letting it settle for twenty minutes or so, and it takes a big old knife to cut through it’s considerable depth. The crust is an even, golden colour with a solid, well cooked shape and base to it.
Inside there is a decent layer of succulent jelly inside the casing and the meat is chewy but still tender enough to melt in the mouth. The filling style feels a little bit hybrid, between the refined style preferred in the North of England but also a bit untextured and coarse as favoured in the Midlands, the Melton Mowbray style. I suppose that makes sense given the location of Derbyshire. There is moderate seasoning but the overwhelming flavour is that of savoury sausage meat, which goes down great with the crust and jelly.
In retrospect, I am a bit envious upon looking at their website that I didn’t pick up a Huntsman’s Pie instead but the traditional pork pie is still a lovely product and highly filling.
To this end, after polishing off half of it, I decide to eat the other half the following day but I decide to warm it up in the oven for ten minutes or so. I’ve been around this debate many times, the old hot versus cold pork pie and my conclusion is that ideally, the pie should be served whilst cooling from the oven and eaten promptly. Perhaps wait until you get out of the butchers first though.
This method has been used to score highly by many a butcher such as Burchall’s of St Helens, Stanforths of Skipton and Percy’s in Barnsley. I defy you to name any more pleasurable experience in life than the sensation of hot jelly dribbling down your chin.
If you are reading this page, there’s a chance you have an interest in pies. You might also be looking forward to the forthcoming publication of the Good Pie Guide, which will feature over 1,000 great places across the country where you can buy a pie. (best guess late next year or early 2023, it seems a while off but hey doesn’t time fly!)
This all started for me ten years ago, when I hatched upon the idea of reviewing the pie shops I knew and doing a diary about it. It was originally meant to be a Good Pie Guide but I opted for a travelogue style journey instead. Most people who have bought the book absolutely loved it, but it did kind of slip between the genres of food / travel / adventure on a wider scale, so yes I still have copies left. The trials of a self publisher eh?
As part of the new book, I am revisiting the 300+ places I visited mainly to check whether they are still trading and how they have evolved. Sadly, quite a few haven’t, which is no surprise during these trying times but plenty are thriving, and of course they will feature in the new book.
The Good Pie Guide will also feature hundreds of new or previously undiscovered butchers, bakers and candlestick makers (well, undiscovered by me anyway) and I will be expanding my taste buds to capture new and exotic flavours.
As with Life of Pies, I am not going out there to savage places, I am not a food critic. I am just a daft lad from Wigan who writes about stuff and likes pies. If an independent pie maker gets a bit of positive press off the back of it, then good luck to them.
If you are a pie maker, and you would like to be included in the next volume, please get in touch and we will talk pies!
In the meantime, if you want to read the previous instalment, where I scour the country eating 314 pies in search of the best, then Life of Pies makes a cracking read or an even better gift for the pie lover in your life. It is around 380 pages and costs just £4.99 plus P&P. (RRP is £9.99 I should add)
You can buy it from the PIE SHOP at the Life of Pies site.
If you’ve already got it, then thanks and I will look forward to sharing more details on the Good Pie Guide as it evolves next year
This was another pie, picked up for me by my good mate Paul, which was procured from the superlative Tebay Farm Shop.
Their range of pies is truly impressive and you will have to check out their website to get the full experience here. Suffice to say, that many of the ingredients are sourced locally in the Lakes, or bear the name of local landmarks.
I was given the option whether to go for the game pie (Swindale Wild Venison, Pheasant and Rabbit Pie to give it it’s full name) or one of the more traditional ones and the above beef and ale pie won the day.
It is very well packaged, in a layer of cling film and a paper tray and has a very distinct, soft rectangular shape to it.
The pastry aroma coming from the oven is rich and satisfying and upon pulling it out the oven, the pie pastry doesn’t completely come away from the container, but I am pleased to see it is wholly encased with sweet, crumbly pastry inside the layer of cardboard.
Upon opening her up, I am hit with a solid layer of thick, prime steak, layered on the edge with dark mushrooms. I’m not the world’s biggest mushroom fan, but you can barely taste them, when I finally dive in. The primary flavour is the fruity ale soaked gravy, marinating the hefty chunks of meat.
The beef is tender and the pastry is overwhelming buttery and that makes for a pleasant melt in the mouth combination, with a fantastic flavour coming through.
All in all, a sumptuous tasting pie and I can’t wait to try out one or two others in their range as part of my book research
My apologies for the interior pic, I tried to do one of those clever “stacked” photos that those new age hipster Instragram pie makers do, but it didn’t quite come off. Sigh, I’m always learning….
The finer details
Review date: 11th December 2021
Price: £3.20 for the Blencathra beef in Ale Pie (online price, stockists may vary)
Address: Unit 16, Blencathra Business Centre, Threlkeld Quarry, Blencathra, Keswick CA12 4TR
I recently found myself in St Helens (not in that sense) and with a rumbling tummy, it felt like there was only one place to divert myself towards.
Burchall’s produce one of the best pork pies in the North West, if not the country (they came joint top in Life of Pies, sharing the spoils with Hopkins of Birkenshaw and Percy’s of Barnsley) Not only that, it is a local institution, so I felt obliged to check that it was still alive and thriving, several years after my first visit.
I turned up just after 1.30pm, with Saturday being an early closing at 2pm but I was delighted to see the proprietor, John Burchall, behind the counter and a tray of fresh pies in the window.
There were two people in front of me inside, one lady in front was ordering two pork pies because, in her words “I’m going out for a few scoops to the Mason’s later and I love scoffing these when I get in later”
Amen to that!
I order two pies because one is never enough, with the current price being £1.80 and devour one of them immediately in the car.
Now, these pies are famously served hot out of the oven and barely have the time to cool down before they are swooped up by their ravenous patrons. However, with this being later in the day, the pie had cooled a bit, so I didn’t suffer the glorious phenomenon of hot molten jelly dribbling down my chin or shirt sleeve. I managed to get the second pie home without eating it, at which point, I popped it in the oven for ten minutes to get the full “cooling from the oven” experience.
The pastry is, of course of the hot water variety: thin but full flavoured and tender, with jelly glistening inside and out. The meat is grey and pinkish but exceptionally soft and juicy to bite into, with a peppery kick to it. The signage on the walls is keen to point out that the meat content is much higher than the accepted pie standard.
It is another one, like the Scotch pie, where you are best served turning the pie on it’s side to eat by hand, as the crust lip is crunchy compared to the soft top crust. This also helps maintain the jelly on the pie, and if any does fall on to the plate* then you can use the edge of the pie to mop it back up.
*And if you don’t have a plate, unlucky! A trip to A&E awaits!
This is just a beautiful pie, made to a recipe that never changes and is loved by locals and occasional visitors alike. This is, in essence, everything I went searching for in Life of Pies and am now looking to follow up with in it’s sequel.
Long may Burchalls thrive, continue and prosper.
The finer details
Date: 20th November 2021 Price: £1.80 for a pork pie Address: 24 Westfield St, Saint Helens WA10 1QF Website/social media: They don’t do that kind of thing!
I bought these a while ago and was that underwhelmed that I never bothered to pass on this information. My guess is I bought them in June to coincide with the Champions League final, given the branding
I like crisps almost as much as I like pies, beer and hot curries, so I felt duty bound to give them a whirl.
To be fair, it says on the packet, that it contains flavouring only, not any actual pies. It would be quite the trick to manage that in the first place. However, seeing as the content is in a fully encased package, then it is perhaps more of a pie than some of the barely pastry-clad sights that come across my timeline on a daily basis. DON’T GET ME STARTED AGAIN!!
Upon opening the bag, I get a faint whiff of what Walkers used to call Steak (Beef?) and Onion, with not quite the kick of a chargrilled steak Max product. The crisps are golden coloured but lacking in any visual signs of seasoning.
The crisps are of standard Walkers size (I find them a bit flimsy these days compared to some of the posh, gourmet crisp makers out there but they are still the market leader, so why change a traditional brand?)
I suppose at this point, there are only three tests:
Does it taste of: a) Steak b) Ale; and c) Pie To which the answer would be yes to a) (sort of) but no to b) and c)
1 out of 3 is 3.33 out of 10. Maybe you should of stuck to making pies, Walkers? You didn’t know they made pies?
That’s a story for another day, or one to read about it in Life of Pies
Having said all that, I’m a sucker for trying a new crisp flavour, so I don’t want to be too harsh. In fact, I’ve just seen they are doing a beef madras flavour. I’ll be having some of that. Only problem is that, if they aren’t very good like this flavour, I’ll get bollocked for sticking the other bags in the kids’ lunchboxes….
Oh and PS, I don’t normally pour a bag of crisps on to a plate before eating them, what on earth of a monster do you think I am??
After our recent pie judging trip to Melton Mowbray, we decided to see what else the town has to offer in pie form, in addition to the “famous” Dickinson & Morris pork pie.
There are several other independent pie makers in the town, and two of them in particular, are very highly regarded in their own right. Myself, and my cohort Chris, decided to pay a visit to the noted pie makers, Brockleby’s on our way back from Melton to see what they have to offer.
As if to underline, the importance of pastry around these parts, Brockleby’s actually offer pie making tutorials at their premises, and they also sell a wide range of pies, which you can buy in person or online for shipping across the country.
I think you’d have to take a look at their website to get the full details of flavours and combinations that they produce, but if I was to sum up their range in one word, it would be diverse.
I’ve just had another look since my visit eight weeks ago, and it has changed dramatically again, most noticeably the addition of a Christmas themed reindeer pie (venison) and a range of Greek and Moroccan inspired flavours.
They are also one of the few bakers to really take on the fish pie theme to it’s proper conclusion and actually put fish into a fully encased pie crust, with salmon pie and a “Penguin pie”. Made with haddock and cheese, I should add, not penguin.
I picked up a range of pies on my visit and whacked them in the freezer when I got home. Of the two larger, plate pies I bought, I gave the lady of the house the choice between The Northerner (meat and potato) and Cocky Leeky (chicken and leek) for tea tonight, and she chose the former.
It feels only right that a man of my credentials, brought up in the meat and potato pie capital of the world should roadtest their Northerner minced beef and potato pie at the earliest opportunity, in any case, so here goes.
The Northerner Pie by Brockleby’s
The pie comes in an attractive, decorative box, giving details as to the origin of the ingredients and suggested cooking instructions.
The pie is deep, circular and very heavy in the hands, with a beautiful, golden egg glaze brushing the pastry lid.
It takes a full fifty minutes to cook from frozen but it’s not long before the sweet, lardy pastry flavour starts to permeate out of the oven and around the kitchen.
Upon removal, the pie is scorching hot and it is filled to the brim. From my perspective, it makes the “double flip” required to get it out of the tray and on to a plate, quite challenging. So forgive my cack handedness in the photo, and take my word for it, that this pie is jam packed with filling.
The contents are high quality, tender meaty chunks of mince, soaked in stock, onion and a bit of garlic. Kind of feels like a cottage pie type filling and Emma commented that there didn’t seem to be a lot of potato in there. Of course, her point of comparison is with the Wigan meat and potato pie, which is generally all potato and a bit of meat. The traditional North west meat and potato were actually forced to rebrand a few years back, because they were mainly potato and a bit of mince or mutton.
The ratio in this pie is strictly the other way. This pie is absolutely rammed with meat and dark gravy that has soaked into the filling and turned the potato chunks brown. I should add that my missus is not a big meat eater but I am certainly not going to complain about a high meat content and both the flavour and the texture were a delight.
As this was a proper tea, I added some chips coated with chardonnay vinegar and sea salt and a load of veg, and I was absolutely stuffed at the end of it. In short, half a pie of this size was enough for me, but obviously I could have tackled the full monty.
This was certainly a very decent appetiser for the Brockleby pies to come and I look forward to consuming and reviewing them in due course.
Sadly, this is one from the archives, from a place that is no more, yet it was one of the favourite pies I had whilst on my previous mission.
They were another Maurice Twomowers recommendation, similar to Slatterys but of the four pies I had that day, this was by far the best. Sadly, the Crusty Cob ceased trading a few years back. It now appears to be a kebab shop ☹
In any case, I’m still going to share my review of one of the finest pies ever made. To all the young entrepreneurs out there, making visually gastronomic pleasures, with all manner of daft flavours. Well, why not try and make these hand made, odd shaped, leaking with gravy beauties instead. They might not garner the same level of Instagram likes, but bloody hell they tasted amazing and they will fly off the shelves if you can make them half as good.
The Crusty Cob Meat and Potato Pie
On to Ancoats and the irony of Man Utd lads sending me to one of their hidden treasures situated in the shadow of the Etihad isn’t lost. Though technically this is where Manchester United started off, back when they were just a bunch of workshy railwaymen, who’d rather kick a ball about than stoke a steam engine, with no grand designs on Premier League domination.
I drive through part of the “Shameless” estate, finding it relatively genteel, after having gone through much gentrification in recent times and arrive in Beswick Street. The Crusty Cob sits in a secluded row of shops, perched on a hill, which runs down to the stadium.
It’s well kept and I’m queuing up trying to ascertain the menu. Manchester is firmly meat and potato country. There’s meat pies and potato pies and meat and potato pies, all of them look homemade and delicious as I tune in to other people’s orders. The fella in front orders 12 [twelve] meat and potato pies and six cream horns.
Purveyor: The Crusty Cob Premises: Manchester Purchase: Meat and potato pie £1.22 Place: 6.5 Queuing system a bit of a mess Pastry: 9 Home made, impeccably soft, short crust pastry, made to perfection. The crust is the first thing you see and I can’t take my eyes off these beauties, from the second I walk into the shop. A quite simply stunning uneven top crust. Presentation: 9 A real looker, highly distinct. More importantly, it’s piping hot with more steam coming off it than an irate Popeye. Package: 9.5 Fantastic dark gravy spilling out and wrapping up a crowded filling of meat and potato chunks Palate: 9 Dark, mysterious and opulent gravy coating steak and potato which has a remarkable freshness about it Price: 8 I endorse the fact it’s £1.22. It implies they are resisting the lazy option of whacking the price with all their might in multiples of 5 or 10. Putting the customer’s pocket before their own ballache of handling masses of coppers Portion: 7.5 Average size but great volume
OVERALL: 58.5/70 Equally as suitable for an Arab sheikh or a humble railway worker. I’m beaming away like a small child in Openshaw Matalan car park, whilst I’m being observed closely by a security guard on a fag break, who is probably wondering what the hell I’ve got to be so pleased about on a drab Saturday morning.
The finer details: The original review took place on Saturday 28th January 2012. The owners of the Crusty Cob retired in 2018, after 47 years service. As an aside, I got friendly with the owner and his son, a year or two after I published the book. I was working in the Northern Quarter at the time, and faced with a shed full of books to sell, I finally answered my phone to a tabloid press agency, who wanted me to do a feature. There was only one place to go for a (reluctant) photoshoot.
My face ended up in the Daily Star, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail (I know) and, far from the spectacle that getting your name in the paper or on telly used to entail, I sold a mere 30 copies of the book off the back of it. It hardly seemed worth it, but the hospitality from Dave and his son was second to none. They were genuinely proud that their pies were one of the best out of the 300+ I sampled, and even sold the book in the shop for several years. Which of course, gave me any excuse to return again and again and sample their lovely pies.
My mate, Paul aka Northern Casual found himself in Glasgow again recently. I received the following message:
“I’m going to a butchers/deli nearby, on their website it says they sell homemade steak pies so if they’ve got some in, do you want some to try?”
Is there ever likely to be a negative answer to this question from your correspondent here?
Murray’s Butchers and Deli is in central Glasgow, The Gorbals in fact and produce a range of pies and meats to suit all tastes and appetites. Now, there’s lots of places out there that claim their produce to be home made. The pedant in me, could point out that even this was made in a SHOP.
However, what happens when a steak pie is ordered, is that they go out the back and MAKE IT!!
What I received back from Glasgow the next day was a slightly flattened oblong tray with a large over hanging short crust pastry. Oh, yes and it was completely uncooked.
What to do here? I decide to go with my time and tested “20 minutes at 180 degrees in the fan oven” with a view to extending it to 40 minutes if I don’t think it is ready.
Twenty minutes later and what I thought was shortcrust is actually puff pastry. It is golden coloured and rising nicely. The pastry is wafting through my kitchen and I decide on another ten minutes (as I can’t see the meat).
On the 30 minute mark, all seems good so I pull it out and start to examine. There is a foil tray underneath, and a sheet of tin foil, so what’s going on here then?
What is going on here is the oddest pie set up I have ever come across! It is essentially a “do it yourself” pie.
I carefully extract the pie from the foil tray and only the puff pastry crust drops out. I then peel back the layer of tin foil and there lies a portion of prime steak and gravy.
And that is it! Put that one back together!
It feels like some kind of elaborate April Fool’s joke. For all the good it is, I may as well stick it on a barm Wigan-style!
I decide to put the crust on the plate face down with the meat on top so the pie is upside down and get a knife and fork. I struggle with the taste of metal on metal, you see, and can’t cope with a fork touching the foil tray.
Whereas there are only two pieces of meat, they are indeed prime cuts of steak. Soft and juicy and easily broken up into four of five chunks and surrounded with a few blobs of rich gravy.
Now, you know what is coming. The pie purists, of which I consider myself one, would not deem this to even be a pie, due to it’s lack of full encasement in pastry and there is no getting away from this.
I still find it quite a novel and enjoyable experience however. So, in the interests of balance, I reached out to my good chum, sweary stand up comedian and Glaswegian, Barca Jim, to ask if this is a common tradition….
He has previously told me that they do make pies in Glasgow where the steak and gravy are just loaded into a big foil tray and then pastry is crimped over the top, it is indeed a traditional steak pie, or as I would call it, a stew with a lid. He did at least give me the liberty of sending me a decent one.
By the way, here’s one Jim sent me earlier:
Now, THAT does look good, fully encased or not…..
The finer details
Date: 8th September 2021
Price: A small steak pie costs £1.95, they also do scotch pies, bridies (pasties) and larger pies but I cannot vouch for the structure of them.