Ah yes, the butter pie: talk about a pie which divides opinions.
My personal opinion is that they are pleasant, but I’d always rather have a bit of meat in there if possible.
For the uninitiated, this is a pie made with butter, potato and onion. In much the same way as Friday is “chippy tea” day, the Butter pie was conceived as a way for all good Catholics to get a filling meal on the days when eating meat was forbidden. Good Friday, therefore represents the Holy Grail of all Fridays, if you’ll pardon the pun.
It’s origins appear to be in Preston or at least within Lancashire and I have written previously also about the “affordability factor”, namely that the pies around here are usually generously filled with potato mash and pepper and only sparsely populated with mincemeat, due to the expense, in a tradition that holds to this day.
Whereas the concept of a “butter pie” can repulse some people, even down the road in Wigan, as it sounds a bit too sickly, it is still much revered by Prestonians and the surrounding areas as a traditional treat. There are lots of bakers in the Lancashire areas, who are fine exponents of this delicacy including Galloways, Bowens and Rounds.
Today I’m sampling the Greenhalgh’s Butter Pie which costs £2.50 and, whereas Greenhalghs’ pies aren’t the cheapest, they are always of a very generous size. They also do a nice line in one off quirky flavours and a range of tasty soups too. A hefty vat of soup used to be my regular order from the Greenhalgh’s van that used to come to my office at lunchtime. Oo remembers offices, hey?
Anyway, the pie consists of a solid, shortcrust pastry with a soft, almost lattice style top crust. Inside, you will fine plentiful, large slabs of potato, laced with butter, seasoning and a bit of onion in there.
The best compliment I can give here is that it didn’t feel like there was something missing and it is intensely rich and filling, plus it keeps you in the good books, down at the local church.
The details You can pick up Greenhalgh’s Pies from their shops across the North West or in Booths supermarkets. (Like you need an excuse to go to Booths!!)
There I was, nervously sat in a deserted pub car park, unaware of the experience that lay ahead. I had been told to wait, flash my lights twice and a stranger would come over. Oh, hang on, wrong blog!!
Thing is, that’s not far off the truth and, it is a sight that has become commonplace throughout the hospitality industry over the past year. The world has changed immeasurably in the years, since I began gallivanting around the country eating pies. These days, the pies have to come to us. Which is why I find myself sat in the car park of The Crown pub and restaurant on a Thursday evening. Waiting for my tea to be delivered into the boot of my car.
That tea is being provided by the phenomenon that is BALDY’S PIES!! I’m loathe to use that word “pivot” but that is exactly what has happened in order for Baldy’s Pies to be created, as two chefs have turned their hands to producing sensational looking and tasting pies. Now, pies in Wigan are two a penny as most of you well know, but we tend to specialise in the cheap end of the market. A pie is what you have for dinner (lunch, Southerners) as a snack not necessarily for tea (dinner!!) unless it is perhaps served as part of a larger meal.
Baldy’s emerged a few months ago and have quickly built up a cult following of over 7,000 fans on Facebook, by knocking out the sort of exceptional flavour and taste combinations that wouldn’t look out of place in a Michelin starred restaurant. Do they serve pies in those sort of places? It’s out of my price range, so I guess I’ll never know.
Anyway, as it is British Pie week, they have gone back to basic with meat and potato, steak and Guinness and cheese flavoured pies, albeit they have added a gourmet twist to them, as you can see from the menu.
In previous weeks, they have delighted us with such flavour combinations as Big Jim’s Braised Shin of beef, bone marrow, confit shallots and pistachio. Or marinated and chargrilled chicken thigh Balti with spiced onion bhaji crumb. Coq au vin pie! Pork Lasagne Pie! Roast Dinner Pie!! A Shepherd’s Pie but with ACTUAL PASTRY SURROUNDING IT!! This last one alone could revolutionise the pie world, and not before time.
I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks and try some of these but for now let’s talk about their meat and potato pie. Or should I say Braised Steak, confit duck fat potatoes and thyme pie!!
WARNING: This is going to contain superlatives. I should point out that Baldies haven’t paid me for this review, I gladly paid them and would do so again!
The pies come in perfect packaging (all recyclable) but that gorgeous pastry smell is still managing to permeate through the well crafted box. I actually feel a little nervous about assembling the ingredients on a plate in order to do it justice with my cack handed photography work.
The pie is of a decent height and diameter though, and it comes with a pot of gravy and two tubs of mash and marrowfat mushy peas. There’s a bit of gravy in the bottom of the box, so I dab my finger and I am mesmerised. Is that syrup? Or a chocolate stout? It is so sweet tasting. It is actually what seems like a bottle of red wine, but it does the trick!
The crust holds it’s shape well, has a stunning, golden sheen to it, and a sticky soft texture in the mouth. The mash is soft and buttery with crispy onion crumbs on top, and my good lady wife declared it delicious.
I know it’s probably wrong to say it but I can take or leave mushy peas but despite still being in their casing, they are incredibly soft and melt in the mouth so easily and pleasantly.
Now to the interior, and this is unlike any meat and potato pie I have had before. For a start, it is definitely meat and potato, and not potato and meat, as many bakers have been told to rebrand!
It is generously packed with tender beef, slightly pink but so succulent and tasty. There is some potato in there but not so much as to take any detriment away from this from the high ratio of quality steak.
Of course, there is moisture on the plate in the form of peas, mash and gravy but even inside, the meat alone is sufficiently juicy to make your mouth water.
Once I’m in there and eating, I find it particularly difficult to stop and the whole plate is cleared in minutes. Not because it was a small portion but because I am ridiculously greedy. That and the fact it was soooooo good!!!
I don’t call myself a food critic but I suppose I should look to find some constructive criticism, in the interests of balance but I am struggling to find anything with the food itself.
I did ask for a Wigan Kebab (see above menu) and got a meat and potato served as a meal. I also think it would help if the boxes were labelled as I got a steak and Guinness pie too and cheese and onion and I had to guess which was which (though the cheese and onion was pretty bloody obvious!!)
Even so, these are mere administrative trivialities. These boys are getting their food spot on first and that is by far the most important matter.
Also, as I’m sure someone will point out, of course these pies are not cheap. But for £10, you a getting a meal, prepared not by a baker or a butcher but by two award winning chefs, whose many culinary secrets I can’t divulge. I think I’m safe to mention that the delicious gravy I mentioned takes two whole days to cook though!
Everything is prepared to perfection and I can only see Baldy’s going from strength to strength.
Give them a try if you live near or in Wigan, British Pie Week might be coming to an end but it’s always pie week in Wigan!! PS Their desserts look something special too.
No, not Dawson’s Creek! Crust!! Anyway, it seems that after a few years’ closure, the legendary Dawson’s Bakery from the Leigh / Tyldesley / Atherton side of the Wigan Borough of Greater Manchester (written as such because both Wigan and Manchester will want to claim these pies as their own) has now re-opened.
Look, let’s cut to the chase here. Dawsons just make brilliant, traditional pies. They were one of the first pies I had to really blow me away. Their wares encapsulated everything I was looking for. A quest to capture the pies of my childhood, which you used to be able to smell wafting out from every corner bakery when I was a nipper in Wigan.
The peppery kick and free flowing juices in both the meat and meat and potato may take some adjusting to if you’re unfamiliar. A spicy, messy, fiery affair with the meat pie in particular, likely to result in hot molten jelly spitting out over you, the second you tip the pie up to put it into your mouth.
For now, I just wanted to share the first picture above. I used to take pics with a proper digital camera (well, a proper cheap one) before phones got mega-pixelled. I got gradually better as the quest rolled on. But this picture, well if it’s not a full on work of art, it is certainly highly visually appealing on the eye *proud face*
The NEW Dawson’s Pie shop is now open at 108A Market St, Greater, Atherton, Manchester M46 I’m also told that you can get Dawson’s Pies from their old premises in Hindley, now called Flapjacks and situated here: Chapel Green Rd, Hindley, Wigan WN2 3LL
Fill your boots!
You can find hundreds of pies like this in Life of Pies, a 380 page book in search of the nation’s best pie. Click here: https://www.lifeofpies.co.uk/buy/shop/ to buy for just £4.99 plus P&P.
Maybe not, but what about beetroot IN A pie? Well, I’ve give it a go. Mate of mine, Paul (@NorthernCasual) has been testing out the pie range at the new butchers in Standish (Wigan) J McRobbs.
They have a great range of pies, including the aforementioned “Lobbies pie”. Lobbies is a form of Hot pot without the crust on top, except in this case, it does have a crust. In fact it is fully encased, and inside there is a layer of beetroot atop of potato slices and mince meat in a juicy stock?
Why beetroot? Well, I remember having beetroot regularly as a kid alongside my hotpot, and red cabbage is another popular alternative. I also was keen on the pickled onions option as well, but my favourite part of hotpot was of course, the crust.
Paul has kindly sent me a picture of the Lobbies pie and a lamb and mint pie (looks like a belter too!). I will be nipping along shortly to test these out for myself.
This was the second pie I reviewed in Life of Pies, and being within a mile or so from my house, it is a pie that I have sampled many times before and since. At the time, I was operating incognito, with not even my good lady wife aware of my plan to eat hundreds of pies, therefore the need for discretion was paramount.
Let me put this out there: Muffin Man make great pies. However, being based in Wigan means that they are situated in one of the most cut throat pie markets that there is. Maybe I was a little bit harsh at the time, but they are certainly a good match for a Galloways or a Bowens on their day.
The Muffin Man Meat and Potato Pie
It’s highly probable that blood has been spilled over the debate as to who makes the best pies in Wigan. Or pie gravy at least. This is why the question needs answering. Not a week goes by without some 500 reply thread on Facebook over whose pies are best in some of the more feverish Wigan Facebook groups. There is real passion and dare I say anger over this at times, like when Italians get talking about football.
There are people who swear by the Muffin Man. Plus it’s in my village so giving it a shit review will see me ostracised by my local community and earn me the nickname “that pie wanker”.
Going to keep it simple and local for now. First, lay the trap:
“Right darling, going getting my hair cut, then I’m getting some petrol. Fancy a pie for dinner?”
It needs to be a local one given we’re going out for the afternoon and I’m still operating incognito but there are some big hitters within the confines of WN6. I don’t want to crown a king in the first few pages but I envisage at least one or two Champions League places for Wigan pie shops when judgement day arrives.
The beauty of this land of ours is that you can be anywhere in the country by lunch time if you get up early enough but, just for today, my local pie shop will have to do.
When I was a kid growing up in the Springfield area of Wigan, there were at least four pie shops within a few hundred yards of my house. I’m left to lament D&J Wilcock, Lyons and the Gidlow Bakery, however the Muffin Man of my childhood, remains intact on Park Road.
It’s a traditional bakers with several branches in Wigan. As the name implies they do lovely, fluffy muffins in packs of six. These are known in Wigan as barmcakes. Known elsewhere as cobs / rolls / baps / teacakes / breadcakes and the source of pithy regional internet arguments everywhere.
There’s also pasties, chunky steak pies and breakfast items, and chicken and mushroom pies, the latter of which I often decline, on the basis that I refuse point blank to eat anything that grows between your toes. This is a phobia I will have to conquer in the coming months.
For today, I manage to procure the last three meat and potato pies on the shelf.
“Put some more pies in, these have run out”
It’s barely eleven in the morning! Only in Wigan!
Purveyor: The Muffin Man Premises: Wigan Purchase: Large meat and potato pie £1.35
Place: 8 Brisk and brusque, the Wigan pie woman in action is truly an art form to admire Pastry: 9 Firm enough that the crust doesn’t crumble in any way, yet softer than the dulcet tones of the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny. Heavenly. Presentation: 6 Not very warm but this was acknowledged Package: 8 Densely packed potato bound with mince in a mash. Heavier on the potato than meat but plenty in there Palate: 8 The mince is pinkish but deliciously tender and it is a proper Lancastrian pie with sloppy potato filling oozing all over Price: 8 Two options to serve different appetites works for me Portion: 8 I mean who on earth orders a small pie when there’s a large one on the menu?
OVERALL: 55/70. I’m parked up at the side of the road, whilst talking into my phone like an Apprentice candidate. A paperboy walks past looking at me oddly, as I narrate this review Partridge-style. As I said: Pies are serious business. An early contender.
The finer details: The original review took place on Saturday 21st January 2012. (where did those nine years go!) I have eaten enough of these subsequently to verify the above account, and yes, they are usually served piping hot. They also do a lovely line in pork pies with accompaniments, such as pork with apple, black pudding or chorizo.
Current pricing (January 2021) Potato and meat pie £1.85
As you can see, I am slowly in the process of adding the hundreds of pie reviews I captured over the years. If you don’t want to wait a while, you can read all 314 reviews in Life of Pies for the bargain price of just £4.99 & P&P here
Time for another North West fave, although as with Turners Pies, Bowens Pies now serve the whole country.
I didn’t know much about them, when I started my research in Life of Pies, just that they had supplied the pies for the annual Wigan Pie Eating awards. Little did I know that both then and now, they supply a large number of pubs and shops throughout the Wigan area and beyond.
Although based just outside Wigan, in nearby Adlington, they have built up a wide distribution network across the town, in a classic “coals to Newcastle” stunt. But trust me here, Bowen’s pies are every bit the Wigan pie and I was taken aback by the quality when I first tried them. Since then, I have used them for numerous functions, including my first book launch and the cover of the draft for my new book, also features a platter of their produce. Magnificent isn’t it?
Anyway, let me take you back and set the scene, way back to my first time in August 2012….
116. Bowen’s Meat and Potato Pie
It’s 25 degrees outside and, whereas it might be splendid weather for a jaunt around middle England, there’s no bloody way I’m sitting in a car for four hours with the family in tow.
So I’m checking out Bowens of Adlington. I chanced upon them mainly because I saw a van go past me the other day. I also noticed that they were the suppliers for last year’s World pie eating contest (held in Wigan obviously!)
Their website features gratuitous full frontal minced beef and potato pie photos with no 9pm watershed, and they also do their own steak puddings, another fine Lancashire delicacy. I need to refrain from making any disparaging comments about Adlington or its’ natives however, as my wife teaches there.
A brief canter up Chorley Road, past the infamous Duxbury Park golf course, where I once shot an impressive 120. I took so long to go around, that they’d shut the place by the time I finished and I had to get a taxi home wearing my golf shoes. I wouldn’t mind but I’d cheated on a number of holes too.
It’s heavy going on the roads, due to the sheer volume of middle aged fat blokes, wobbling down the road on flimsy looking bicycles. It’s as if a local lad has just won the Tour de France or something!
Bowens is across the road from Babylon Lane, not on it, hence ruining my attempts to do a poor gag about Babylon Lane being paradise. (Ed’s note: they have also moved premises since)
Nevertheless it’s bright blue sign draws me across the busy road like a tractor beam. A little girl playfully blocks my way and refuses to let me gain ingress to the premises, until a big fella with protruding teeth, presumably her dad, tells her to “gerrout road!!” I blame the teachers myself!! Whoops!
There is a huge, high silver counter, dominating the shop, containing a myriad of products and a handful of staff in aprons, beavering away in white pork pie hats. Service is brisk, just as well as I’m on double yellows.
Loads of choice of pie fillings, although I select my accompaniment from the rack of Lancashire crisps on display which includes Salt and Ellseys vinegar (an old traditional Wigan vinegar company) and Bumble’s favourite, Lancashire sauce flavour crisps.
The pie? Oh yes, it’s a blinder!!
116. Purveyor: Bowens Premises: Adlington, nr Chorley Purchase: Meat and Potato Pie £1.19
Place: 8 Polite and brisk Pastry: 8 A sturdy, solid shortcrust Presentation: 8 Even with the window fully down, it still smells lush in my car and is still piping hot 30 minutes later, when I tuck in Package: 9 Huge, uncompromising slabs of golden spud concatenated with lots of flowing meat and juices Palate: 9 Hits the spot from the first bite, with a hint of pepper but natural flavour pouring out too Price: 8.5 Good price and great value Portion: 9 Possessing both width and girth, I mean depth
OVERALL: 59.5/70 Exceptional, we are truly spoilt around these parts. At the risk of sounding parochial, whoever’s written that top 10 pies article on the MSN website is talking out of their arse (Editor’s note: This was eight years ago, so I’ve no chance of finding it!) and needs to spend the day around the North West scoffing a few of these beauties. A truly phenomenal pie and the crisps were fantastic too.
The finer details:
The original review took place on Saturday 11th August 2012. Bowens continue to grow and thrive as a great pie business, in fact putting up this blog is making me want to jump in the car and drive to Adlington.
You can buy their pies online HERE or pop into their shops if you are local. Popular flavours include steak, pork, cheese and onion and that old Lancashire favourite, the Butter Pie.
Current pricing (December 2020) A Bowen’s meat and potato pie is just £2.00 if you pick one up from the shops
So as I move from the old to the new, I thought it might be useful to rehash, er, provide content to the site by putting my entire works of Life of Pies online. It’s not like I haven’t still got hundreds of copies in my shed to sell (nudge, nudge, on sale for a fiver HERE)
I will probably work through the book logically but for now, I thought I’d throw in one of Wigan’s finest as nobody should have to wait two years for this to be represented in any Good Pie Guide…
Galloways Meat and Potato Pie
There were other pie shops in Wigan before Galloways popped up in the 70’s. They were by no means the first, but their pies capture the flavour and spirit of the Wigan meat and potato pie from days gone by.
As it stands, they now have a sum total of 24 shops in and around Wigan. There’s even a rumour going around that they have branched out as far away as *takes deep breath* ST HELENS.
So nowadays, you can barely visit a shopping precinct in Wigan now without seeing the garish turquoise header, black Galloways lettering and their ubiquitous little baker logo assigned to a shop front. Walk out of Wallgate station and you more or less walk into one. It is the first thing you see (and smell!) What a town!
Galloways have expertly filled some of the void left by the shutdown of several fine traditional Wigan bakers and much more importantly than that, they make amazing pies.
They are generally regarded to be the best in Wigan (although we may well challenge that theory throughout this quest). They are a real force to be reckoned with yet despite their success and growth, they’re still a very localised brand.
As I arrive in Standish, every third person seems to be carrying their uniform green bag of goodies. From glammed up yummy mummies wearing wraparound shades, fresh from their weekly spray tan, to doddery pensioners with tartan shopping trollies and as I turn the corner the queue is spilling out into the High Street.
Waiting time is around three minutes, just enough for me to survey the scene: Galloways is always a very open kitchen, with entrance doors almost as wide as the shop itself and a counter working it’s way all around the shop.
In front, is a wide expanse of pie display including several racks of potato and meat pies (called meat and potato in the meal deal above, I know it’s the regulations, bah humbug!) but anyway what that means is you can get pie, peas and gravy for a couple of quid.
There are cheese and onion, chunky steak, minced steak, party meat, pork pies, chicken and mushroom, butter pies, pasties, turnovers, sausage rolls and on it goes. There’s an impressive range of sandwiches and cakes, usually including a festive or topical theme such as Halloween or Christmas. My notes tell me that when I scribbled this review in August 2012, they were doing a fetching line in Bradley Wiggins gingerbread men, complete with novelty sideburns.
I get served and as I walk out past the dry cleaners, where the shop owner is stood outside, getting some fresh air, away from his sweltering machinery. He spots my beaming little face with a pie in my hand.
“You’re going to enjoy that pie aren’t you lad?” Yes, I am my friend. I certainly am.
107. Purveyor: Galloways Premises: Wigan Purchase: Potato and Meat Pie Place: 7 SHE ASKS ME TO REPEAT MYSELF!!! Shocking! I expect that if I’m down south but in Wigan?? My Wiggin accent is hardly the broadest but if anything that should help. Mildly offended here Pastry: 9 Beautifully soft but never soggy, with the trademark peepholes in the top, which dried gravy and filling gently oozes out of. Despite this flexible exterior, they can usually be easily eaten by hand without the contents slopping out. Presentation: 8.5 An orgasmic smell and a volcanically hot foil tray Package: 9 Rammed full of mashed potato and mince, which attacks me head on as I bite into it Palate: 9 An explosion in the mouth of peppery meat and potato mush which never disappoints. You just have to try this pie once in your life. Price: 7.5 There are perhaps cheaper pies in Wigan but you certainly get what you pay for as this is a quality offering Portion: 8 Deceptively large in that it’s a semi-plate pie, which is wider at the top than the bottom
OVERALL: 58/70 Bar well and truly raised. Galloways simply produce a winning formula which is loved by the dozen by the ravenous locals. Britain’s best? We’ll see!
The finer details: The original review took place on Saturday 4th August 2012. I have consumed dozens more Galloways pies since then in order to verify the accuracy of the above.
Current prices (December 2020)
Potato and meat pie £2.20 Potato and meat pie with peas and gravy £2.75 PIE BARM!!! £2.70