Pies are making a long-overdue comeback – helped by a growing band of independent pie makers who are transforming the variety and quality of this satisfying British staple. We present ten of the top pie purveyors throughout the kingdom.
A good pie is a wonderful thing: a neat, compact, flavoursome package of goodness that can be savoury or sweet, hot or cold, accompanied by custard or chips. Londoners will claim the only way to eat a meat pie is with mash; northerners may declare that you can’t get a decent one south of Stoke. But all over the country we’ve found pie makers who pride themselves on their pastry and their fillings. We’ve rounded up some of our favourites.
1. Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies
Some are adamant that it’s not a proper pork pie if it’s not made in Melton Mowbray but, with a clutch of awards under her belt, North Norfolk-based Sarah Pettegree might reasonably beg to differ. Mincing the meat not too fine (no offcuts are used) gives her pies the heft that tells you you’re eating something really meaty, and the addition of a little cured bacon imparts a nicely smokey note. Aiming for a British version of charcuterie with her pies, she makes many varieties of pork pie, reflecting what’s in season: port and apple, pork and wild garlic, and pork, prune and brandy for Christmas.
2. Paul’s Pies
Repeatedly disappointed by the poor standard of pub pies served with his pints, Paul Sykes decided to take matters into his own hands, and started making pies in the kitchen of his home in rural Oxfordshire. Two years later he has garnered accolades from the Great Taste Awards and British Pie Awards for fabulously crimped pies packed from locally sourced meat and homegrown veg encased in a traditional suet-crust pastry. Take your pick from venison and mushroom, steak and Guinness, or the Christmas pie, which is filled with layers of free-range sausage meat, turkey, bacon, double cream, onion and chestnut stuffing, all topped off with cranberry sauce.
Pieminister’s vans are a familiar sight at summer music festivals, and the queues testament to the excellence of their fare. Based in Bristol, Pieminister is the brainchild of Jon Simon and Tristan Hogg, who started making pies to sell ten years ago. Funnily enough, the idea that eventually led to their venture came to Jon Simon when he was working in a pie and mash van in Sydney, Australia (pies are big Down Under). Pieminister’s pies are encased in two types of pastries: an all-butter shortcrust on the base, and suet pastry for the lid. Their creations have cheekily punning names, such as Kate & Sidney (steak and kidney) and Pietanic pie (MSC-approved smoked haddock, salmon, pollock and prawns).
4. M Manze
Though frequently associated with northern England, pie (and mash) is a good Cockney tradition, instituted and upheld by Manze’s since the present owner’s grandfather, Michele Manze, first set up shop in 1902. The Tower Bridge Road outlet is the oldest pie and mash shop still standing in London, complete with original Victorian-style tiling. You might baulk at that other old London staple, jellied eels, but do treat yourself to a good “pie shop” pie, accompanied by mash and liquor (green-coloured sauce). Yours for around £3.50.
5. Tom’s Pies
Tom Cull’s handmade pies are legendary across the West Country – Darts Farm and River Cottage are among his fans – and their fame is spreading all the time. Based near Exeter, Tom makes his pies with a fine, buttery pastry, and fills them with the best free-range and farm-assured ingredients. Every batch is small, to ensure it’s a truly artisanal product. In spite of winning many awards, and being sold from the august deli counters of Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, the Tom’s Pie has the hearty and unpretentious soul of a real British pie.
6. Manchester Tart Company
In the north, eating pies is the rules. Mother-and-daughter team Ann Taylor and Clare Hillyer started out by making Manchester tarts when they couldn’t find a caterer to supply an authentic version for Clare’s wedding day. Since then they’ve expanded their pie range to embrace other regional favourites, and a couple of inventions of their own – look out for Fidget pies, Chorlton Clangers, Lancashire hot pot pies, and Cumberland rum Nicky. “Pies are a timeless food, which is why we like doing them,” Clare recently told Lancashire Life. Their Cumberland mutton pie recently won them a place on the Guild of Fine Food’s 2013 list of Top 50 UK Products. The “mutton flavour sings along with the mushroom,” enthused one judge.
7. The Pie Kitchen
After a friend complained that it was impossible to find a decent pie in the south of England, Suffolk-based Carol Phillips and Sally Lewis considered the gauntlet thrown down and decided to prove that such a thing was more than possible. They exceeded even their own expectations, and earlier this year their chicken, Chantenay carrot and bacon pie beat off competition from 983 other pies to win them the title of Supreme Champion at the British Pie Awards. Pretty impressive for an enterprise that’s only been going a couple of years.
8. The Real Pie Company
The Hornby family were Surrey-based artisan butchers, and customer demand for their pies became so great that 13 years ago they decided to open a dedicated pie kitchen. Today, the pie-making is led by Brett Hornby, who still uses the traditional family recipe and skills to make pies that are crammed to the crust, either with slow-cooked, locally sourced, tender meat, or good chunks of fruit. It’s not all tradition, though: among the classic steak and ale, and chicken and mushroom, there are also more experimental flavours, such as chicken balti.
Turners have been making pies since the 1930s and, with some justification, lay claim to making the best steak pie in England. The family-run baker’s steak and Stilton pie triumphed against stiff competition at the English meat trade’s Best Steak Pie Competition this year, the judges declaring the pie’s balance of blue cheese and beef to be “spot on”. By sticking to longstanding techniques and recipes handed down through the family – always making the pastry from scratch, and only using the most succulent beef and chicken available – these Bognor-based piemakers live up to their family motto of “Quality and Tradition”.
Cornish pasties weren’t good enough for Trevor Shea and Mark Carne. They wanted pies, and good pies, at that. So the Cornwall-based duo applied their self-confessed cantankerousness, and 30 years’ partnership in food (particularly patisserie) to the task of giving the West Country decent handmade pies. Using ale from Penpont Brewery, locally sourced meat and vegetables, Grumpies have also won the Harrods mark of approval.
Read the article in full at Flavour