Saturday 31 May 2014

M&S Fish & Chip Pie Review

Marks & Spencer Fish & Chip Pie

You may have seen in the news that Marks & Spencer have released a Fish & Chip pie. It has captured people's imagination to combine two British classics.  I was pleased to finally find one of these on the shelves of my local Marks, it seems that they must be quite popular as I have found them in short supply.

Let me remind you what this actually is, a shortcrust pastry sides and base filled with pea puree and cod in a tartare sauce topped with chips. A mouth watering prospect which in principle seems great, but you may be wondering if it is all just a big gimmick. Who better to answer that than the world's leading pie review blog (that is us by the way ^'_^).

Not A Gimmick

I will get straight to the point and say that I thought this pie was delicious, for the most part. There was ample, thick, creamy tartare sauce. The shortcrust pastry was crumbly on the outside and gooey in the middle, near on perfect. The fish was flaky and light. The pea puree was also a delight and a hundred times nicer than any I have ever had in a fish and chip shop. At first I though that there wasn't going to be enough fish but the balance between fish and peas seemed to work. They hadn't gone all out to replicate the fish and chip shop experience because no batter was involved in this pie.

Is A Gimmick

The chip lid was completely pointless, the chips somehow managed to be both burnt and raw at the same time. It would have certainly tasted much better if it had a pastry lid. Also, this meant that when I cut into the pie some filling burst out the top, if it had a pastry lid this would not have happened. It also means that it does not meet our definition of a pie because it is not fully encased in pastry. It is perhaps a pie of sorts or a close cousin of a pie but it certainly lacks what it takes to be a proper pie.
Another aspect which made me think this is just a gimmick is that it is made from Cod rather than a more sustainable fish option, I thought Marks were very into their sustainable fish policy (however, I am sure this is relatively sustainable for cod, if that is possible).

Overall I have decided that this pie is a gimmick, but at the same time it is a very tasty gimmick. I loved the filling and pastry, but it was let down by the unnecessary chip lid. If Marks did a version fully encased in pastry it would achieve a Pierate Recommended award for sure, despite a price of £3.50 for a relatively small pie (295g). However, as it is, I just didn't feel like I was eating a pie so didn't think it could merit a rating against the 7 C's as we normally do. It just didn't seem right without a pastry lid which I think is more important than pastry sides and base. But M&S do have a good range of proper pies, why have a look at our 'Have M&S Got the Pie Factor?' series to find out which are the best or why not look at our pie rankings to find a proper pie which includes other fish pie reviews?


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Friday 30 May 2014

Tom's Pies With a Gorge-ous View

Tom's Pies at Avon Gorge Hotel - Steak & Ale Pie Review

Tom's Pies are quite well know for their upmarket pies. We have reviewed two vegetarian pies by Tom before, the Spicy Cauliflower, Spinach & Lentil  and the Butternut Squash, Bean & Cheese. We found these to be great pies, both claiming the much coveted 'Pierate Recommended' award. We bought these in Selfridges which gives an indication of the quality of pie we are talking about here, not just any pies, they certainly fall into the 'gourmet pie' category.

As part of my pies for every meal challenge I took a trip to the White Lion Bar at Avon Gorge in Bristol. This was perhaps the most gorge-ous place I have ever eaten a pie, the view of the Clifton suspension bridge on a nice sunny day meant it was worth paying a bit more to gorge on pie at a pub. Not that this was a particularly expensive pie in my opinion.

As I ate this pie on the outside terrace, the sun was shining and everything seemed good with the world. I came away happy with the pie experience although it wasn't quite as good as I expected because I had very high hopes after eating the veggie Tom's pie. I assumed this would be better but actually, I think I preferred the veggie option which is unusual! But just how good was it? To find out watch the video below from Day Six of British Pie Week where this pie was eaten for lunch (from 3:03 minutes).

Condition - 5.2 out of 7 - The pie arrived in good style and held it's structure well but I would prefer to pour the gravy myself.
Colour - 5.0 out of 7 - Decent colour, although hard to tell with the gravy covering.
Cheapness - 6.0 out of 7 - It was £7.95 for pie and mash, plus £1 supplement for peas. I thought this was great value for a pub pie in a nice location. The pie was quite big.
Capacity - 5.5 out of 7 - The pie was quite tall so a good capacity. It was also well filled.
Chewiness - 4.5 out of 7 - Most of the meat was tender, unfortunately some were a little chewy and some of the meat was a little dry in the middle. There were some parts of the pastry which seemed a bit too thick.
Content - 5.5 out of 7 - The meat tasted great and the ale provided a nice sour-ness. It was good that you could taste the ale.
Consistency - 5.0 out of 7 - Overall this pie worked well as a product, despite some flaws. It would have been better had it not been soaked in gravy so the pastry was left with a bit of crunch.

Another well deserved 'Pierate Recommended' pie award for Tom's pies!

Steak & Ale (Tom's Pies at Avon Gorge Hotel)
Score: 5.24/7


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Thursday 29 May 2014

No Meat. Sans Viande. Niente Carne

Linda McCartney - Vegetarian Country Pie Review

During British Pie Week you may have noticed I ate a few pies, in fact, I ate pie for every meal and hence it has taken me a few months to catch up with all the reviews. Part of the challenge was to not put on any weight and so it occurred to me to try a vegetarian pie option as it was likely to have lower calories. We are not adverse to a meat free pie on the Pierate Ship, have a look at our list of vegetarian pie reviews.

However, I was a bit worried as I had a bad experience before with the 'fake meat' quorn pie. This is a shame because I actually like quorn! When I got a voucher for a box of four Linda McCartney pies in Morrisons I thought I should give it a go (normal price £2.50). This pie was eaten for breakfast on Day Seven of the challenge. See the video below for the review.

Condition - 1 out of 7 - I realised that I made a mistake not cooking the first pie in the foil case but the others all exploded too (but less badly).
Colour - 4 out of 7 - Not a bad colour, interesting idea to baste it before cooking.
Cheapness - 3 out of 7 - Not a great price, it works out at just over 60p a pie, but they were very small at 166g each.
Capacity - 3.5 out of 7 - For pies which were quite small, they had a good capacity, which was well filled and perhaps contributed to the exploding pies, but it was hard to tell for sure as the pies exploded.
Chewiness - 3 out of 7 - Despite not having any meat in the pies were still slightly chewy.
Content - 3 out of 7 - A decent beef and onion style taste but not as good as your average bakery.
Consistency - 2 out of 7 - The pastry was too doughy, the product didn't hang together well, not something I would buy again.

Overall not a great pie, it strikes me that if you want a decent vegetarian pie, avoid those that contain 'fake meat'.

Vegetarian Country (Linda McCartney)


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Tuesday 27 May 2014

Polly put the pies in and we’ll all have tea!

Polly’s Pies Chicken, Ham and Leek and Beef Shin pie reviews

Forget “Polly put the kettle on” – rather “Polly put the pies in!” For we recently had the opportunity to rate the wonderful Polly’s handmade pies as two of the Pierateers (RAS and SJL) met up for a pie rating. Beautifully packaged and posted to us via Turner and George, we sampled both the Chicken, Ham and Leek and 8 hour Beef Shin pies, both weighing in at a whopping 750g and therefore being eaten unaccompanied. These are the combined thoughts of both Pierateers, having sampled half of the pies each:

Polly's Pies Chicken Pie Review
Polly's Pies Chicken, Ham and Leek Pie Review

Chicken, Ham and Leek Pie

This pie is whole roasted, slow matured Herb Fed (Yorkshire) chickens and gammon ham glazed in homemade Seville orange marmalade, in a very simple white sauce with leeks and Turner and George's "Tasty Bird Rub" as seasoning. Bursting with creamy and leeky flavour, this pie certainly caught our attention. Coming out of the oven after the recommended cooking time, the pie was a lovely golden colour on top with clear layers of puff pastry. It was crisp and flaky to the touch, cutting through nicely and making the content ooze out as the knife went through the pastry. In hindsight though, the pie could have been cooked for slightly longer as the pastry base and sides were a little under done (so a bit doughy and stodgy), however this would most likely have been at the detriment of the delicious top pastry.

It’s a tough balance, but for me the pie was very much enhanced by the delicious crisp top pastry and while the base pastry was slightly underdone it had little impact on the flavour. This was primarily due to quite a big overhang of the top crust, which meant the crisp lid was a lot larger than the base of the pie. While this had potential to cause the pie to be too pastry heavy, this was not the case at all with Polly’s Pies, as the pie was crammed full of meaty content and the pastry:filling ratio was pretty much spot on.

Polly's Pies Chicken Pie Review
As mentioned, the creamy white sauce had plenty of flavour from the leek. Very viscous but not too much so. It was nice that they had used meat from the whole chicken, not just breast meat (although this may have contributed to RAS finding a little gristle in his half of the pie, which was surprising for such a high calibre pie). The addition of ham in large meaty pieces was welcome but didn’t add that much to the flavour, primarily due to the flavour of the creamy leek sauce. SJL found his half mainly consisted of chicken but wasn’t worried by this because it mainly seemed to be located in RAS’s half! However ideally the distribution of meat could be a bit more even. Overall this pie was very well filled and extremely satisfying. At £8.50 it was good value for a 750g pie which could serve a few people. The meat was in nice big chunks and seemed to be of good quality. One we would eat again.

Polly’s Pies Chicken, Ham and Leek Pie
Score: 5.84/7
[Colour 5.7, Capacity 6, Consistency 6, Condition 6, Chewiness 5, Cheapness 5.7, Content 6.5, Total: 5.84/7]

Polly's Pies Beef Pie Review
Polly's Pies Beef Pie Review

8 Hour Beef Shin Pie

Again, the beef pie was really packed with content. The beef was falling apart after being slow cooked for – yes, you guessed it! – 8 hours. It wasn’t in chunks, so much as shredded. It was great to be able to get your teeth into so much meaty content. The gravy is simply from the carrots, onions and bone-in beef shins cooked for 8 hours in chicken stock. Unfortunately it did leak out a little from the pie and the base of the pie was a little soggy. Perhaps a slightly less runny consistency would improve the pie, but we were impressed to see chicken stock (from the chicken pie, no less) had been used rather than beef stock, which gave it a much lighter flavour than most beef pies.
Polly's Pies Beef Pie Review

The buttery shortcrust the pie was cooked in was nice, quite crisp and tasted good, but was not as enjoyable in our opinion as the puff pastry used in the chicken pie. It didn’t cook as golden in colour and naturally wasn’t as flaky, struggling slightly to withhold the juices of the beef pie.

While we were impressed with the tenderness of the beef, the flavour of the pie due to the sweetness of the carrot and such a liquid gravy without so much flavour meant it didn’t stand out so much, but for the pure beef experience it was very satisfying. The carrot was perhaps a little too mushy and added an overly sweet taste to the content. Not quite as interesting to eat as the chicken as there wasn’t such a variety to the content and flavours, but the beef was very good.

Polly’s Pies 8 Hour Beef Shin Pie
Score: 5.28/7
[Colour 5, Capacity 5.75, Consistency 5.5, Condition 5, Chewiness 5, Cheapness 5.7, Content 5, Total: 5.28/7]

While we enjoyed eating both pies – and they were very filling! – the Chicken, Ham and Leek pie really stood out for us. A very high score and well worth our Pierate Recommended status! It’s quite amazing to think Polly has only been selling pies for a few months now, so thanks Polly for sharing them with us and we look forward to any other pies Polly may be having for tea!


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Saturday 24 May 2014

Going wild for Brockleby’s Beaver Ale Steak Pie

Brockleby’s “Wild Beaver” Steak and Beaver Ale Pie Review

Brockleby’s “Wild Beaver” Steak and Beaver Ale Pie Review

Brockleby’s “Wild Beaver” Steak and
Beaver Ale Pie Review

Before we go any further, the name of this pie has got to be clarified! After all the recent news headlines shocked at the production of squirrel pies by an exotic pie firm, we are not expecting people to give a dam about the meat used in this Brockleby’s Steak pie. For you won’t be gnawing into beaver flesh if you eat this pie – this is a beef steak filling and it is simply the Beaver Ale that is used in the pie that gives it the wild name. Phew!

So with that potential bombshell over let’s get on with the Steak and Beaver Ale pie rating! This pie was a present, provided to me frozen but defrosted before cooking and consumption. It is clearly a pie to be shared, with two large appetites well catered for by this pie and it retailing at the £6.50 mark from shops and farmers markets across the Midlands. You can also buy it online. Considering the quality of the pie and the capacity of good quality meat, this is quite a fair price for a pie for two (or three, if you share it out a bit more!)

Onto considering the content and the quality of the meat was very good. The meat was moist and very tender, not particularly chewy and flavoursome. Having said that, while the meat was nice and moist the pie did lack a bit of moisture in the pie filling, leaving me feeling a bit lacking in gravy. It didn’t help that – with some cracks in the pastry casing – this pie had leaked a bit during the cooking. However overall the meat, despite being just 35% of the ingredients, was the real highlight of this pie.

Brockleby’s “Wild Beaver” Steak and Beaver Ale Pie Review

Brockleby’s “Wild Beaver” Steak and Beaver Ale Pie Review

The rest of the content – consisting of quite a bit of onion and some mushroom and carrot – did make it feel like the pie was being slightly padded out, but overall the capacity of the pie was good. The ale gravy there was did taste good and for that, the Beaver Ale from local brewery Old Dalby did its job successfully.

The shortcrust pastry was quite firm and a bit too thick in places, leaving a slightly high pastry to filing ratio for the ideal pie, but the pastry generally held the content well. Despite a little gravy leakage through cracks in the side, the pie was generally presented well and one I would certainly welcome eating again, receiving Pierate Recommended status.

With the Brockleby’s Venison pie winning the “Other Meats” category recently at the British Pie Awards 2014 – and I am reliably informed that the venison pie contains exactly what it says on the packaging! – I certainly haven’t finished with their pies just yet!

Brockleby’s “Wild Beaver” Steak and Beaver Ale Pie
Score: 5.75/7
[Colour 5.5, Capacity 6, Consistency 5.75, Condition 5.5, Chewiness 6, Cheapness 5.75, Content 5.75, Total: 5.75/7]

Pierate is a pie review website charting a course to find the ultimate pie. For all the pies we have reviewed have a look at our Pie Rankings or find pies of a particular flavour under Pies: Categorised.

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Thursday 22 May 2014

Meltons Maketh Man

Sainsbury's - Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Review

During British Pie Week I enjoyed a couple of great Melton Mowbray pork pies as part of my pie for every meal challenge. It wasn't until after the event that I realised they were both made by Walker & Son. One was made for Dickinson & Morris and has previously been reviewed. The other was made for Sainsburys. The Sainsburys Melton Mowbray Pork Pie was eaten for lunch on Day Two of the challenge. See the video below for my thoughts.

You can see that I was fairly impressed by this effort. It was clearly different to the Dickinson & Morris version, despite being made by the same company. Eating both pies in quick succession meant I was quite certain that the Sainsburys version was inferior to the Dickinson & Morris. But the Sainsburys version was still very good but at only 10p cheaper I wouldn't choose this over the Dickinson & Morris. The one plus side is that it had slightly less calories than the D&M at 502 kcal compared to 542 kcal, but still not exactly a diet option! You might wonder how Melton Mowbray can Make so many pork pies, this is because they don't actually have to be made in Melton Mowbray but a large area around the town. See our article 'What is a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie' for more info.

Sainsbury's Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Review
Sainsbury's Melton Mowbray Pork Pie

Condition - 5.2 out of 7 - Looked good, but slightly less wholesome than the D&M. Still a classic Melton Mowbray appearance.
Colour - 4.9 out of 7 - A deep brown colour, but I prefer deeper.
Cheapness - 4.0 out of 7 - At £1.20 for an individual 140g Melton Mowbray pie this was decent value.
Capacity - 4.8 out of 7 - Stands tall amongst pork pies of this size and so had a good pastry to filling ratio. A small amount of air gap around the edge.
Chewiness - 4.5 out of 7 - There were some small fatty pieces. The pastry was nice and crunchy as a Melton Mowbray should be.
Content - 5.4 out of 7 - Strangely for a Melton Mowbray the meat was slightly pink on the outside (it should be grey). However it tasted nice and had enough seasoning, but I would have liked more. There was some jelly apparent around the edge. It was less granula than the Dickinson & Morris.
Consistency - 4.5 out of 7 - The filling was not as consistently good as the pastry.

Individual Melton Mowbray Pork Pie (Walker & Son for Sainsburys)


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Wednesday 21 May 2014

Pies: A Complete Guide to Everything You Need to Know

Do you know pies like the back of your hand? All pie makers and bakers, bloggers and butchers really need to have these pie facts up their sleeves to impress their visitors! 

Here at Pierate we thought we'd help out and put together the ultimate guide to everything you could ever need to know about pies. You'll become an instant expert on the history of pies, pies in popular culture and language, and also know more than a thing or two about traditional British pies

"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." 
David Mamut, Boston Marriage.

A pie crust holds some of the greatest things in life together. You can’t deny the attraction of a pie. Some compare it to a wrapped present – you can guess what’s in it from the outside, but you only know the true nature of the gifts inside once you’ve broken through the outer layer. The golden pie sits there, hot from the oven, with a glistening charm that melts the air around it. A dreamy puff of steam rises up through the centre and the smell of it pervades the deepest reaches of your senses. A bubbling ooze of gravy percolates through the crimped pastry edges. These are our clues to the secrets that lie within.

Did you know? Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens, 1835-1910) loved to eat pies, especially Apple Pie and Pumpkin Pie. He regularly ate Huckleberry Pie to help him through periods of depression.

History of Pies

The history of the pie is certainly intriguing. Not surprisingly, many countries lay claim to the first invention of a pie. However, some suggestions trace the history of the pie right back to 9500 B.C., where the ancient Egyptians during the Neolithic Period made pies out of oats, wheat, rye and barley, with a filling of honey. These early pies were then baked over hot coals. Drawings of ancient pies can be seen on the walls of the tomb of Rameses II, dated to be around 1250B.C. These ancient pies were also made by the ancient Greeks, who are said to be the inventors of pie pastry. Meat was encased in a flour-water paste, which was then cooked. Following the Roman conquest of Greece, pies were incorporated in the meals of wealthy and educated Roman families.

The first recipe for pie pastry appeared in a cookbook in 1545. The book was entitled "A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye, declarynge what maner of meates be beste in season, for al times in the yere, and how they ought to be dressed, and serued at the table, bothe for fleshe dayes, and fyshe dayes" (available here). It is thought that prior to the mid 16th century, pie pastry was such a staple of the English diet that the recipe for making it was taken for granted by many cookbooks of the day.

Pies recipes were taken from England to America following the European colonisation in America. It is said that George Washington, the first President of the United States, was a great fan of sweetbread pie.

Pies in Popular Culture


There are many phrases and sayings that include the word “pie”, such as ‘pie in the sky’ and ‘easy as pie’. The origins of these phrases are very interesting. Indeed, the origin of the word ‘pie’ is interesting in itself as it may have been derived from the word ‘magpie’, by notion of the bird’s tendency to collect desirable objects and put them in one place.

The phrase ‘pie in the sky’, to mean a false promise, was coined by Joe Hill in 1911. Joe Hill was born in Sweden but moved to America in 1902 where he became a leader of a radical labour organisation which urged workers to be industrious. His song The Preacher and the Slave included the phrase ‘pie in the sky’ in the following chorus:

"You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky [Way up high];
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die [That’s a lie!]."

Joe Hill, 1911.

The song was intended to be critical of the Salvation Army, who Hill blamed for lulling workers into becoming complacent by promising salvation in Heaven while continuing to suffer on Earth eating hay.

The phrase ‘easy as pie’ is derived from the works of Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens). Twain often referred to pie in his work in a positive light, describing people as ‘polite as pie’ or ‘nice as pie’. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Twain wrote “You’re always as polite as pie to them”. The usage of pie here is in reference to how easy is to eat, rather than to make.

Perhaps the most interesting etymology is in the phrase “to eat humble pie,” when one acts apologetically following an error. The phrase actually derives from “numble pie” (14th century) or “umble pie” (15th century), which was a pie that contained animal intestines and was eaten by the poorer classes. Samuel Pepys wrote about umble pie in his diary, writing on 8th July 1663: “Mrs Turner came in and did bring us an umble-pie hot out of her oven, extraordinarily good.” The word ‘humble’ is of Latin origin and its etymology is distinct to ‘umble’ – it just so happens that the words sound similar and are similar in meaning.

The phrase “Who ate all the pies?” may have first been sung in 1894 by Sheffield United supporters at a football match. The chant was directed at William ‘Fatty’ Foulke, the club’s goalkeeper, who weighed 140kg.

Pie Poetry (Pietry)

Pies also appear in poetry. The charming poem Cottleston Pie was written by Winnie the Pooh, the Bear of Very Little Brain. Here's one verse from it:

"Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie, 
A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly. 
Ask me a riddle and I reply 
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie."
AA Milne, 1926

On the face of it, the poem seems quite nonsensical, but the poem actually symbolizes a major Taoist principle. By answering each riddle with Cottleston pie, the pie is symbolic of the idea that “things are as they are” – the Taoist principle of “Inner Nature”. The simple message is that some things are the way they are because that is simply the way they are and we don’t need to know the reason why. Once we recognize Inner Nature, we can recognize that we have certain limitations and we should not cross boundaries that we are not designed to cross.

The following verse is from a humorous poem, Sky in My Pie, written by poet Roger McGough:

"Waiter! There's a sky in my pie,
Remove at once if you please,
You can keep your incredible sunsets
I ordered mincemeat and cheese."
Roger McGough

The poem is filled with a warm humour and eccentricity which is entertaining to both children and adults alike. Sky in My Pie, like Milne’s Cottleston Pie, is an example of a pie being used in nonsense poetry. It cannot be denied that there is a humorous connotation attached to pie, something which is further echoed in Edward Lear’s nonsense poem Calico Pie.

"Calico Pie,
The little Birds fly

Down to the calico tree,

Their wings were blue,

And they sang 'Tilly-loo!'

Till away they flew, - 
And they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me" 

Edward Lear (1812-1888)

Calico is a type of unbleached woven cotton, suggesting that a ‘calico pie’ was a pie made of fabric. The nonsensical nature of the poem is amusing, and the pie certainly seems to bear no reference to the rest of the work. Calico Pie, however, adds to the body of poetry which employs the unassuming pie to promote absurdity and wit.

The Pierateers have themselves written the occasional ode to a pie, including Memoirs of a Pie Addict, written by SJL. Memoirs was a sadly-true description of what it is like to be truly obsessed by pie. Pierateers in the past have also written about the tribulations of life on the professional pie-eating circuit. Difficulties include the obvious health implications of eating an absurd amount of saturated fat, the stress of choosing from an ever-expanding array of options, and the unappeasable feeling of never quite being full of pie.

The Pieku

A pieku is a haiku about pies - written in the traditional 5-7-5 syllable format with a pie theme. ARL wrote a pie review in pieku in January 2013, and piekus have also appeared in various forms around the Internet. The Rockbridge Pie Festival holds a pieku competition. Food and Wine has also held a pieku competition. Twitter is also a good source of piekus, with #pieku actually trending at one point last year.

Pies in Celebrity Culture

We've been keeping a list of celebrities who love pies. The list includes Warwick Davis, Miranda Hart and Barack Obama - alongside lots of other familiar faces.

Did you know? US President Barack Obama once used the word "pie" 15 times in 88 seconds in a campaign speech. 

British Pies

Here in Britain, we like to think our nation is the home of the pie! Here are two UK settlements that have a claim to pie fame:


wikimedia commons
The British ca-pie-tal city of pie is largely recognised to be Wigan, home of several pie manufacturers including Poole's Pies and Wigan Pies, alongside the World Pie Eating Championships held each year since 1992 in Harry's Bar. But this town has gained pie fame not because of the volume of pies Wiganers eat (apparently Wigan consumes the same amount of pies as the rest of the country), but because of the 1926 general strike in support of coal miners. All around the country, workers downed their tools for nine days, bringing the country to its knees. In Wigan, however, workers were starved back to work sooner than the rest of the country - in essence forced to eat 'humble pie'.

Melton Mowbray

This Leicestershire town, "the rural capital of food", is famous for its eponymous pork pie. The Melton Mowbray pork pie has Protected Geographical Indication status since it was granted by the European Union in 2008. You can read more about PGIs at Matthew Rippon's brilliant blog foodandgeography, including a detailed exploration of the Melton Mowbray PGI. Melton Mowbray has its own pork pie association, the MMPPA, which also hosts and runs the British Pie Awards (see below). There are currently 10 members of the MMPPA, which can call their pies 'Melton Mowbray'. You can read more about Melton Mowbray pork pies below.

Pie Contests in the UK

Two of the main pie contests in Britain are the British Pie Awards and the Scotch Pie Club Awards. The British Pie Awards 2014 were held on the 30th April 2014, and the winners can all be found here.

If you'd like to read more about the BPAs, you can read our guide to the British Pie Awards, which we judged at in 2014. You can also read our guide to the Scotch Pie Club Awards, where we were also judges. For more pie contests, here's a list of pie contests in the UK and around the world.

Traditional British Pies

The UK has no shortage of traditional pies. Here is a list of some of the pies you should traditionally be eating:

1. Stargazy Pie

wikimedia: krista
Stargazy pie is a traditional Cornish dish where fish heads poke through the pastry to gaze at the stars. The dish is served at the Tom Bawcock's Eve festival in Mousehole on December 23, where a large stargazy pie is paraded through the village in honour of Tom Bawcock himself, who once braved the storms to catch enough fish to feed the whole village.

2. Fidget Pie

wikimedia: Mick Knapton
Fidget pies are a traditional Shropshire dish thought to have been made for at least 400 years. The pie contains a mixture of gammon, onion, potatoes, cider and apple, and was a lunchtime snack of farm workers who could carry them while at work. The name either came from the original five-sided shape of the pie, or from the local name for a pole cat, 'fitchett', owing to the pie's foul smell during baking.  

3. Scotch Pie

A Scotch pie is, unsurprisingly, a Scottish tradition. The meat is often highly spiced minced mutton, though may be other meat. Scotch pies are commonly sold at football matches. The hot water crust often means the pastry is quite solid, making it easy to eat by hand. The pie is normally quite small, and the sides are often quite straight with a top crust placed lower than the rim.

4. Melton Mowbray Pork Pie

Melton Mowbray Pork Pies are a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), meaning that any pie calling itself a 'Melton Mowbray' must be made in a specific style and also within a predetermined area around the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray. Unlike regular pork pies, MM pork pies are not cooked in a case, giving them characteristic bowed sides and contributing to a deeper golden brown colour of the pastry. The pork filling is uncured and therefore greyer than other pork pies, which are pink in colour due to their use of cured meat. MM pork pies must also be free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. You can read more about PGIs and Melton Mowbray pork pies at the foodandgeography blog.

5. Macaroni Pie

cookipedia: sindandune
Like the Scotch pie, the macaroni pie is another Scottish classic. It is a traditionally an open pie containing macaroni and cheese, and made with hot water crust pastry.

6. Butter Pie

wikimedia: Hudson6dogs
This traditional Lancashire dish contains mainly potatoes and onions. Also known as 'Catholic pie', it is thought to have been created for the Catholic community who could not eat meat on Fridays. Butter pies are now back on the menu at Preston North End football club after Holland's Pies stopped selling them in 2007.

7. Pie Barm

wikimedia: chazzquire
Also sometimes called a Wigan Slappy, this is essentially a pie sandwich  - a meat pie slapped between two bits of bread.

Technicalities of Pie

What makes a pie a pie?

Oh, the age old question! Is shepherds pie a pie? Does a pie need a pastry lid? Is a ceramic dish topped with pastry a pie, or just a pastry-topped casserole? Is a steak and kidney pudding a pie? These are all relevant questions. Everyone will have their own definition of what is and isn't a pie. That's fair enough. Here at Pierate, we believe a pie is a filling totally and wholly encased in pastry (as per the British Pie Awards requirements) with a definable base, sides and lid. This definition would exclude pasties, sausage rolls, shepherds pies etc from being a pie. It would also exclude top-crust casseroles, pies with no lid and lattice pies from being a pie - but for the purposes of the blog we still allow these as pies. Incidentally, there is now a petition to make it a crime to call a pastry-topped casserole a pie!

Types of pastry

Classically, there are four types of pastry used in pie baking: 
  1. Puff pastry - light and flaky 
  2. Shortcrust pastry - does not puff as contains no leavening agent
  3. Hot water crust pastry - traditionally used for hand-raised pies, often for pork pies
  4. Suet pastry - similar to shortcrust but tougher, commonly used for steamed puddings
Filo pastry can also be used for pies, particularly for the lid.

Baking better pastry

flickr: Robert Couse-Baker
Experts at the University of California, Los Angeles, have looked into the science of baking the perfect apple pie, and have made a few suggestions for how baking the perfect crust can really be easy as pie (New York Times).

To achieve a lovely golden brown colour with your pie crust, exploit a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction. This occurs at high temperatures between amino acids such as proteins, and sugar molecules such as lactose, and it gives the pie crust its beautiful brown complexion. So brushing the pastry with something with lots of protein, like egg, that’s mixed in with a lactose-rich solution, such as cream, means you’ll promote these browning reactions.

To get the right crust texture so that the pie holds itself together but isn’t too tough, the formation of gluten protein networks is the key player. Flour contains two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, which form gluten when mixed with water. If your flour has a high protein content, when it meets water it will form quite extensive gluten protein networks which make the crust too dense and chewy. Using flour that’s lower in protein will make the crust more tender. You can also add alcohol (such as vodka) or vinegar to the mixture to prevent the formation of theses gluten network and get a tenderer, flakier crust.

Butter is really just water droplets dispersed in a fat matrix. When this water is heated, it turns to gas, filling your pie crust with air. This gives the crust a nice flaky texture. Butters can vary in their fat and water content, so using a butter with a lower fat content and higher water content should give a flakier crust. Importantly, however, butter also prevents flour from forming the gluten networks. Therefore you want to make sure that your butter pieces are small enough to be evenly distributed throughout the dough and mop up all the dry flour before the water is added, but don't forget to also add some larger butter pieces to form nice air bubbles and keep the pastry flaky.

There's so much more to pie than meets the eye.

I hope you've enjoyed this complete guide to pie, thanks for reading. Have you got some useful pie information and interesting facts to add? We have (literally) hundreds of pie reviews and other pie-related treats on our blog - why not start with the Pie Rankings or the Treasure Map to find a top pie near you? We're also on Twitter! @pierateers

continue reading "Pies: A Complete Guide to Everything You Need to Know"

Greggs - More Than Meats The Pie

At Pierate we are generally quite confused and annoyed by Greggs the Baker. National chain, they are everywhere but why don't they sell more pies! What a waste of shelf space giving it to pasties and slices! But, interestingly we have managed to find a Greggs pie being sold frozen in Iceland. Now we know why Greggs don't normally sell pies, it was pretty poor, not good value at all. This pie was eaten for breakfast on Day Six of British Pie Week as part of SJL's pie for every meal challenge. See the video below for the review.

More than meats the pie? Not really, it was as bad as it looked. The bits of meat were small but still somehow managed to be chewy. It was far too shallow, perhaps because Greggs only know how to make slices. At £2.50 for a 250g (small) pie this is best avoided. Unless of course you are interested in the high calorie count (800 kcal) or the undisclosed high salt content.

greggs pie

Condition - 4.5 out of 7
Colour - 4 out of 7
Cheapness - 1 out of 7
Capacity - 2 out of 7
Chewiness - 1 out of 7
Content - 2 out of 7
Consistency - 1 out of 7

Minced Beef & Onion (Greggs)


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Tuesday 20 May 2014

I am Mad About Pies

Mad About Pies - Pie Reviews

We eat a lot of pies on the Pierate Ship. Most of them are nice enough, but with such fierce competition it can be hard for any of them to stand out. But just occasionally we come across a pie, or pie company, which we fall in love with. It might just be the little things they do which make us smile, such as special flavours or beautiful presentation. The pies don't have to be perfect, but when it is true love the faults just don't seem to matter for some reason. When you start day dreaming at work about a particular pie then you know you've got it bad. This has happened to me recently. I think I am mad about Mad About Pies.

In January we reviewed the Phil Vickery & Mad About Pies Wild Boar & Cider pie, giving it 'Pierate Recommended' status. It then went on to win a Gold Award at the British Pie Awards 2014, which it thoroughly deserved. In British Pie Week SJL visited the home of Mad About Pies at the Farmers Boy Inn in Gloucestershire. The pie there was so good we have been unable to decide just how high we should rate it until we have a second opinion from another Pierateer (so stay tuned). In the meantime we have picked up some more of the Mad About Pies retail pies to review. See below the three pies, all from the Martin Blunos range. All these pies looked fantastic with writing on the top describing the flavour, similar to the Phil Vickery version. They have shortcrust pastry for the sides and base and a puff pastry lid, a great combination in the opinion of this reviewer. They came out of the oven a delicious, mottled, golden brown Colour. The pie lids all had some scoring across the top, it almost seemed like the Content was trying to burst out of the pie.

Steak & Blue Cheese

First up is the Steak & Blue Cheese which had a delicious content. Owner Phil Kiernan says he loves this pie and I can see why. Blue cheese can add a lot of flavour to a pie filling but it can be difficult to get the balance right, often the flavour of blue cheese is over-powering. But in this case the amount was perfect, really complementing the Steak.

Condition - 5.8 out of 7 - These pies all looked great, although for this pie the shortcrust pastry sides collapsed slightly on cooking.
Colour - 6.8 out of 7 - Great colour to the lid and filling.
Cheapness - 4.5 out of 7 - These cost around £3 which is a standard price for gourmet pies. Not overly big at 270g but with quality steak it is good value.
Capacity - 5.8 out of 7 - Quite tall but collapsed slightly on cooking making it hard to tell if there was an air gap. Good filling to pastry ratio.
Chewiness - 6.9 out of 7 - The slow cooked meat was melt in the mouth. The crispy lid and gooey sides provided a nice contrast in texture. The blue cheese made the whole pie lovely and moist.
Content - 6.3 out of 7 - Meaty and cheesy, this pie was a flavour sensation. The meat was in big chunks which couldn't fail to satisfy. I would have liked more meat but I was possibly just being greedy.
Consistency - 6.8 out of 7 - All the elements of this pie were good. This pie worked fantastically as a whole, the crispy pastry being kept moist with the running filling. Fully deserving of 'Pierate Highly Recommended' status.

Steak & Blue Cheese (Mad About Pies with Martin Blunos)

Steak & Ale

The steak and ale was another great pie, quite similar to the Steak & Blue Cheese but lacked flavour when compared it's blue cheese counterpart.


Condition - 6.0 out of 7 - These pies all looked great, this one held it's structure a bit more so it might have been down to cooking time.
Colour - 6.7 out of 7 - Great colour to the lid and filling.
Cheapness - 4.5 out of 7 - These cost around £3 which is a standard price for gourmet pies. Not overly big at 270g but with quality steak it is good value.
Capacity - 5.8 out of 7 - Quite tall but there was a little air gap at the top. Good filling to pastry ratio.
Chewiness - 5.9 out of 7 - The slow cooked meat was melt in the mouth. The crispy lid and gooey sides provided a nice contrast in texture. Unfortunately the texutre of the sauce was a bit runny.
Content - 4.5 out of 7 - Large meaty chunks which are great to get your teeth into. It was pleasing that the taste of ale was clear throughout the pie, however it lacked the flavour punch that the blue cheese version had.
Consistency - 4.5 out of 7 - This pie worked well as a whole, although the flavour could have been more intense. It is a pie I would buy again so it is fully deserving of 'Pierate Recommended' status.

Steak & Ale (Mad About Pies with Martin Blunos)

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato

Lastly was the vegetarian Butternut Squash pie, I have nothing against vegetarian pies but they seem to be more difficult to get right.

Condition - 6.0 out of 7 - These pies all looked great, this one seemed to hold it's structure.
Colour - 6.8 out of 7 - Great colour to the lid and filling.
Cheapness - 3.5 out of 7 - These cost around £3 which is a standard price for gourmet pies. However, with no meat in could this pie be cheaper?
Capacity - 4.7 out of 7 - Quite tall but there was a sizable air gap with this pie, but there was still a decent filling to pastry ratio.
Chewiness - 3.5 out of 7 - The filling was not at all chewy but it was a little too mushy, some of the veg provided a bit of bite but it really need more crunch.
Content - 5.8 out of 7 - The flavour and variety of the content was actually where this pie did very well. It also contained celery and parsnip which added some interest. For flavour there was plenty of onion, garlic and other herbs which worked really nicely. The content was sweet, but not too sweet.
Consistency - 3.5 out of 7 - This pie really did taste nice but didn't do enough to make a non-vegetarian want to buy it again. It didn't quite work, but almost. That said, it was nice for a change.

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato(Mad About Pies with Martin Blunos)


Pierate is a pie review website charting a course to find the ultimate pie. For all the pies we have reviewed have a look at our Pie Rankings or find pies of a particular flavour under Pies: Categorised.

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Monday 19 May 2014

The Legend of Dickinson & Morris

Dickinson & Morris - Pork Pie Review

There is a legendary pie company in Melton Mowbray who run a special pork pie shop in the town called 'Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe'. This puts them in pride of place in the home of Melton Mowbray pork pies. This company goes by the name of Dickinson & Morris and has been baking pork pies since 1851. This means they are the oldest remaining baker of traditional Melton Mowbrays in the town. In 1992 they were bought by Samworth Brothers and their pies can now be found in Nationwide supermarket chains. They are still some of the best Melton's around, with Dickinson & Morris often winning at the British Pie Awards. They also play a large part in the organisation of the British Pie Awards being one of the few members of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association which is based in Melton.

We have already reviewed their pork pies, giving the Mini Melton Mowbray 'Pierate Highly Recommended' status. You might think that this is it for Dickinson & Morris reviews as they only make pork pies. However, we recently reviewed their Creamy Chicken pie giving it 'Pierate Recommended' status which shows there is more to Melton Mowbray than just pork pies! They also do a range of different sizes of pork pie. I can understand that some might question whether we should give a separate review to a different size of the same pork pie. But this would be to forget one of the most important aspects of our Seven C's scoring system which is the Capacity of the pie. A different size pie clearly has a different Capacity and hence a different filling to patry ratio. The filling to pastry ratio is integral to what makes a pie special and finding the right balance is part of the Holy Grail in producing the ultimate pie. Hence, after Dickinson & Morris were so good as to send a box of pies to support our pie for every meal challenge I thought they deserved another review! Having sent 16 pies, in 5 different sizes you will be pleased to know I am not going to review them all (that would be tedious), but just my favourite. I ate this pie for lunch on Day Three and Day Seven of the challenge. Have a look at the videos below to see what I thought.

I don't know if anyone else feels the same but I prefer to have a small pork pie rather than a slice of a big pork pie. There is something satisfying about biting into a whole pork pie which you don't get with sharing a big pie. There is also a more equal filling to pastry ratio with the smaller pork pies, whereas the big pork pies are dominated by the filling. A bigger Capacity isn't always better, it is about getting the perfect filling to pastry ratio. I find that the Individual size pork pie gets it just right. The mini pork pies reviewed before could do with being a little bit more satisfying to be the perfect pie, but hey, that is exactly what the individual pork pies do! Other than that, it is the same peppery flavour that the small version had. To find out more about what makes a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie special, see our 'What is a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie?' article.

Condition - 7 out of 7 - Pork pies in the post but in perfect condition, why not buy online at They look delightfully rustic, despite now being mass produced.
Colour - 7 out of 7 - I can't imagine a better Colour for a pork pie, a deep, crisp brown.
Cheapness - 4 out of 7 - £1.30 online, sometimes cheaper in supermarkets, not the cheapest but decent value for a 140g pork pie which packed in 542 kcal.
Capacity - 6 out of 7 - This pie had a great pastry to filling ratio but lost some appearance points due to the air gap which could have been filled with more jelly. It contained 38% pork.
Chewiness - 7 out of 7 - The perfect contrast in texture from crunchy pastry to soft filling.
Content - 5.5 out of 7 - A great balance of flavour with these pies being better seasoned than most. Hard to score a pork pie a full score for content.
Consistency - 6.6 out of 7 - Consistently good, even after eating a few

Individual Pork Pie (Dickinson & Morris)


Pierate is a pie review website charting a course to find the ultimate pie. For all the pies we have reviewed have a look at our Pie Rankings or find pies of a particular flavour under Pies: Categorised.

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continue reading "The Legend of Dickinson & Morris"

Saturday 17 May 2014

Cold Pie is Cold Comfort

Welsh Pantry - Steak & Kidney Pie Review

During British Pie Week I ate pie for every meal, sorry to keep banging on about it but it was a lot of pies and consequently it seems like I might be writing up pie reviews from that week for some time to come, so please bear with me. For Breakfast on Day Two and Day Three I had meat pies from The Welsh Pantry. I chose these because they could be eaten cold and they only had 533 kcal per pie. Have a look at the videos to see my thoughts.

Condition - 3.5 out of 7 - These pies were unfortunately a bit squashed.
Colour - 3.1 out of 7 - A bit pale for my liking.
Cheapness - 6 out of 7 - £2.19 from a little newsagents in Exeter, at just 73p each this is great value.
Capacity - 3.5 out of 7 - Quite shallow and a bit of a pastry overhang meant that these pies missed out on the optimum pastry to filling ratio.
Chewiness - 4.2 out of 7 - Generally the puff pastry slid down well although it was a little greasy. The meat wasn't really chunky enough to be chewy, just one chewy bit in the 3rd pie in the pack.
Content - 4.1 out of 7 - Pleasant enough, as stated before it tasted just like a Ginsters slice, nothing ground breaking. Not much of a kidney taste.
Consistency - 3 out of 7 - The separate parts of this pie seemed to fit together well as a product. However, the pies were not consistently well filled, as shown in the video the second one had hardly any filling at all. The other two were better.

In summary I think pies like this do have a place because they can be eaten cold. This does make them very convenient and I could see myself buying it again despite not having a very high score. Why are pies not available in the same way that slices are as a cold snack on the move?

Steak & Kidney (Welsh Pantry)


Pierate is a pie review website charting a course to find the ultimate pie. For all the pies we have reviewed have a look at our Pie Rankings or find pies of a particular flavour under Pies: Categorised.

Make sure you 
and let us know your thoughts!
continue reading "Cold Pie is Cold Comfort"