Saturday 25 April 2020

African Pie Tour - Is Dessert in the Desert the Real McCoy?

Welcome to Solitaire. Population: 4. 

This remote village sits just below the Tropic of Capricorn, in the Khomas region of Namibia on the continent of Africa.

100 miles to the west, the salty waves of the Atlantic ocean lap against the iconic red dunes of the Skeleton Coast. 100 miles north-east, the sprawling capital of Windhoek is the social, economic, political, and cultural centre of the country.

Between them, dusty, rutted roads carve through the arid landscape. Mountain zebra chase ephemeral rivers. Scorpions shelter in the rocky crevices. Quiver trees eke out an existence beneath the blazing desert sun.

With no other settlements for miles around, Solitaire seems like an unlikely place to come for a pie. It's almost like we've taken a wrong turn. But we haven't. At Pierate we have always got our ear to the ground for next great pie, and we've heard that Solitaire is home to something very special.

Over 20 years ago, a Scottish adventurer named Percy Cross "Moose" McGregor moved to Solitaire. He opened a bakery and started selling a German apple pie from an old family recipe. Word of his apple pie spread far and wide, and it wasn't long before McGregor's sweet treat reached mythical status across Namibia.

Today, surrounded by decrepit American vintage cars, McGregor's Bakery stands like an oasis in the parched desert plateau. Some say that if you listen closely to the breeze as it crosses the plains, it whispers to you: "McGregors, McGregors, McGregors."

Sadly, Moose died in January 2014, but his legend lives on in the form of his famous apple pie. And this is what Pierateer TJP is here to sample today!

Inside McGregor's bakery, one can purchase a surprising array of items - coffee, sandwiches, pastries, and cool refreshing beverages. But the welcome sign at the entrance leaves no doubt about what this place is all about. Top of the list is its "famous apple pie"!

I order an apple pie. As I wait, my parched mouth salivates as my mind races through the seven Cs. What colour will it be? How filled to capacity will it be? I hope it arrives in great condition. I also wonder what kind of pastry will be used. Will it be the standard short crust, or will they have gone for a leftfield puff-pastry? Will it be a lattice? 

As the lady emerges from the back room with a cardboard box in her hand, I'm desperate to find out the answers to all these questions.

I take the box outside and open it...and shock horror. (Warning - the following photograph might be distressing to some of you)

Yes, McGregor's "famous apple pie" is in fact a crumble. There is no pastry. Pie aficionados and followers of Pierate will know that a pie is "a filling totally and wholly encased in pastry". Don't get me wrong - the McGregor's apple crumble was delicious, but it was just that - a crumble. I have come all this way for a crumble. Had I been blogging for Crumblerate (trademark TBC) I'd have been delighted, but this is Pierate.

Fortunately for me, McGregor's also does a roaring trade in actual pies. 

Back home, a "game" pie would probably be some kind of bird such as pheasant or partridge, but out here it could be anything from kudu to oryx. With some long drives ahead of me and a slightly upset stomach, I opt for the vegetarian pie. 

I'm not entirely sure what's in it but I think I can see spinach and potato. It's a decent pie, well filled, with tasty pastry, and certainly commendable that they are able to offer a pie of such reasonable quality in a remote location like this.

I leave Solitaire slightly disappointed that the famous apple pie wasn't actually a pie, but pleased that I've at least had a pie in probably one of the most remote settlements I'll ever visit. It really is a testament to the late Moose McGregor that I can purchase a better pie in the middle of the Namibian outback than I can in many places back in the UK. If you're ever in the area, I'd recommend stopping off for a pie for your main course, a crumble for dessert, and a salute to the legend that is Moose McGregor.

I journey onwards through Namibia and come across something rather interesting in the town of Otjiwarongo. It turns out that Spar is actually a pretty big thing in Namibia (and in many other countries in Africa). Back in the UK, Spar is more commonly seen as a small convenience store, but over here you get giant supermarket Spars. And what does that sign say on the front of the store? King Pie?! This sounds like an absolute must-try!

The branding is a little confusing as the "King Pie" stall inside the Spar sells "McCoy" pies, but never the less this is extremely exciting.

I don't know how to break this to the other Pierateers..."You haven't had a pie until you've had a McCoy". Wow! Despite eating and reviewing over 700 pies for Pierate, turns out the other Pierateers have never actually eaten a pie!

In the interest of a fair comparison to McGregors, I ordered another vegetarian pie - spinach and feta. It cost 22.20 Namibian dollars, which is about £1.20.

There's no better place to enjoy a real McCoy pie than on the open road. I have to say, this pie was fine, but I didn't rate it as highly as McGregors. The pastry was a bit soggier, and the pie was not as well filled. It was what I expect from a supermarket pre-heated pie. Despite what the packaging proclaims, I wouldn't say that you need to have had a McCoy's in order to have had a pie. The other Pierateers can sleep easy tonight.

Here at Pierate, we really like to go the extra mile for our readers - so my next stop on this African pie tour took me to Mzuzu, the third largest city in Malawi. About 20 miles west from the shores of Lake Malawi, Mzuzu isn't exactly a tourist hotspot. But if you do find yourself here, is it possible to get a pie? And the answer is...yes!

Head in to your local Shoprite supermarket and you should be able to find a "Pieman" stall (seriously, who comes up with these names, they are great). This particular Pieman was selling vegetable curry pies, steak and kidney, peppered steak and mutton curry (I think) pie. All pies were 1,299.99 Malawian kwacha, which is about £1.44. I order a Pieman peppered steak.

The colour of the pie leaves much to be desired. The brown colouration is uneven, with two dark patches flanking a pale centre. I suspect this is more due to uneven glazing rather than uneven bake.

Here's a cross-sectional view, and oh goodness it's not a good one. The contents of the pie are mostly air. The peppered steak filling is relegated to a shallow smear at the base of the pie. This brings memories of the Delissia "apple" pies from Poundland, but at least they only cost a pound. I'm pleased to have found a pie, but Pieman really needs to give himself a good talking to if he's hoping to progress in this market.

And with that, I end the African pie tour. My eyes have been opened to a new continent of pies. I consider my journey to be a preliminary visit for a more thorough investigation into the African pie scene in future years. I hope you've enjoyed reading. If you have any comments about the pies I tried, or have any recommendation for pies to try in Africa, please let us know in the comments.

McGregors Famous Apple Pie (Solitaire, Namibia) - NAP (Not A Pie)
McGregors Vegetable Pie (Solitaire, Namibia) - 5.3/7
McCoy / King Pie / Spar spinach and feta pie (Otjiwarongo, Namibia) - 4.5/7
Pieman / Shoprite Pie (Mzuzu, Malawi) - 3.1/7

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