To give you a flavour of what possesses someone to write a book about pies, I’ve reproduced an article below that I scribbled for the brilliant Barnsley based fanzine West Stand Bogs….
PS Sorry I had January off after the gargantuan effort of actually putting the book together and getting it published in 2014 but I’m back now, blogging blogs and flogging books (hopefully). Go on, it’s only £9.99 and it’s worth at least £10.99. Anyway, on with the article….
We’ve all done stupid things. Me, I’ve made a career out of it. Well in truth I spend my days counting other people’s money as an accountant. Who wouldn’t want a bit of escapism from that?
I’ve still no idea how it came to this however…..
A few years ago I was at work and decided to liven up my day by going somewhere different for me dinner: pie shops, sandwich, bars, chippies ooh maybe even a delicatessen if I’m feeling frivolous. Before you know it: a SPREADSHEET had been created!!
My home town of Wigan is perceived as being something of a pie principality and it’s fair to say that we like our pastry products in this part of the world. You know those lairy holiday resorts where teenagers do unspeakable things to one another where they have a “strip” of bars. Well in Wigan we have a strip of pie shops where baked goods sit under red lights seductively parading their wares.
It’s fair to say that there has been blood spilled – or the very least pie gravy – over the debate as to who makes the best pies in Wigan and for some reason: call it boredom, compulsion, obsessive behaviour or lunacy I chose to take the debate on a little further.
I was only meant to eat 200 pies. A quick canter around the country in a year or so, pies wolfed down, amusing anecdotes narrated and transposed and a perfect petite little piece of prose available to buy online or selected bookshops.
400 pies later…..
It’s called Life of Pies. It’s about Pies – 314 of them – but it’s not just about pies. It’s about discovering the country we live in; pursuing a deadly serious mission in a light hearted way; coping with a mid-life crisis; unearthing hidden gems; meeting people with passion and searching for perfection in encased pastry form.
I didn’t undertake this challenge because anyone asked me to or because I felt it needed to be done but because I wanted to. It was a question I wanted to answer. To challenge my own assumption that Wigan is the epicentre of the pie universe.
It’s not though and I suspect I always knew this. Pies are a national obsession. From big beefy beauties in the Highlands of Scotland to Cornish Pasties the size of satellite dishes in the South West. We love our pies all across the land, we just love them a bit differently. And I don’t mean in the American Pie sense.
From my favoured humble meat and potato I developed a culinary appetite for pies far and wide: The Melton Mowbray uncured pork. Cockney Pie & Mash. Lancastrian Butter Pies. Scotch Pies made with mutton. The Bedfordshire Clanger (what?) and the sadly defunct Devizes Pie. When you Google it you’ll be glad!
I hit the South Yorkshire trail early on in the book in what was to become a regular feature involving me inventing new super-offensive swear words whilst continually stuck behind HGV’s on Snake Pass.
In my early days I had a fastidious obsession with seeking out a meat and potato and was intrigued to find that the meat quantity is ratcheted up once you head over the Pennines and the pies are re-dubbed Steak & Potato. Oh and they’re served cold as well. Do you not eat “on the go” in Yorkshire?
Of course the exception here is the pork pie. As the book gained momentum last summer I started to converse with a certain Mr Dyson as I passed on some of my considerable fifteen years’ experience as to how not to run a fanzine. Pretty soon the discussion got around to growlers, Percys’ growlers in fact and I found myself adding another potential pie purveyor to add to my already lengthy list.
Now I was asked for this article to send in the chapter of the book where I visit Barnsley but I felt that might be a bit too much like teaching your granny to suck pie juice out of a crust. By the time I landed in the village of Jump one Wednesday afternoon I was already familiar with what I call the “Yorkshire method” – effectively serving pork pies hot straight from the oven rather than those coarse, cold Melton Mowbray affairs and following my previous expeditions to Skipton and Otley (two growler hotbeds) I knew exactly what to expect. Percys still managed to blow me away however firstly with the price – a paltry sixty five new pence complete with a souvenir piece of dried blood in my change; to the taste: wonderfully rich full flavoured sausage meat enveloped in hot molten jelly.
I have done my best to remain impartial throughout my “research” but the general outcome has been that the pies have scored highly have been the ones I expected to – augmented with a reasonable number of little surprises. Yet ultimately upon conclusion of the book I bottled it a bit by recommending a top 100 pies and giving out a number of awards for flavour and affordability.
I can however reveal here and now that Percys was right up there in the pork pie category along with Hopkins of Birkenshaw and Burchalls of St Helens. All three of these porkers were of a similar stock: sold in a traditional establishment and served whilst cooling from the oven containing a fine spicy sausage filling and tons of jelly running rampant inside. I’m salivating just writing this.
So what did I set out to prove here? What was the question I was looking to answer? I don’t know but I had my fun and that’s all that matters. At the very least Life of Pies will provide a great reference point as to where the UK’s best pies can be acquired.
As it is written with humour, observation, dedication and mild desperation I have high hopes that it will become as much of a national treasure as many of the back street butchers and bakeries featured within. I might be pushing it a bit there though…
Life of Pies is available to buy now for just £9.99 + P&P from here