Welcome to Wigan – undisputed pie capital of the world! Maybe it is disputed though? The British Pie Awards are on next month and they are held not in Wigan but in Melton Mowbray, where the pies are very different but no less famous. The World Pie Eating Championships are however held in Wigan but that might imply that Wiganers go for quantity – or speed of consumption appears to be the current barometer – over quality elsewhere.
I also found that during the making of my book Life of Pies that the neighbouring towns of St Helens and Bolton are host to a number of fantastic independent bakers and butchers who make brilliant pies, suggesting that they are probably more than capable of matching Wigan in a culinary sense if not a sporting one. Hey, a good pie is a good pie, even if it is made over the hill by “them men”.
Nevertheless, here are my TOP TEN WIGAN PIES and as ever, this is my opinion………
1. Pepper Lane Pie Shop
This traditional bakers has been quite rightly heralded as the best around by Wiganers in the know for many a year. An inconspicuous little place that you might not spot if you weren’t looking closely but it’s famous for running out of pies before mid-day resulting in queues out of the door from 10am. The meat and potato pie is bountiful, indeed it’s more like a casserole in pastry, akin to a hotpot. Although it has to be said that their hotpots are also something special. Ditto the steak. And indeed as we’re up in the northern reaches of town, it would be amiss not to mention their fabulous Lancastrian butter pies either. Just get there early.
I’m sure the PR team at Galloways will be mortified to find themselves only in second, so in a cheap attempt to appease them, I’d like to say that they’re probably really in joint first place. Of course it may be possible that other Wigan pie eaters may disagree with that high ranking but for me, the Galloways meat and potato is the quintessential Wigan pie. A wonderfully soft crust giving way to a peppery, sloppy filling which just about holds together and tastes out of this world.
Galloways have always been around but have grown organically to be a real tour de force with around 20 shops now in the Wigan and surrounding area. More importantly, their pies are as good as ever and whenever anyone asks for a recommendation as to where to get a pie from, I always tell them Galloways. Mainly because they are consistently wonderful but also because there’s no chance an out of towner would ever find the top entry in this list……
The campaign to get Galloways served up on match days at the DW Stadium starts here!
3. Muffin Man
The Muffin Man is part of the furniture in WN6 with three shops covering the borough. Whereas they have never experienced the growth of Galloways they have constantly made great pies for over 30 years. The shortcrust pastry is wonderfully gentle on the gnashers and their textbook meat and potato pies comes in small and large sizes. The only excuse in my book for ordering a small is if the large ones have run out. Yet they have also diversified into making a great range of pork pies recently with accompaniments such as chilli, chorizo or black pudding. You can read a bit more on the Muffin man here.
Tyldesley-based but they do have a shop in Hindley. However, any argument over their geographical inclusion can be firmly kicked into the long grass by the sheer quality of their pies. The meat and potato is a sloppy, peppery delight and the meat pies are a fine dining gourmet experience. Served still hot and filled with juicy mincemeat, if you can eat one by hand without a large slaver of molten jelly dripping down your chin then you’re a better man than me.
Maybe it’s geographical bias which stops them from being further up as Greenhalghs are a Bolton company who have made considerable headway in Wigan over the past few years. They do the basics well, with a larger than average meat and potato pie and a very tasty chunky steak but what I like best about them are the more innovative flavours such as Steak & Dunscar Bridge Ale Pie, Lamb and Mint or the infamous Vindaloo Pie. This all makes for an ideal order: buying something you’re used to, like your bog standard meat and potato and something different to go with it, such as the Scotch pies they do. Oh and a cake for afters.
6. Rolling Pin
Based just a stone’s throw* from the DW Stadium in the heart of Newtown, (*if you’ve got arms like Geoff Capes) it’s a shame more visiting fans don’t get the chance to sample these fine pies instead of the overpriced Hollands they sell at the ground. A sturdy, golden crust gives way to sloppy potato filling and tasty pinkish ringlets of mince in their meat and potato pie which is a true throwback to yesteryear.
Back to Tyldesley again and to the pie hot bed that is Shuttle Street. I’d be amazed if Whittakers is more than 30 yards from Dawsons but if ever there was a place for a hungry pie eater to get stranded then this corner of Greater Manchester is it. As fiery as the Dawsons pie is, the meat and potato from Whittakers is a sweet, buttery affair and a much flatter shape making it almost a plate pie at a knockdown price.
Let’s get one thing straight: taste-wise and indeed the lovely lardy smell that comes off these pies is practically unbeatable. They also do a fine range of pies including cheese and bacon and peppered steak. However, if there is a drawback with the pies produced by this traditional Bryn baker, it’s that they simply fall to pieces too easily. Now I love a soft shortcrust and I’ll take one every time over any kind of puff pastry pie – after all, who wants to eat thin air – but as good as they are, they are a messy job and a plate and cutlery is essential to eat one with.
ARRGHHH!! JUST THIS WEEK I HAVE LEARNT THAT GRIMSHAWS HAS GONE AS WELL!!!!
9. Pound Bakery
Purists may scorn but they can’t be whacked on price and any suggestion that their pies might not be too filling can be overcome by doubling up and still only needing to find a pound coin to pay for them. Mind you, their forefather, Hampsons, at one point used to do four pies for a pound because I remember taking all four home for dinner and feeling decidedly queasy as I began to tackle the fourth. Pie eating on a budget is the appropriate phrase here.
It’s not like Tootells isn’t better than some of the above, I was just deliberating heavily over the tenth to include and decided to cast the net a little further to get a good ten in. The fact I’ve had to tells its own tale of woe as to the demise of many famous old Wigan pie makers!
Anyway. Tootells, I’m not sure if they are still going as the proprietor, Mr Alan Tootell esq, spoke of retiring last year, it is however a fine Golborne establishment serving, cheap, piping hot meat and meat and potato pies with the emphasis on meat content, as you’d expect, being a butcher. The smell wafting off these little beauties is intoxicating. Furthermore, if you happen to take a wrong turn, there is another great pie shop in Golborne by the name of Pimbletts on the same street which also serves up a belting meat and prater…..
And that’s your lot. You’ll notice there’s no mention of Pooles in there, who would have been a shoe in for a Champions League spot had they still existed in their original form. But they don’t and they have been rubbish for a number of years since the original recipe went AWOL.
Furthermore, with this in mind, there should also be a lengthy and sad obituary “To those we have lost” section which would contain the aforementioned Pooles, along with The Orrell Bakehouse (never tried them sadly), TJ Whittles (and their famed kebab pies!) and from my own growing up in Springfield, the triumvirate of Wilcocks, The Gidlow Bakery and the one just up from the Pagefield, possibly Lyons. All three sold very unique yet very tasty pies.
I’m sure those older than myself can all remember their own Wigan favourites of yesteryear from back in the day when there was a pie shop on every street corner, and that is why I love Greens pie shop of Barrow so much as it reminded me so much of that splendid aroma which used to come wafting out from every shop twenty-thirty years ago.
In a similar vein, it’s also possible that I may have missed one or two out. I know there’s one in Platt Bridge called Beestons I’ve only ever driven past and there’s one in Wigan Market my mate the guvnor raves about called Cluelows I think? Plus as I have covered the odd shop in Ashton, Leigh and Tyldesley, then if we are talking about Wigan as a borough – which is not something I am usually prone to doing – then it is quite possible that there are others in the lobby gobbling hotbed of Leigh which warrant a place in my top ten.
It’s my list however and I fully expect for someone to give me a good cyber kicking over my pie selections telling me somewhere else is better. However, the benefit of such a kicking is that once I have gratefully received it, then I will get a new pie shop to visit. Every foil tray has a silver lining and all that…..
Life of Pies is a 380 page book about pies, in search of perfect pies across the nation. For a limited period only, I have reduced the price to just £7.99 + P&P but only if bought from the Pie Shop