Britain is a nation of pie lovers.
We take our pies very seriously, so much so that a government petition to make describing a casserole with a pastry lid as pie a criminal offence, actually made the headlines a little while back.
So with last week’s debate about pancake toppings a hit, and British Pie Week in full swing, we knew we needed to open up the question – what exactly makes a pie a pie?
The Oxford English Dictionary states that a pie must be encased in or covered with pastry, and the British Pie Awards rules of entry state that pies must have “a filling wholly encased in pastry and baked”, and excludes any lattice topped, fruit topped, and potato topped items, samosas and any fried products.
England pies date back to 12 century AD, when the crust of the pie was referred to as a “coffyn” and the filling usually consisted of fowl. Today, we have Shepherd’s pie, key lime pie, apple pie, chicken pie, pork pie, pot pie… but do they really all deserve the label?
And we thought, what better way to get an answer than ask the pie experts within the foodservice industry. Step forward Pukka Pies, Pieminister, Fields & Forest, and Redhouse – a pub-style eatery famed for its real ales and delicious pies handmade by the award-winning Amble Butchers in rural Northumberland.
They were all only too happy to share their views on the question, “What makes a pie a pie?”
Pukka Pies have commissioned a study to celebrate the launch of their new Steak & Ale Pie (made using Marstons pedigree ale), which launches in conjunction with British Pie Week. “We have been making and baking pies for over 55 years and always strive to give the great British public what they want” explains Rachel Cranston, Head of Marketing at Pukka. “This is why we’ve launched our second People’s Poll – to find out what makes the people of Britain tick, as well as put an end to the ‘what defines a pie’ debate in time for British Pie Week”.
Pukka’s study reveals a hefty 70% of Brits believe that a pie is only a real pie if it has a pastry bottom, side and lid, and is therefore fully encased in pastry. The study was prompted by an increasing swell of consternation among pie purists, who feel let down by “pot pies”, with token pastry lids. The study also suggests that 60% of people believe that shepherds and cottage pies – minced meat dishes topped with mash – should not be deemed as pies.
Chips took first place as the most popular pie accompaniment – with 63% of the vote, and mash came in as a strong second choice with 54%.
22% of respondents like to indulge in a side of mushy peas, and gravy is unequivocally the top sauce to drizzle over a pie. The poll also reveals that a pint of beer and a pot of tea are Britain’s favourite tipples to wash down a pie.
We spoke to Ash Wade of Redhouse about what a pie should embody. Ash said “A great pie should have a light and flaky crust, a generous dose of filling and be coupled with a hearty side of creamy mash, mushy peas and liquor sauce.”
Redhouse has a delicious selection of pies, ranging from “sausage, apple, cider and onion” to “spinach, goat’s cheese, sweet potato and onion chutney”. Alongside the most popular sides of mash, peas and chips they offer an extensive range of the finest ales, and this menu has made them one of the most popular eateries in Newcastle, with over 1,000 google reviews and an average 4.5/5 star rating.
Fields & Forest Foods
Fields & Forest Foods, makers of plant-based delicacies, believe that a pie is a feeling. “What defines a pie? For us, it’s not a sum of its parts, but that cosy satisfying feeling you get when digging into an amazing combination of ingredients and flavours – surrounded by either gravy or sauce. It could be topped with mash, pastry or as we often experienced growing up, the mighty suet crust. We’re laid back about the topping as long as the overall feeling is one of comfort and satisfaction. We’d like to think there’s room for innovation and definitions can and should change with the times. Our new range of plant-based pies combine the traditional pastry top and bottom but inside there’s something rather different. Made from a soya-free meat alternative, our new Roasted Cauliflower Mangalore, Country Vegetable and Creamy Mushroom Pies make choosing a meat-free option easy. That comfort eating feeling comes as standard.”
For Episode 3 of the Erudus Podcast our hosts Andrew and Victoria get deep into the “What makes a pie a pie?” debate, with help from none other than Tristan Hogg, MD of Pieminister. Tristan was on hand to explain that pies are all about the emotions people feel while eating them. “The thing people really like about pies is the feeling that they give you, the sauce has to be specific it can’t be too thin or too stodgy, the pastry the lid needs to be a little bit flaky, creating that handmade pie dish and delivering that pie feeling, that it’s going to make them feel warm and cosy. But the majority of people do believe the pie should have a bum.”
So, what did we learn?
After hearing from pie purveyors across the industry, we can conclude that the majority of people believe that a pie should be entirely encased in pastry that is slightly flaky, and accompanied by a side of mash, chips or peas.
Debates aside, the main thing that makes pies great and why people are so passionate about them is the truly cosy and comforting feeling that they give you.