The Introduction to Pie Society, by Tom Bridge
The British have been eating meat pies for over 600 years and a peek into any well-stocked butcher’s shop or delicatessen shows we mean to continue. In the North of England where I am from pies really are a big part of life, and of our history – in fact in many ways they even define the northerner, as Stuart Maconie maintains in Pies and prejudice: in search of the North. But, important though they are in this one part of Britain, pies are far from exclusive to it. Traditional favourites can be found on high streets the length and breadth of the country and every region has its speciality, often made by old fashioned, small-scale pie factories. In recent years, however, pies have also been part of a general resurgence of interest in British food, albeit often ‘poshed-up’ versions. There is nothing wrong with posh pies, of course, but this book is dedicated to the more old-fashioned, honest, cookable-at-home pies, from across the British Isles – admittedly with the odd silly one thrown in to indulge my sense of culinary adventure!
Flights of fancy aside, in many ways a pie is food at its simplest, and you can rustle one up very quickly if you keep it basic. However, twenty-first-century pie-making can – and arguably should – require a bit of effort, not so much in the construction as in the ingredients. We should look for the finest ingredients, grown nearby whenever available, and work hard to ensure that no artificial ingredients whatsoever are allowed to creep in. In mass production many pie-making factories will use undesirable additives; not I, and not the companies I mention in this book. My guiding principle has always been that all the food we make, whether at home or on a bigger scale, should be wholesome, tasty and unadulterated.
Across the UK we have flourishing farmers’ markets, often specialising in both local produce and regional specialities from further afield. On offer to the buyer prepared to spend just a little time looking beyond the shelves of the supermarkets are fine quality meat, poultry, game, cheeses, fruit and vegetables, much of it emanating from the lush, rain-drenched landscape that our oft-cursed (but actually truly wonderful) climate produces. So whether you live in Land’s End, Birmingham or John o’ Groats, there is always something on a market stall, in a farm shop or in the greengrocer’s round the corner that will taste great wrapped in pastry.
Ah, pastry! That most basic of comfort foods: filling, simple and cheap. In its many guises it provides the perfect jacket for almost anything, and this book offers a wealth of recipes, variations, tips and suggestions to help you to make the tastiest pies imaginable – and if they look homemade, imperfect and rustic, well that’s pie for you!
So having sourced the finest fillings and made the best pastry, all we need now are the right natural flavourings. This is such a very important part of this cookbook and every chef and cook I know puts judicious seasoning at the forefront of their cookery. In all my recipes I only use sea salt and freshly ground pepper, which I recommend you do too; so where I say salt I mean sea salt, and pepper I mean freshly ground. If I was to be marooned on a desert island I would have to have on my wish list sea salt, peppercorns, herbs, spices and a pepper mill. Use of herbs and spices, too, when making pastry, also ensuring that it is not too thick. And finally, use only top quality – preferably homemade – stocks, and the overall result will be a delicious, wonderfully satisfying eating experience.