Posts from the ‘Any More Pie?’ Category

Love Me Tender

Regular readers will have seen my piece on the Seven Wonders of Bedfordshire a month or so ago. It was a close run thing, but the fantastic view from the top of Ampthill Hill just missed the list. There is something of the lowlander about us here in Bedfordshire, being fairly devoid of dale and vale, but even the hardiest of highlanders would give us a little credit for this marvellous vista. Meanwhile, the historic Houghton House and its importance to county lore is just a cricked neck away too.

A tradition stemming from the Middle Ages and my psychotic (misunderstood) namesake’s visits to Houghton House still takes place today, the Thursday market. Held on Market Square beneath the Clock Tower and between the charming Georgian buildings either side of the narrow high street, the market has provided a focal point for town life for centuries.

Trying to lay the foundations of a tradition of my own, The Engine & Tender on Dunstable Street in Ampthill is the hastily chosen venue for Friday Pie Day following the morning’s cricket meeting with Johnno. Johnno Snr reckons the pies from the Engine & Tender are well worth a bash.

Johnno Snr is from Lancashire so he should know. So, at about lunch time we piled into, what has recently become, my youngest brother’s local to meet him.

The Engine & Tender is a great local pub. With the cream wall paper design ripped straight from the Ronnie Corbett school of fashion design and the familiar wooden panels, comfy claret soft furnishings and three hand pumps featuring guest ales this is the archetypal British boozer. There’s a pleasant atmosphere which is enhanced by the local office workers pouring in for their end of the week bar snack and tipple.

Johnno Snr gets ’em in while the obliging barmaid goes through the pie list. Firstly, there’s no steak and cheese option.

But why would there be?

This is the archetypal British boozer after all. We mock the Kiwis at every given opportunity for allegedly playing catch up on the rest of planet earth, but I reckon it will be another twenty or so years before steak & cheese pies become the norm in British pubs.
Not so smug now are we fellow Britons?

I digress. From Steak & Ale, Steak & Kidney and Chicken, Bacon & Mushroom I opt for the former.

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The pastry is denser than a Page 3 girl pub quiz team and as tough to break down. Chips and peas with a healthy dollop of HP provide the thinking man’s garnish and the thick gravy, brought out at Johnno Snr’s insistence, nicely tops off this Friday feast. Delighted to have finally breached the pastry wall, I ready my awaiting taste buds for the beefy, beery good stuff.

Hmmm.

Unless my buds deceive me, the steak and ale tastes suspiciously like chicken. And bacon. And mushroom.

No, it is indeed the chicken, bacon and mushroom version. I’m relieved to say that after months on the Ollie Reed Diet my gustatory organs, thankfully, aren’t completely shot to bits. And as chicken, bacon & mushroom pies go, it’s very nice.

But, as any pie lover worth his or her salt knows, just as you don’t make friends with salad* you don’t make pies with chicken.

*Copyright Homer J. Simpson

Keep Warm And Bake On

Pie makers of Australasia, take heed. Think you’ve got the world pie market sewn up? Think on. Dear old Blighty is still in there scrapping for the Northern Hemisphere. Take yesterday’s trip to Olney, Buckinghamshire, an archetypal English Market Town so endearingly charming a return there makes tourists of us all.

En route to collect my trusty chariot from my pal Lupt, the time and day of the week decreed it PieDay Friday. There was nothing else for it. Parking up then strolling across the frozen Market Square to the bakery, my cheery enquiry was met with apron-clad blank looks and shrugged shoulders. As false starts go this was stonkingly inglorious.

Imagine if I’d have gone in there with an Aussie or Kiwi? The shame of it. A bakery. Sold out of, or indeed, more embarrassingly, not selling pies in the first place?

I’d have been laughed all the way to the Department of Immigration & Citizenship.

Fact.

As it was, I meekly sloped back into the tundra, tail firmly twixt legs, towards the fish and chip shop and a humiliating reintroduction to the staple of fat bastards the length and breadth of the land, The Pukka Pie. Then I spotted, as I trudged along the High Street, the Olney Delicatessen and Tea Rooms. Like a Stuart Broad delivery heading down the leg side with the batsman two foot outside his crease, I reckoned that had to be worth a shout.

The counter was crammed with the savouries of what makes this country great. Local farm cheeses, pates, preserves, olives, pastries, pork pies.
Yes! Pork Pies.
And pies. A big list of pies in all shapes and sizes. Keen to see how the Buckinghamshire version shaped up I ordered the Kiwi Staple and another more distinctly British sounding one.

Steak and Horseradish.

Hello and ahoy-hoy! How head-smackingly, derr-brainily simple? Your Sunday Roast encased in pastry. British ingenuity at its finest. I felt a tear patriotically run down my cheek.
Mind you, it could have been the cold.

The pastry was lighter than the snow flurries of the last day or so and unlike last week’s cumbersome effort, there was the just the right amount of light, golden flaked goodness. The meat was overcooked and less chunky than its recent Oceanic counterparts but the onions and thick gravy made up for this. The creamy horseradish, dolloped regally beneath the lid was superb, tastily offsetting the beef. The exquisiteness of Sunday Lunch two days early. Absolutely marvellous.

To the pie men of Australia and New Zealand, here’s a timely shot across the bows. To make matters worse for you, the Buckinghamshire steak and cheese pie, that corner of the pie world you think you rule was good too. The British are coming. Huzzah!

Pie Fidelity

Lunchtime on the first day of the Third Test at Eden Park. My decision is made for me at the catering stands. There’s only one option available. I’m sure England wished they’d have had their decision made for them two hours earlier as well, I muse as I hand over my six dollars.

Beef, bacon & mushroom pie. My last Pie-Day Friday of the tour.

My first New Zealand pie on this visit, back in Northland, was pleasingly ovular in shape. This one, however, is sadly, squarely square. Except for the lid. Which looks like its been rolled by a work experience kid. In a sweatshop. The pastry is far too pernickety as a result and the colour looks over-egged while the whole thing has been finished with a sprinkle of black pepper, possibly to distract the eater from the shoddy pastrymanship.
There is a salty inevitability to the flavour of the filling, owing to the generous use of, what appears to be, decent quality bacon. The beef is the right side of under-done and the mushrooms, always a welcome addition to most meals, are similarly enjoyable. It’s hard, saltiness not withstanding, to fault the contents of the pie. It is good, and the pie is pleasingly packed with the meat and mushrooms.
However, that pastry again spoils things. There is too much of it and it is too thick. The pie feels and looks smaller as a result.

It feels like a sad way to end my latest pie odyssey in this great country. Yet as “Two Metre” Peter Fulton peerlessly powered to his maiden Test century with his country only one wicket down for 250 runs at the close of play, I fear my last few days here could end similarly badly.

Postscript. As I went to pay for my lunch the helpful, harmless assistant enquired, “Just the pie?”

I took a deep breath.

“Madam, it is not just a pie. It is an institution.”

The Pies Have It

In desperate search of something stoically, typically and wonderfully English to believe in, in the face of the cricketing horror show that was happening before my eyes I yearned for salvation. While the Barmies and Beiges traded ready banter and witticisms, my ears pricked up at the conversation taking place between a Lancashire couple behind me.

“Yeah, it’s great ain’t it? Proper Pork Pie. Home made n’ all. Like what you get back ‘ome.”

Pork pies? Here in New Zealand? Attitudes to one of Britain’s signature dishes had clearly softened since my last visit three years ago when this redoubtable savoury delicacy came in for some of the most terrible kind of abuse they usually reserve for Australians.

My forage around the food stalls of the University Oval brought me to Havoc Meats of Waimate where Kane an enthusing, charismatic gentleman of heavy beard and stocky build much like a prop forward in the modern sense roared me through a demonstration of his noble art. Kane explained to me that all the pies were made by his fair hands, driving the point home about just how fair his hands were.
Imagine Nanette Newman played by Brian Blessed and you’re pretty much there. “Now hands that kill piggies can feel as soft as your face….”

Havoc Meat’s pies and products are made using the meat from Kane’s mum’s farm he told me proudly. Kane explained how Havoc’s pork pies were different to traditional Melton Mowbray ones in terms of look but also in terms of a unique twist on the recipe. Kane found that by using hocks rather than trotters for the jelly it gave the pie a better flavour.
He was absolutely right. The jelly, far from being that listless clear stuff you get in most pies, had a delicious pork stock taste to it. Thick chunks of pulled pork were mixed in with sprigs of sage and parsley and cubes of Havoc ham. The pastry was light on both salt and crust which allowed the succulent pork and the flavours within to cling to the taste buds like the local sand flies to your ankles.

Kane proclaimed he is heading over to England in 2015 for the Rugby World Cup and the World Pork Pie Championship. He seemed confident of New Zealand victories in both.
The Pork Pie Club of Great Britain haven’t returned his emails or calls. Kane thinks they’re running scared. Having tasted one of his genuinely brilliant Kiwi pork pies, I have to strongly agree with him.

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Guide Me Thou, O Great Pie-Steamer

Today began with a balcony view of the valleys. The fresh mountain air added to the feel. Ah, St. David’s Day. I could almost smell the daffodils and hear the close harmony singing of Men of Harlech behind an Eddie Butler voiceover reverberating from beyond the early morning hillside shadow.
I’d earmarked the venue for my Friday fix as soon as I landed in Queenstown last weekend. The Ferg Bakery, the off shoot of the celebrated Ferg Burger on Shotover Street. I’ve deliberately stayed away from the renowned burger joint out of deference to Lucky Paul’s arrival in New Zealand tomorrow. The bakery is still very much on limits however.

En route to meet Charlie, Greg and Jackie before setting off to day three of England’s warm up against the New Zealand XI, I popped into the junior partner of the Ferg fast food empire for a spot of breakfast. A homely looking establishment bedecked in bakery brown, beige and cream, packed to the rafters with breads, cakes, pies and pastries. The traditional and the fanciful, staffed by un-typically Kiwi yet apparently, typically non-committal Queenstownian staff, their faces half lit with insincerity.

“We’re reasonably pleased to see you, we’re absolutely delighted your stomaching the local tourist-taxing price hike. Please make your purchase and leave so we can get the next mug. Have a nice day. Please come back and spend more money soon.”

“Are you still here sir?”

In keeping with the date, I decided to swap the Kiwi Classic for something more, um, Welsh. There’s Lamb Shank pie for you boyo, isn’t it?
I thought the last Glamorgan intoned sentence but declined to utter it out loud, lest it throw the pretty North American server completely off track and cause her to malfunction.

An imprint of the South Island was stamped on the straw coloured pie top. Such typical Queenstownian showmanship, no wonder New Zealanders hold this part of their country in something approaching suspicion.
The first bite released great swathes of delicious rosemary tinted flavours on to my taste buds. The next two follow up bites produced more of the same. A flood of unstoppable Burnt Siena gravy carrying diced vegetables in its wake, the wispy, crispy puff pastry completely futile as a flood barrier.
All very nice, but where’s Larry? Three morsels from the end I finally hit upon the succulent, overnight braised lamb the description boasts of.
And, again, it’s all very nice. There’s, sadly, nowhere near enough of it.

Today’s pie does rather sum Queenstown up.
It’s a case of wherever you turn, style comfortably beats substance. Don’t misinterpret me, it is beautiful here, it really is. It’s just a little galling from the consumer’s point of view to see the local trades and industries cashing in on the town and surrounding area’s appeal.

Enough carping and moaning from me though. Maybe today’s date is rubbing off on me a little. I’ll be laughing at Max Boyce gags and drinking Brains Bitter next.

Hapus af davids dydd pawb.

It’s Circumstantial, It’s Nothing Written In The Pie And We Don’t Even Have To Try….

Pie Mania! The shop’s logo screamed at me from across Wellesley Street on the way back from the pub last night. I made a mental note to re-visit it today. Multi-award winning for many years, a haven for pie lovers everywhere in the heart of town. Having spent this morning taking in the Croesus-like ocean going scenery of Auckland’s Wynyard Harbour and the busy waterfront, I skipped eagerly back towards town to the earmarked venue for my Friday treat.

Closed. Not closed in the Kiwi sense, as in randomly shut at lunchtime if and when the need takes you, but properly shut.

Fermè. Geschlossen. Tūtaki. No more pies here.

Ever.

Like a wasp that’s been winged by a flick from the rolled up Sunday colour supplement after a foolish foray into the stewed apple, I wobbled away, my pride wounded, my hopes dashed. I lurched dejectedly through the indoor markets teaming with South East Asian eateries. No steak and cheese loveliness to be had here. Approaching Ron Burgundy in-the-aftermath-of-losing-Baxter levels of despair and loneliness, I stumbled back towards the harbour. This weekend sees Auckland’s annual Lantern Festival take place and to celebrate they’ve loaded Queen’s Wharf with food exhibitors, sideshows and free cinema and in these most unlikely of surroundings I found salvation.

Heavenly Pies.

I’d take any pies at this stage. The lunchtime rush meant the stall holder’s take on the Kiwi Classic, the upmarket but not overly so, Port Wine Beef and Danish Blue had sold out. From Pulled Pork & Kawakawa, Moroccan Lamb Tagine and Mexican Bean & Mozzarella or Coconut Chicken & Cashew I chose the former. Probably still reeling from the body blow earlier I opted, recklessly, for the salad accompaniment.

A side dish of purples, puces and pumpkin intermingled with shredded carrot, feta, leaves and sprouts of various sizes. And beetroot. Lots of it too.
The warmth of the early afternoon sun buffed the burnt red bricks of the Ferry Building, the Isley Brothers’ Work To Do played prophetically in the background as a cooling sea breeze whipped around the wharves. Salad days indeed.

The pie sat wedged in its tin foil casing. I tried to prise it away with my fingers but it wouldn’t budge. Kiwi cricket fans will hope their top order proves as steadfast tomorrow. I hacked away with my fork through edges of short crust pastry rolled inwards like gold flaked waves and managed to dismantle the mixed herb-encrusted top, tearing it away with the type of flourish you associate with burly lock forwards flinging half backs from the fringes of a ruck.
The star turn was the pastry. The pork gravy infused fluffiness dissolved like savoury candy floss in the mouth. Kawakawa is a native herb, basil like in its qualities, and its sharpness buried itself within the pork and potatoes. For sweetcorn in last week’s effort, read pumpkin this week. Pretentious uninvited guests both, but in poncier pies like today’s version, it’s more the accepted norm. And, actually, surprisingly, it worked.

While not quite as heavenly as Steak & Cheese, Heavenly Pies’ Pulled Pork & Kawakawa rescued a potentially troublesome lunchtime. I wished the stall holder all the best with his new venture, he and his wife are opening a restaurant of the same name in Auckland soon. I very much hope the same fate doesn’t befall them as the late, possibly great (we’ll never know) Pie Mania.

Nasty Surprise Pies

A pitstop on the journey between Paihia and Hamilton gives me little in the way of time or choice. Muffin Break at the bottom of quayside Queen Street in Auckland it is then.
I select the Kiwi Standard (Steak & Cheese to the uninitiated) and, as the pie is being warmed through, get the spiel from the over-eager assistant advising me of their latest Get Every 5th Coffee Free offer and how I can take advantage of this fantastic offer in any of their stores nationwide.

Considering this briefly on my way back to the coach, I take my seat, and watch alongside my captivated co-passengers as, to the faint sound of Don McLean’s Starry, Starry Night murmuring on wistfully in the background, a scrap between the half-pint sized driver and a Bolshy bicycle-stowing tourist twice his size breaks out. It adds a little unexpected spice to my lunch break.

After the handbags have been put away and a seething, uneasy truce declared, I get to work on my pie. Unlike last week’s astronomically inspired effort, today’s is standard pie shape. The over-thick pastry encases an inconsequential, measly waft of white cheese and a film-textured grey gloop that takes me back to my march across the mangroves this time yesterday. While any meagre steak morsels there are contained within the pie drown helplessly in the quicksand. Then on my second bite I’m greeted with an unwelcome bright yellow chunked stowaway.

Sweetcorn!

Really?

Now I’m quite fond of surprises, but this is one I could do without. What crazy, sacrilegious business is this? Like turning up to a Stone Roses gig only to find Mani’s been replaced by one of the pipsqueaks out of McFly, you feel a bit cheated. Not to mention a little confused.

So sir. You mean to say, on the whim of your too-clever-by-half Blumenthally bonkers master baker or your too-mean-by-half profit chasing boss, you’ve gone easy on the meat and wild with the corn?

What nonsense. This will not do.

A steak and cheese pie is exactly that. A steak and cheese pie. A pie comprising steak and cheese.

I reconsidered any future plans I may have had of taking up Muffin Break’s coffee offer on the spot. Whatever next, bits of Kiwi fruit in your cappuccino? I perish the very thought.

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Pie Vili-fied

A trek alongside the Torrens River yields views of some delightful woodland and with the coots and moorhens doing the rounds on the riverbanks alongside the unwelcome predatory presence of the gulls and swans I’m transported back to dear old Bedford and a springtime walk along the Embankment. I say spring because, since leaving Perth, the weather’s been distinctly un-summery here in Adelaide.

Now I can completely empathise with how you chaps in the UK have had it these last few weeks…..

Stopping at an understatedly beautiful scene, I watch as the River Torrens lurks murkily away from view to behind a curtain of Red Gum Trees, Sheoaks, reeds and bullrushes. I glance across the bridge at what will become the venue for the last Pie Day Friday in Australia; an unremarkable looking kiosk situated at the end of the Par 3 on the North Adelaide Golf Course.
The course is a municipal one, but for location and backdrop alone rates fairly highly on those I’ve seen in Australia. It’s a nice little spot if a little windswept. I contemplate a quick round but being so near to New Zealand and so far from my last Caaaaalld One, I decide against it and the demons of self hate remain inside their despicable little hideout somewhere inside the back of my mind.

A pie sits in cellophane solitude in the golf shop’s pie warmer. The last turkey in the shop, though this will surely be variation on a theme of beef. South Australia must be the only state in which you can’t buy Four N’ Twenty’s or Pie Face goods, so I make do with the local equivalent: Vili’s.

The surface looks like a Day 4 one from up the road at The Oval. There’s so many cracks and marks on this, I’d have good money on Swannie getting a five-for on it. As is now standard I liberally smear the pie top with no frills tomato ketchup, which sticks obediently to the surface. Biting down, the pastry shoots out in magpie friendly flakes. The well-warmed beef is the hottest thing I think I’ve experienced in my time in Adelaide. The meat, minced, is like a Four N’ Twenty version of bovine gloop but with a stronger, more offal-like taste. The ketchup springs into multitask mode, acting as an adhesive to the brittle pastry, a welcome balm-like substance against the heat while also countering the over-strong kidney flavour. No wonder the humble red sauce is so revered in these parts.
The Vili’s pie does a job. Only just.

Going with a local metaphor; of the famous cricketing Chappell brothers who played here with such distinction in the 70s, this pie would definitely be Trevor.
And like Trevor, I can’t imagine this pie going down too well in New Zealand.

(Hello Geoff!)

Slainte Mhath

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some would eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

The Selkirk Grace; Robert Burns

What’s the world coming to when you can’t find haggis in Perth on Burns Night?

It being that time of the week, it seemed only fair to substitute haggis for pie. And Chunky Angus Steak at that. No neeps either, although I did find some tatties.

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You’ll by now not be surprised to hear that there was no clootie dumpling either. However, I did manage to find some chocolate biscuits instead.

Err, Tim-Tam O’Shanters. Does that count?

And the wee dram? Tonight’s visit to the Lucky Shag on Perth’s waterfront should see to that….

A very Happy Burns Night to all of DWC’s Scottish readers. Your very good health.

Border, Blackbirds, Black Caviar. And Beef.

Herbed spring pea & lemon risotto? Pah! You didn’t really think I’d gone all posh did you?
The Gabba, a warts n’ all bastion of Aussie sporting supremacy. Home, down the years, to the likes of Lindwall, Border, Hayden and latterly, err, Johnson. Gutsy blokes need gutsy grub. In addition to the soft-cock fine dining on offer in the Members Stand, there’s proper tucker for the blue-collar boys too.
Having cocked a snook at the array of pork-knuckles, bockwursts and rissoles on offer at the marvellously authentic German club across Vulture Street (as well as the Member’s Lunch in the ground), we sought out something for lunch as authentically Australian as, well, their recent cricket failures.
Having been here for four weeks now and not got round to trying one, it was to time to get involved. Four N’ Twenty Meat Pies, it was time to come to Papa.

In a bad week for bad meat, it was a job to focus on the task in hand. Was I about to, as implied by the name, chow down on two dozen pastry encased Turdus Merula? Or would it be the meat of the moment; horse?
Just as I was about to bite my way into my imagined meat roulette I was abruptly halted by the Leddy brothers. “Whoa there H mate, what are ya doing?” Aw, look ya can’t have an Aussie pie without tomato sauce…..”

Heavens above. What madness is this? Why would you take a perfectly presentable, lovingly crafted meat pie and slather lashings of rich, red ketchup all over it? What sort of evil mind comes up with that? Furthermore, why is it, like shortening and sticking ‘ie’ on the end of every other word, the accepted norm over here?
Wrestling with this awkward clash of cultures, I found myself drawn towards the squeezy bottle of Tommy-K and while I turned over these conundrums in my overworked mind, the bottle, as if on auto-pilot squirted out a thick jet of sugary, scarlet goo on my pie top.

There’s no picture for prosperity of this seminal moment in my pie eating life, but the Leddy boys seemed impressed that the dollop atop my lunch looked like a dead ringer for a tomato-ey silhouette of Australia (with the omission of Tasmania, sadly). This ceremonial nonsense rather took my mind off what lied within.

Beef, not horse or indeed blackbird. What a relief! But not as I was expecting. No chunks, no onion, no finery, just a glorious concoction of mince and gravy. It was as delicious as the Australian batting collapse unfolding in front of me and the perturbed twenty thousand Queenslanders present.
While the Gabba is something of a fortress at Test level, its record in shorter forms of the game is rather sketchy. Even the unusual combination of the omnipresent tomato sauce couldn’t distract me from the fact that the home team were getting absolutely buried in their own backyard. In fact, maybe that’s the way us Poms should approach the pie plus tomato sauce conundrum;

Best Served Watching The Aussies Getting Dicked

I finished my pie with a flourish, licking keenly every last fleck of pastry from my sated chops. So simple, yet so good. I’m sure the Australian selectors must wish Mitchell Johnson was this uncomplicated.
There’s a good chance Four N’ Twenty pies, like Lionel Richie and Sharpe novels will end up in the corner of my conscience labelled ‘guilty pleasures’. I enjoyed this taste sensation so much, I went back for another, this time, at Leddo’s insistence, topped with heaps of barbecue sauce.

Maybe, as long as Australian sporting misfortunes are happening in front of me, anything goes…. Now then, anyone know where I can get a witchety grub omelette?

Epilogue. Australia, having been bowled out for 74, went on to lose the third Commonwealth Bank One Day International to Sri Lanka by five wickets inside twenty overs. The Leddys and I went on to a nice meal at an Italian Restaurant on Brisbane’s Southside with the rest of the family.
Grazie mille Mr & Mrs Leddo, a lovely gesture and a lovely occasion.