Today marks the start of British Pie Week, a week dedicated to the undisputed champion of pub-grub.
To mark our celebrations, we’ve paired three distinctly British pies with their luscious beery counterparts. Let’s tuck in!
In history’s rich tapestry, pie first appears in Ancient Egypt, where a succelent honey filling was encrusted in oats, wheat or rye. The Ancient Greeks were next to leave their mark on pie, building on the knowledge of the Egyptians to create pastries with fillings baked into them.
Hot on the heels of the Greeks were the Romans, who marched across Europe with rations of food encased in pastry, protected from the blood, grit and dirt of the outside world. When their legions arrived in Britain, the Romans were swift in their introduction of pie to the newly conquered territories.
Pie continued to rise in favour over hundreds of years and, when the Middle Ages arrived, esteemed chefs put pastry at the centre of royal tabletops. Entertainment and food went hand-in-hand in Medieval times as chef’s became banquet coordinators, mastering the art of dinnertime theatricals.
Combining a more palatable flavour with increased robustness, chefs in the Middle Ages created extravagant pastries that were epic in proportion. Once baked these pies were used to conceal flocks of birds and even the occasional jester, primed to pounce at the surprise and delight of all guests in attendance.
Despite these pastry innovations, the crust continued to be discarded of (given as scraps to servants) as guests focused on the more exotic fruits and meats offered at the table.
Eventually our beloved pastry treat was affirmed in high-society, crust and all, in the fields of Melton Mowbray – the modern-day home of pie.
MELTON MOWBRAY PORK PIES
In 18th century Leicestershire, Melton Mowbray bakers began to embrace the heritage of pie as they prepared pork-filled pastries for local huntsmen. Decent enough for gentry on-the-go, pork pies became a favourite in picnics and packed-lunches across the land. Now entrenched in the British diet, the humble pork pie is heralded as a true national treasure!
Today, the town of Melton Mowbray is not only home to the British Pie Awards (the jewel in the crown of British Pie Week), but is also the central location of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association.
The work of the association’s ten producers came to fruition when, in 2009, their namesake product was awarded Protected Geographic Indication for its distinctive style (bow-shaped from baking without assistance of a supporting hoop and grey in colour through the use of uncured pork).
In accordance with the PGI, a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie must be produced using the methods that were first mastered by local bakers in the 18th century, and has to manufactured within 10.8 square miles of the town.
In celebration of pie’s most elevated form we’ve paired an authentic Melton Mowbray pork pie with a pint of golden ale (brewed with East Kent Golding hops – another British foodstuff with protected status).
Pork pie and golden ale is a fabulous example of a ‘complimentary pairing’, one of the ‘threes Cs’ of beer and food matching. The herbal, fruity notes of Hopback Brewery’s Summer Lighting will bring out the sweetness of the pastry and highlight the delicate spices in the pork.
PIE, MASH & LIQUOR
As the 18th century drew to a close, Britain’s workforces were thrust out of the fields and into the ruthless toil of smog ridden cities.
Among all the blood, sweat and tears of the industrial revolution, pie once again found itself as an everyman’s food. Returning to its’ functional roots the pie became a top pick for hungry workers, sporting a shell that was indiscriminate of sooty air or dirty hands.
With a large working-class population, the East End of London was teeming with pie lovers during the industrial revolution. Those not content with homemade lunches would opt for the pie, mash and liquor (parsley gravy) on offer from one of the many ‘Pie & Mash’ shops in the capital.
‘Pie & Mash’ is a proper London delicacy, showcasing hearty mince-meat that has been set in a suet pastry base. Once filled, the base is topped with either a rough-puff or short-pastry lid. The pie is then plated up with creamy mash and finished with a dousing of parsley liquor. The ultimate in homely nourishment, Pie & Mash is a sum of its’ parts and then some!
The Pie & Mash shops of London’s East End are today regarded a part of our national identity. Shops such as Manze’s in Walthamstow have been granted listed status for their beautiful heritage interiors – temples of pie if you will.
As the second of our ‘three Cs’, a cleansing pairing aims to reset our palette, preparing the mouth for many more swigs and bites. To drinks-match this bona fide British institute, we’ve gone for a pint of ruby ale (‘Three Hundreds Old Ale’ from Chiltern Brewery) to wash away the heaviness of the dish.
A perfect balance of juicy malts and floral hops clear the big foodie flavours, readying you for another onslaught of pie and ale. It’s a humble pairing but that’s what we believe makes it so great and true!
As Britain grew to be a powerhouse of global industry, lower-class workers (such as those in the East End) were rewarded with restorative time off, and a modest amount of pocket money to spend along the way.
One popular pastime of the working-class was the thrilling sport of football. Growing into the worldwide industry that it is today, football was nurtured in the pitchside terraces of British clubs, filled to burst with impassioned fans throughout the 1800s. These weekend revellers were not hungry for glory alone, as many sought out food to keep them warm in the open stands.
As a hearty handheld meal, pie warmed the cockles on even the coldest night away in unfamiliar territory. As time went on, pie became the unofficial meal of match-day and the tradition spawned its’ very own subculture..
Representing a widespread acceptance of the category, ‘Football Pies’ are judged in their very own class at the modern day British Pie Awards. It is worth noting that quality of pie is not relative to a club’s stature, as Tom Dickinson found out in his book ’92 Pies’. 92 Pies follows Tom Dickinson, a Bolton supporter, as he ranks the pies from each of the 92 grounds in professional English football (across just one season!!), with Morecambe FC crowned overall champion.
‘The Shrimps’ pies are legendary within the subculture and their Chicken and Mushroom product has won big at the British Pie Awards, claiming both ‘Champion Football Pie’ and ‘Overall Champion’ of the entire competition!
Although Morecamb’s pie is a champion in all senses of the word, most British clubs offer only mass-produced pies at their grounds. In the spirit of accessibility, we’ve gone with the Chicken Balti Pukka Pie, which can be found at The Hawthorn’s stadium, home of Premier League side West Bromwich Albion.
We’ve paired this desi-inspired pie with a brew that is intrinsically linked to India. For those who don’t already know, India Pale Ale (or IPA) takes its’ name from the style of highly hopped pale beer that was exported en-masse to British colonies in India throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As hops are antibacterial, huge amounts of the flower were used to preserved the brew during its’ long and turbulent journey at sea, introducing fruity aromas and a bitter aftertaste to the ale.
The match of IPA and curry is perhaps the most tried and tested example of a contrast pairing (the last in our ‘Three Cs’ of pairing), so we have confidence that Balti Pie and Tring Brewery’s Pale Four will knock it out the park!
The dank, piney qualities of the Pale Four should cut through the heat of the curry. Bright, fruity aromas will contrast well with a rich and spicy sauce.
THAT WAS GOOD, HUH?
Now that you are full of pie and beer, we’d like to introduce CONTEXT as a bonus C of beer and food matching.
Contextually speaking, beer and pie just go . It sounds right, looks great and tastes amazing. Under the guise of our last ‘C’, beer and pie can be matched in any combination, so please go ahead and try your own!
We hope that you have enjoyed these pairings and will enjoy future pies even more, in the knowledge that pie is as much a part of the British diet as a pint of cask ale.
Here’s to the pies of Melton Mowbray, the East End and rainy British football grounds – and to all those in between!