The humble pie has long been one of Britain’s most popular dishes. Whether it’s chicken and mushroom or beef and ale, the pastry-encrusted dish is a staple of British cuisine which worked hard to repair its somewhat tattered food reputation post-World War Two following the introduction of rationing.
The relative simplicity of savoury pies means they have rarely been synonymous with fine dining. However, the emergence of new specialist manufacturers and the increasing popularity of modern British cuisine has led to more experimentation with this classic dish, which is set to be promoted extensively during British Pie Week (2-8 March).
Next week, those pushing the boundaries will also be rewarded at this year’s annual British Pie Awards, featuring more than 20 categories such as free from, vegetarian and meat pie. Now in its 12th year, the Awards says it has seen a significant increase in high quality, gourmet pies, with flavours submitted including pork black pudding with pear, strawberry & prosecco, and Chinese aromatic chicken with black truffle and mushroom medley.
“We have judged well over 9,000 pies since the Awards were first founded in 2009,” Matthew O’Callaghan, chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association and host of the British Pie Awards, says. “During that time the quality and range of pies submitted have increased significantly.”
The British pie may be best known for its meat varieties, but it too is embracing the plant-based food revolution. In fact, last year’s Supreme Champion at the aforementioned awards was a vegan pie stuffed with a curried sweet potato and butternut squash.
Manufacturers are also getting in on the act. Famed for its meaty snacks, Fray Bentos caused a stir last year when it announced the launch of its own plant-based products, such as a vegan steak and kidney snack made from soy mince and butter-free pastry. It was even rewarded for its efforts by winning an award for Best Vegan Pie from controversial animal rights organisation Peta.
Two other leaders in the pie-making sector, Higgidy and Pieminister, have both been busy ramping up their vegan range too, which the latter says has been the biggest factor in its new product development over the last couple of years. Among its vegan product portfolio is Kevin (mushroom, tomato & red win pie with baby onions & thyme) and Chooks Away! (creamy vegan ‘chicken’/tofurky pie with celeriac, smoked garlic and sherry).
Joining Pieminister’s range last month specifically for Veganuary was Evergreen, which features Asian aromatic flavours and contains kale, spinach and edamame beans with ginger, garlic and lime. “It doesn't sound like it should work but it does and is bright green when you cut into it,” the company’s Catharine Ellis tells Food Spark.
“We saw some strong sales in Veganuary and we brought out the new pie with a promotion of buy one get one free on all vegan plant-based meals, just trying to encourage those who wouldn't normally go for a plant-based option,” she adds. “Our aim is to persuade people to try things that a year or two ago they wouldn't have considered tasting.”
Life of luxury
Pies have always had something of a mixed reputation due to concerns people had over what went into them, but there now appears to be a trend towards a more luxurious variety containing premium ingredients which are organic and sourced locally. And Ginsters seems to be reacting to this and what The Times recently called a “posh pie revolution”.
Earlier this week, the famous pasty maker announced it was launching a gourmet range for high-end department store Selfridges and its luxury food halls. Crafted by Michelin-starred chef Chris Eden, the three products (at a cost of £4.99 each) are wagyu beef and truffle oil; grilled chicken with coconut and lemon; and roasted cauliflower with mature cheddar from the West Country.
Of course, some would dispute the idea that a pasty falls within the wider parameters of what actually defines a pie. The British Pie Awards actually caused ‘controversy’ a few years ago when the decision to award its top prize to a pasty generated debate around what differentiates and pasty and pie. Yet the lines between the two only seem to be blurring even further.
Pieminister, which is also aiming to tap into the wider snacking market, created a new range of ‘patties’ which are pocket-sized pies which people can eat on the go. “The flavours are a little bit more worldly, such as the Chana-Rama which are chickpea and spinach, as well as the Holy Chipotle which are black bean, chilli and lime,” Ellis explains. “It's to give people more of a grab-and-go option because pies are quite hard to eat, whereas with patties you can grab three, take them out and enjoy them on your walk to work. They are also really good at elevenses with a coffee, or a light snack in the evening.”
It seems there is still plenty of life left in this British classic.