Stephen Jardine: Shortcrust, suet or flaky - it's all about pie

NATIONAL Pie Week is approaching, so let's celebrate this simple treat, writes Stephen Jardine

Any opportunity to celebrate the pie is time well spent. Picture: PA

A very happy Absinthe Day to you all!

If this particular celebration has passed you by, that’s not surprising. You probably overindulged last year and your body is still struggling to replace the lost memory cells.

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That aside, national awareness days tend to be the last bastion of the desperate marketing person who has well and truly run out of fresh ideas – with one honourable exception. I’m always delighted to spot National Pie Week looming in the calendar.

Starting on Monday, any opportunity to celebrate the pie is time well spent.

The pie has been around since the 12th century and by the 14th century it was established as a popular word in the Oxford Dictionary.

I share this knowledge courtesy of the American Pie Council. Having discovered this esteemed organisation, my ambition is now to become their man in Britain.

The APC exists to promote pies wherever possible but that involves a problem because Americans are amateurs at this game. The pie reached their shores from Britain with the early settlers but on the crossing, something got lost.

On the other side of the world, Australia also makes brave claims of pie heritage. In the 1850s gold rush, an English migrant started recreating pies from home for Sydney harbour ferry passengers. Nowadays more than 270 million meat pies are sold in Australia every year but again, they are just not what they should be.

It all comes down to the pastry. Without exception, mass produced is never as good. It can be flaky or shortcrust or suet but a great pie needs great pastry. Then it’s all about the filling.

Pies have been undergoing a renaissance in recent years. Once a humble dish with the pastry designed simply to make the meal go further, now posh pies are all the rage.

Some of my earliest food memories involve a hot Scotch pie at half time at Queen of the South games with my dad. The taste is second to the uncomfortable sensation of the hot gravy running down my arm and over my scarf.

Fast forward to today and The Grocer magazines reports a spike in premium pie sales. Nowadays steak and kidney looks pretty tame when compared with exotic new varieties such as Sweet Potato or Steak Ragu and Crispy Potato.

So the pastry is vital and the filling has to be good but what makes a pie really special is the all-round eating experience. From putting it in the oven to watching the crust turn golden, sliding it on to the plate and then breaking the pastry to allow the delicious filling to spill out, there is ceremony.

Usually a home treat, more and more restaurants are now featuring the delights of a pie on the menu, often as a dish best shared between two people. The only drawback being, a pie to share never quite looks big enough in my book. So to dessert.

A true pie lover won’t shrink from following one served as main course with another for pudding. Pedants will say a lemon meringue pie is no such thing because it lacks a proper pastry lid but in my book, life is too short for such distinctions.

So make time for a pie over the next week. Sweet or savoury, shortcrust or suet, it is something that stands the test of time.