Stephen Jardine: Aiming pie high with handy meal

Stephen Jardine
Stephen Jardine
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We MAY now be a land of food and drink, and home to the very best restaurant in the UK, but if one food captures the imagination of Scotland it is surely the humble pie.

It is all things to all men. From the traditional pie in a local bakers to gourmet varieties, it seems like there is one for every taste and each occasion.

Soon the steak pie will play a starring role in our Hogmanay celebrations, but I associate it with half time at a football match, the grease running down my sleeve and the filling burning my frozen lips.

A friend tells a great story of turning up at a lower league Scottish football ground and discovering the match had been cancelled due to a frozen pitch. At that the caterer turned with a van full of pies and a disappointed expression. “That’s the third time these are having to go back in the freezer”, he said. Yum.

Thankfully, others have much higher standards, because this week Forres Mechanics lifted the trophy at the inaugural Scotch Pie Football Club Awards. Produced by local firm Murdoch Brothers Butchers, it was fitting that the prize went to a small local team and not to the commercial catering operation of an SPL giant.

The annual Scotch Pie Awards are a roll-call of small-town bakers and butchers. This year’s winner comes from Thornhill, in Dumfriesshire, and before that it was Beith, Forres, Boghall and Buckhaven. They are not locations we associate with glamour and sophistication but they sure know how to make pies.

What’s the secret? Like all good things, I suspect it is very simple. A great Scotch pie probably comes down to the best local ingredients and simple recipes that have been carefully refined but not tampered with down the years.

In his Oxford Companion To Food, Alan Davidson traces the origins of the pie back to the 14th century and speculates it might have derived from the word magpie, reflecting the wide variety of things that could be picked to go in it. That variety has never been greater than it is today.

Award-winning pies from Robert Corrigan, of Glasgow’s Acanthus Hand-made Pies, stretch from pork, pancetta and leek to lamb kofta and piggy black, featuring pork and black pudding.

Robert says we are a nation of pie lovers but quality requires care.

“A great pie must have great pastry. The filling should be moist and full of natural flavour with no greasy clagging due to cheap fat or oil”, he says.

“A pie is a meal in itself, easily portable, quickly edible and totally adaptable.”

During the endless food scares of the 80s, the pie could have fallen victim to public suspicion about what lay underneath the pastry. Instead the Scotch Pie Awards have elevated our most humble food to iconic status, and its future looks better than ever.