Baking pies a great way to earn a crust
It was with great delight I read in the paper this week that Greggs The Bakers is opening a shop in Belfast. At last. I’ve been waiting years for this!
If I was asked to define one thing in particular I’ve missed while living in Northern Ireland, I would have no hesitation whatsoever. Pies. I’ve missed me pies.
As you may or may not know, I’m not originally from these parts. I’m actually a lassie from Lancashire, born and bred in Preston — true cloth-cap country and the very epicentre of the area known as the “Pie Perimeter” where you’ll find a pie shop on every corner.
In short, we live on pies. Virtually every day it’s pies for lunch (except we don’t call it lunch we call it “dinner”) and hotpot for dinner (except we don’t call it dinner, we call it “tea”).
Anyone who’s ever lived in or around my great historical county — or stopped for a bite to eat on the M6 service station, or simply watched a few episodes of Corrie will know what I mean.
We in Lancashire don’t “do” sophisticated light lunches like the rest of the UK. We don’t pop to Marksies for a chorizo ciabatta, or phone out for a Foccacia, or have a sushi delivered in a bento box to our desks at ten to one.
Eee, by gum. No! We queue up at t’pie shop like proper workers. And queue round the block if needs be — and it usually does — to get our favourite fare. Every day of the week except Fridays of course, when instead it’s fish from t’chippy.
I’m not talking about fine-dining, haute cuisine neither. Good old-fashioned meat and potato is the pie of choice for all us discerning, fettling Northern folk. Mouth-watering pastry (made with lard of course and none of your polyunsaturated nonsense) lovingly fashioned into shape via a two-inch deep, round foil tin... filled to the brim with sliced and seasoned, softly-cooked spuds bound in a thick, rich gravy... interspersed with just a few flecks hither and thither of peppery minced beef...then topped off with a heavenly halo of pastry crust which is so fine it’s almost translucent...and a hole in the middle where the steaming gravy peeks through and you almost scald your mouth as you sink your teeth into it...mmmmmmmmmm... I’m drooling just thinking about it.
In Preston, Wigan, Bolton, Manchester, Salford and the rest of the North-West, there are hundreds of pie shops to choose from. And Greggs is just one of them.
But here? Twenty-odd years since I blew-in I’m still searching in vain to find even one in Northern Ireland. And I don’t mean a cake shop that happens to sell the occasional savoury pie, or a bakery either. I’m talking a dedicated, no-nonsense pie shop.
Where are they all? Why hasn’t this simple culinary craze ever caught on here? I can’t understand it, especially as Northern Ireland is crawling with people from the North West. Also, there’s a similarity between the two areas that goes back a long way to the days of the old mills.
You see the original pies of the Pie Perimeter were first created to sate the ravenous hunger of the Lancashire Mill workers, hence the localised topography. Wherever mills were whirring away there were bakers nearby loading up their ovens with batch after batch
of pies for every mill-worker and his wife. And yet here in Ulster, which has a similar history, it never happened.
After years of frustration and, frankly, terrible hunger, I finally decided to attempt making a meat and potato pie myself. Like Colonel Sanders would tell you (had he not died from diabetes and chronic heart-failure and obesity) it took years of tweaking, tampering and twiddling with this, that and the other. But now — at last — I think I’ve perfected the recipe.
So, what is it? I hear you ask. Sorry, I’m not going to tell you. My plan is to see how Greggs fares with the Norn Iron public. If the craze does finally catch on, then I might just put my money where my mouth is and open a wee pie shop all of my own.