The British Pie Awards

Let’s hear it for the pie makers, the butchers and the bakers who delivered their wares to St Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray on Wednesday 6th March 2019 for the eleventh ‘British Pie Awards’.  They took the time, care and attention to select the very best ingredients, craft their finest pies and allow their skill to be scrutinised by an array of food professionals during British Pie Week.

The day was a true celebration of the pie.  Recipes that had passed from father to son and then to the next generation, nestled alongside contemporary offerings to include ingredients which embrace a change in diets and beliefs.

The criteria, however remains unchanged and the definition of the pie is just so –

A baked dish of meat, poultry or game, fruit or vegetables encased within a top and base of pastry.  

After a very early start from Dorset, the genuine welcome that I received arriving at the church cafe was truly appreciated.  There was just enough time for a stroll around the small market town before judging commenced.

All the judges were assembled in the choir stalls for our briefing and then we made our way to allotted tables for introductions to the members of our team.

Blessing of the pies commenced.  A rousing tribute was made by the Reverend Kevin Ashby who gave thanks for such a wonderful assembly and the craft of the pie maker.

To ensure consistency amongst the judging, the unique congregation were guided through two ‘control pies’.  This was to ensure that we all followed the same criteria with our category.

Judging commenced and the time passed quickly, as each entry was carefully assessed for its appearance, baking, pastry and filling.  In groups, we asked whether the pie would ‘catch our eye’ from a shop window display and would we be compelled to buy it for the sake of looks alone?

The pastry was assessed next.  We asked whether the pie was an even bake?  Was there excessive over spill?  Always being mindful that the pastry makes 50% of the pie, we cut each carefully in half, listening to the sound of the crust.  How did the pastry ‘behave’ under the knife?  Was the case and lid evenly ‘pinned’ or rolled? Did the filling ooze across the board or did it hold its shape, standing proud and generous with a delicious and tempting aroma?

After all of these assessments, it was only then time to try the pie.  First of all we nibbled the pastry.   We asked whether it was buttery or rich with lard as described or did we feel it was slightly bland and needing an adjustment in the seasoning. Did it taste crisp and ‘melt in the mouth’ or was it slightly dry?

We tasted the filling.  Did it meet our expectations? Could we see an even combination of ingredients that had been described? Did we want more or was one bite enough?  Would we want to snaffle it in our bag and take it home for our tea?  Just to make sure, we tasted the pastry and filling together before making our final assessment.

Finally we discussed whether, if any, we felt improvements may be made to the pie. Did we have any suggestions to make the pie more marketable and achieve more sales for the producer?

For any lover of food it certainly was a privilege to witness such an event under the majestic eves of a Grade 1 listed building, parts of which can be dated back to 1170.  I appreciated the uniqueness of the location and the chance to taste and evaluate beside other chefs, food buyers and writers.  I hope that the producers found our feedback both constructive and objective.

The winners will be announced on Friday 8th March at the British Pie Awards Lunch.

As I began to make my way home, I walked along Church Street, which was once a highway taken by Medieval Kings travelling to the North of England from London. I couldn’t help but wonder about their journey.  No doubt it’s purpose was to maintain control as well as amass wealth and power.  But, just like me, I am sure that they were impressed by the traditional food of the region. Perhaps this is why the pathway remains so well preserved to this day.

So the answer is yes please – I would love another slice of that PIE!