EATING FOR BRITAIN: LONDON CALLING FOR PIE & MASH
After some relatively far flung journeys for EATING FOR BRITAIN, I was delighted when the next dish I had to cross off on my list was not only in London, but exactly twelve minutes walk from my flat in Shoreditch (I timed myself, sad, but true)
I had written about Pie & Mash on the blog before of course, quite recently when I went for a quick lunch at Manze’s, down by Tower Bridge. However, when I decided to add this classic London combination to my list, I knew that I had, on my very doorstep, access to the original source.
Joe Cooke is a fourth generation Pie & Mash man and it was his great grandfather, Robert Cook, listed in the census as a “Fish Merchant” who is credited by many as the first to start selling pies, then made with eels, from his small shop in Bethnal Green way back in 1862. Now, some 150 years later, Cooke’s have two shops, one on Broadway Market in Hackney and the one I planned to visit on Hoxton Market and Joe himself has been a pieman for well over twenty years
As I walked into the dining room with its white tiled walls and sawdust-strewn floors, it’s hard not to imagine that little has changed since it first opened, but according to Joe, it is the only thing that remains unchanged. When the shop first opened, choices for eating outside of the home were limited to a fish & chips shop, perhaps a café and of course, the pie shop. Now, on the same stretch of road, he listed over thirty options for food and to further emphasise his point swept his arm around in a gesture to show his relatively empty dining room.
It’s a great shame as Pie & Mash are definitely a great value meal. As the picture of the menu shows, a pie with mash and liquor and a mug of strong tea can be had for £4, almost less than the price of a sandwich from Pret.
Of course, price is only one consideration and if the food was no good, then it wouldn’t matter how cheap it was, but Cooke’s pies are the business and, Joe, who was running off to deliver some food to a local office, put me in the hands of one of his colleagues to show me how they were made, fresh every morning.
Like so many of the good things to eat I have encountered on my trip so far, the pies have very few ingredients. Shortcrust pastry and minced beef made only from the flanks of Scotch beef. Er, that’s it. The pie casings are are over stuffed with mince and then baked until golden, simple but following the same procedure as they have for over a hundred years.
King Edwards are mashed with butter as the traditional accompaniment and then it is just a case of deciding what combo of the two your appetite demands and whether you want them on their own or awash with liquor.
The liquor was originally from the stock made by boiling the eels, thickened with flour and turned to the slightly lurid green by the addition of handfuls of fresh parsley. Unfortunately, at the moment, the scarcity and price of eels means that they were off the menu, so the liquor was made with stock whisked with flour and parsely until it reached the required thick consistency.
Obviously, all that watching made me ravenous and, I indulged myself in a large plate of the three key ingredients. There is no way anyone would ever be foolish enough to argue that this is pretty food or even dainty food. It isn’t. It was food for a purpose. Cheap, nutritious and like so many dishes in the UK, designed to provide fuel for those whose days were spent in hard manual toil.
However, there is also no denying that, when it is made well, as it was here at Cooke’s, with good ingredients prepared as they always have been, that it is delicious and a great option for a budget bite.
And we all need more of those right now.