EATING FOR BRITAIN: PIES, THE NIGHTMARE SCENARIO
Imagine, if you will, the picture. A man whose life’s mission has been to convert human matter to pie form from the inside out by eating as many of them as he possibly can in one life time is invited to be a judge at the Great British Pie Awards.
It should be the greatest event of his life, a dream fulfilled, and he arrives in Melton Mowbray, arguably the spiritual home of the pie, having warmed up nicely with a little gentle pie and ice cream eating the day before in beautiful Harrogate, full of expectation, but empty of stomach in anticipation of being presented with tray after tray of meaty goodness.
How then could a day that held such golden promise turn into a marathon of horror matched only by the thought of watching six back-to-back episodes of The Gilmore Girls? A day that not only almost brought me to the point of breaking the UK projectile vomiting record, or indeed setting one if no one has yet had the good sense to measure such things, but almost put me off pies for life.
Let’s start at the very beginning.
Monday was a good day. I had travelled up to Rotherham the night before, which meant I could start at a civilised time for my trip to Harrogate where I had arranged to meet Yorkshire food P.R guru, Jennifer Middleton and my chum, Mr Jay Rayner. Our task was to aid and abet the good folk of Yorkshire Fodder in deciding which pies and ice cream would be the ones they would stock.
Yorkshire Fodder will be a rather impressive new food shop and café run by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and our fellow judges, Heather and Ian had spent the last few months visiting over 300 producers in the relevant counties looking for potential lines for the shop. To drum up a little publicity, Jennifer had invited Jay to come along to draw interest from the press and me to come along and Hoover up the crumbs from his celebrity table.
It was all good fun as we tasted our way through thirty pies and as many ice cream before all heading off for a slap up lunch at Betty’s of Harrogate where I treated myself to a Fat Rascal, their own uniquely Yorkshire take on the humble scone. A gentle drive back to Rotherham and an early night had me all set up for the main event, The Great British Pie Awards to be held the next day in Melton Mowbray.
My place on the panel of some thirty judges had been arranged by Ian Hartland of Mrs King’s Pork Pies, so when I arrived, at the Parish Church, which was being used as HQ for the event, I understood that this association and the fact that this key category would probably be assigned to one of the celebrity judges, meant I would not be judging pies of a porcine nature. I did trust however, that a few animals would have given their last bleat, moo or oink for my benefit and settled myself in with a cup of tea to await the call to pontificate.
One of the organisers handed me the briefing notes along with a list of all of my fellow judges. I glimpsed through and then looked again and again and again. Enough times in fact to convince myself that what I was seeing was not some horrible mistake. The page simply read
JUDGE: SIMON MAJUMDAR
CATEGORY NUMBER: 7
CATEGORY TYPE: VEGETARIAN SAVOURY PIES
Oh yes, you read correctly, someone’s idea of a clever joke was to put Rotherham’s most carnivorous son in charge of tasting pies made with the fruits of the earth. My fellow judge, Tony Spencer, a retired master baker, did not seem at all perturbed and was waving his baker’s knife around with an expectant air as, after a quick blessing of the pies from the local vicar, we were ushered into our side room, away from the glamour of the meat pies, to taste a procession of pies, each more grim than the last.
The simple truth is, that fruit aside, things unslaughtered have no place in a pie unless they are there as a willing sidekick to flesh. The scoring system was weighted towards the technicalities of the pastry and baking (something they must revisit for next year) which meant some shocking abominations had to be marked quite well because the casing that hid their vile interiors had been well made.
A case in point is the second to last picture which is for, and I am not kidding here, a “wholemeal pastry sweet & sour vegetable pie” quite easily one of the nastiest things I have ever eaten and remember, EAT MY GLOBE fans, I have eaten stuff that came out of a cod’s dick.
In the end, for myself and Tony, it was not a case of choosing the best pie, it was a case of choosing the least lousy. Our two fellow losers, I mean judges of vegetarian pies, had better luck and managed to find some entries that were not bad at all and after some deliberations we came up with a clear winner, a pie from Pieminster called “Heidi”
After judging had finished, we assembled again in the church to await the final results. As we waited, I took the opportunity to look at the other categories and the table of champions, which presented some superb looking specimens, none of which, of course I had been given chance to sample
Sheila Dillon from Radio 4’s The Food Programme read out the list of winners and I was delighted to hear that Adam Hartland of Mrs King’s had come in first place for his Steak & Kidney Pie. The Grand Champion was, believe it or not a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie made for Sainsbury’s by Walker’s Charnwood Bakery and they were generous enough donated their £1000 winner’s cheque to the parish church’s restoration fund.
Me? After all those really rather horrible pies, I was in need of a stiff drink and joined Ian Hartland and many of the other pie makers in the local pub for as many pints of beer as it took to take the taste of that sweet & sour pie out of my mouth (about five for the record) and then snored loudly in the back of the car as we were driven back to his house where he had not only offered to put me up for the night, but also persuaded his lovely wife Nicola to make supper.
She, being a saint amongst women had made something delicious and meaty. It was just what I needed. Slow cooked beef with vegetables taking their rightful place, topped with soft scones with a shiny glaze. As if to make a symbolic statement about my thoughts on the notion of pies containing only vegetables, I filled my plate with a load of cobbler.
What could be more appropriate?