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Issue 49 - The pies have it

Scotland Magazine Issue 49
February 2010


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The pies have it

Sue Lawrence looks at the wonderful world of championship pies.

If all the food competitions I have judged the most testing on both stamina and appetite is the World Scotch Pie Championships Awards.

The year I judged, there were 65 entries in the Scotch pie section and 56 in bridies, but an astonishing 123 in “Savouries. And every entrant is hoping their pie wins a Gold Medal.

The championships began 10 years ago and has grown enormously in popularity.

At the judging I was fortunate enough (some might say!) to help judge the “Savouries”, yes, all 123 of them. Once our judging huddle had ploughed their way (at first with keen and eager palates) through such delicacies as Sheep & Neep pie with its wonderful peppery topping, Stovie Pie, Lasagne pie, Curry Pie and Macaroni pie - our palates were more than a little jaded. I confess I had to give up and declare defeat at pie number 76!

The good thing about this competition – brainchild of craft baker-butcher Alan Stuart of Buckhaven – is that, as the number of entries has risen, so has the standard. The chances of finding a perfectly crafted pastry case (crisp not hard) containing a substantial meaty filling (totally devoid of gristle or grease, with just enough gravy to moisten) are higher than ever. Nowadays craft bakers and butchers take this competition so seriously, some spend most of the year fine-tuning their pie recipes.

And this I find so encouraging not only for the sake of our culinary heritage,we Scots have eaten Scotch pies for centuries, originally mutton, now usually beef, but also to dispel that old chestnut about the poor Scots diet. It is not poor because of topquality, hand-crafted pies, it is poor because of the ubiquity of refined, processed foods, laden with additives and preservatives.

A Scotch pie, even made with prime ingredients, is not, however, for every day.

But as an occasional treat, it is fare we Scots should be very proud of. SCOTCH PIE AND BUSTER PEAS Scotch pies, made from beef or mutton, are small raised pies with a lid placed on so it sits down a little inside the top of the rim.

Pies were traditional Saturday lunchtime fare, eaten hot with beans or peas, presumably as a quick meal which freed the men for the football in the afternoon.

My fellow Dundonians traditionally eat the pie, or Forfar bridie, with buster peas, dried marrowfat peas soaked then boiled until tender then seasoned with salt, pepper and vinegar.

1. Place the drained peas in a pan with the onion and hot stock.

2. Bring to the boil (do not add any salt) and boil vigorously for 5 minutes, skimming off any scum on the surface,then reduce to low and simmer, covered, for about 40 minutes or until tender.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste and mash down, a little, but ensuring you have plenty whole peas left. Add a shake of vinegar just before serving if you like.

4. Heat the pies in a medium oven (180C / 350F / gas mark 4) for 10 to 15 minutes until hot and serve with the buster peas.

300g / 10½ oz dried split peas, soaked overnight 1 onion, peeled, chopped 700 ml / 1¼ pints beef stock Hot sherry vinegar, optional 4 to 6 best (butcher’s) Scotch pies CULLEN SKINK BRIDIE The best bridies are from Forfar. JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan, mentioned bridies in one of the novels he wrote at the turn of the last century. He was native of Kirriemuir, some five miles northwest of Forfar and so would have been very familiar with the bridies of Angus.

There are also some recipes for venison bridies, which are more ancient than the now traditional beef, since deer roamed the Highlands long before cattle. My recipe here is a cullen skink bridie which takes a traditional thick fish soup and encloses it in pastry, delicious!

PASTRY 250 g / 9 oz strong white flour 80g / 2¾ oz plain flour 175g / 6 oz butter, cubed FILLING 500g / 1lb 2 oz undyed smoked haddock fillets 300ml / 10 fl oz milk 20g packet of flat parsley, including stalks 25g / 1 oz butter 25g / 1 oz plain flour 2 heaped tsp Dijon mustard the grated zest of 1 lemon For the pastry, sift the flours and a pinch of salt in a food processor.

Add the butter and process until incorporated. Add just enough cold water (2½ - 3 tbsp) to bind to a stiff dough. Gather in your hands, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 1 hour.

For the filling, Place the fish in a saucepan with the milk and parsley stalks. Bring slowly to the boil, bubble for 1 minute then remove from the heat and cover. Leave for half an hour or so then strain over a sieve over a jug. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour, stir for a minute then add the reserved fish liquor and, whisking, cook over a medium-low heat until smooth. Stir in the mustard, lemon zest, chopped parsley leaves, fish + seasoning to taste. Cool.

Divide the pastry into 4 and roll each piece into an oval. Divide the filling into 4 and spoon onto one half of each pastry oval, leaving a border all round.

Dampen the edges and fold the top half of the pastry of the filing to enclose it. Trim the edges into a neat horseshoe shape (not a halfmoon : that is the Cornish pasty.) Now dunt and nick - by pressing down the edges to seal and crimping all around to give a nicely finished look.

Using a sharp knife, prick a small hole (for steam to escape) in the top of each bridie. Place on a lightly buttered baking tray and chill for an hour or so.

Bake in a preheated oven (200C/ 400F/Gas6) for about 40 minutes, or until a pale golden brown. Serve warm