I’m sitting back in my flat now after returning from the 2015 World Scotch Pie Championships Awards Lunch and I feel compelled to tell my story. Partly to answer all the questions I’ve been asked by curious friends and followers and partly because I hope my story can help in spreading the story of pie. For many of you who follow Meat Filled Pastries you will know my love of pie but in the last 3 months I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a group of people who love pie even more than I do who not only have a passion for meat and pastry but live and breathe it every single day.
My journey started back in October where an invitation was made to be part of the judging panel for the competition, specifically in the football pie category. My obvious answer was yes, a stupid boy project started after a couple of beers and a desire to use my journalistic skills in a fun and interesting way had turned into a dream. A chance to have my say on who has the best football pie in the whole world. Bring it on.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a tad nervous when I turned up for judging day on November 11th in Dunfermline. I’d been given the opportunity to enter the inner sanctum of the pie fraternity and here was I rocking up in a jeans and checked shirt without a hat, coat or hairnet to hand. Considerably younger than the majority of the other judges and let’s be honest folks considerably slimmer than most my concern was that my views wouldn’t be taken seriously.
That thought couldn’t be further from the truth.
After going through some pre-judging rituals I was assigned to a team of 4 to judge the 49 football pies on offer, a surprisingly small sum when you consider there are well over 300 junior and senior clubs in our fair and bonny land. That said it was still one of the larger categories in the near 600 pie, bridie and sausage roll field and my immediate thought was how am I going to manage to eat all these! Fear not though as in teams of two we set about assessing, the shape, colour, fill and most importantly taste of a range of pies. I’m not going to go into too great a detail in relation to the judging process but it’s suffice to say I’ve never looked at a pie so closely. Sniffing, squeezing and of course tasting those on offer. Not a whole pie, but slivers of which would then be up for discussion and in some cases further tasting by the rest of the group.
Initially I let the vastly experienced butchers and bakers take the lead letting their years of experience be my guide but as we moved on I found my voice and to my delight it was one that was indeed welcome. It is here I think the organisers deserve a lot of credit, it would be easy to not allow those from the outside in but by letting people like me a chance to judge the best that Scottish butchers and bakers have to offer they ensure that the tastes of the consumer are reflected right here and now. Whilst some more exotic fillings fell foul of the older generation my input ensured they got a fair review and for me that’s what this competition was all about, tasting the best pies around whilst also hoping to find the next pie based innovation. It was good to see that pies that wandered from the traditional were rewarded come presentation day and I’d like to think I contributed to that.
As judging finished with a happy birthday sing song to celebrity judge and Bay City Roller Les MeKeown, topping off what had already been a pretty surreal day, we were asked to submit our choices, based on the scores we had given. With three pies at the top of the pile, all on equal points it was with great surprise and honour that I found myself being looked upon as the ‘expert’ in the field. I made my suggestions and a consensus was reached, we had found our diamond pie. That however doesn’t mean we had found the winner.
The next stage in the process is one shrouded in mystery, well it should be anyway, as it was the mystery shop where butchers and bakers were visited to check the products they offered on judging day were just as good when passed on to paying customers. Perhaps here is where I have my biggest question. How do you mystery shop a football pie?
Whilst the other nine categories can be purchased and made at home the football pie is a totally different animal. It has to be held in one hand as you juggle a tea or Bovril all whilst 22 men (or women) wage war on each other with the ultimate prize of three points and victory. Football matches don’t take place in controlled environments, especially in Scotland, they can be cold and wet or hot and windy and so for me to mystery shop a football pie should entail a journey to the game itself. If that’s not the method now I’d love it to be in the future as this is truly where the customer consumes these meat filled things of beauty. Anyway slight tangent aside, these mystery shops finally reach the conclusion of who really provides the best pie in the land.
And so with that I move on to today’s events and the announcement of a World Scotch Pie Champion. The winner, if you don’t know by now, came from Murrays of Perth and the joy on the face of Linda, the trophy recipient, and of all the people in the room as the winner was announced is all anyone needs to see should you find yourself asking, does it really matter? Because as nice as it was to get a free lunch and hear the echoing bellows of the bagpipes as the lunch got into full swing it was the obvious love of pastry that everyone I spoke to had that really got me.
Stephen McAllister the 2014 Winner from The Kandy Bar (and 2015 Football Pie Winner) spoke with the kind of passion that would surely turn even the most devout of pie haters into meat and pastry guzzling behemoths. There was my fellow judges quick to show the way but also willing to listen to new ideas and ways of thinking. There was the myriad of butchers and bakers who spoke of pie making not as a job or chore but as an art and a passion that they will willingly spend years perfecting. You hear how they go through peaks and troughs and how they have to adapt to an ever-changing financial climate. I like to think of myself as quite savvy when it comes to the machinations of the modern world but even I found these tales quite the eye opener.
As the fanfare died down and I rushed to my car to miss the torture that is rush hour traffic I took a moment to reflect on the journey I had gone on. These men and women who form the families and generations of master craftsfolk found at that awards lunch today are the reason why I love food, it’s the reason why I love pie as without them Meat Filled Pastries would not exist. As I watched the man beside me collect an award I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that earlier in the afternoon he had told me how he was expecting a hard year ahead.
So please now take this as a call to arms, even if just once a month you visit your local butcher or baker to buy something you’d usually get in the supermarket you could be making a massive difference to our future food landscape. Don’t let these wonderful people become a thing of nostalgia let’s help them thrive and move forward. Everybody let’s eat pie!