But That’s Not a Pie!

Pie 111: The Clyde ‘Not Pie’ Pie: A Call to Arms

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Happy New Year from Meat Filled Pastries! My apologies for a lack of activity recently, a fixture list that saw a string of home games for Pollok along with weather conditions that obliterated almost every game I had lined up to go and see meant that things have been rather quiet on the pie front so far in 2016 and my first offering of the year has not a drop of pastry in sight.

Before the review though let me share with you the outcome of this year’s 2016 Scotch Pie Awards hosted at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld on the 13th January. Once again I was honoured to participate in the judging process to find the best pies and pastries from across our fair land, first judging in the hot savoury category and then taking part in the second round to find the World Scotch Pie Champion who this year is found at The Kandy Bar in Saltcoats. A full list of winners can be found at http://www.scotchpieclub.co.uk/ as well as by following me on Twitter (@MFPTasty). As always I had a blast both on the judging days and attending the awards themselves meeting numerous individuals who make my passion for pie look paltry. I left the ceremeony thinking that there is work to be done to promote pastries at our football grounds and with that in mind I thought I would share with you the 2016 Football Pie Winners, headed by Bruce of Broch’s steak pie offering, available at both Fraserburgh in the Highland League and Fraserburgh United in the North Region Juniors. The full list is below, I’m writing this on the move so apologise it’s only in picture form:

Congratulations!
Congratulations!

Congratulations again to everyone involved. So with that covered off, without much further ado, let’s rate some pie! (Or in this case a burger!)

THE SURROUNDINGS

Where: Broadwood Stadium, Clyde 0-1 Queens Park, Scottish League Two

Disappointment awaits...
Disappointment awaits…

Now usually I’ll go through a series of ratings before summing up my feelings on the quality of pastry I have been provided with but as this is ‘not a pie’ and has some key elements like pastry missing then the following is more of a long winded monologue (for ‘long winded monologue’ read as rant) on the state of non pie based catering at Scotland’s football grounds. I have no idea where this is going to go so I’ll try not to ramble.

I have always been one to build my Saturdays around a game of football, it’s always felt wrong to sit in the pub and watch Soccer Saturday, however since I have started this little venture a new variable has been added; have I reviewed a pie there before? In the case of Clyde I had not and with the Scotch Pie Club Awards ceremony happening just around the corner the following week I smelled the opportunity for a tie in.

Imagine my disappointment then as I walked into the main stand to find the shutters down and a steward ‘helpfully’ pointing me towards the corner of the stadium in the direction of a burger van. This isn’t the first time this is happened this season and my apologies to Clyde that they are getting the ones that have unleashed my ire but going to a ground and being able to get food, but not a pie, makes me sad and a little bit angry.

Now before people start getting defensive I understand a couple of variables may have been in play in this situation:

  • It was January 2nd. A Scottish Bank Holiday. A day where the whole of Scotland sit in their pants and watch a Wallace and Gromit marathon whilst eating the remaining left over turkey and steak pie.
  • Maybe the butcher wasn’t able to provide pies that day.
  • As it is such a day of rest maybe wee Betty who runs the pie counter didn’t fancy hauling herself down to Cumbernauld to feed a bunch of folk for a fiver.

You know what? If any of the above are true then fair enough, everyone deserves a holiday. Maybe a bit of better planning would help in the future and I can almost, ALMOST accept the contingency of a burger van coming into play if the quality of the fare offered in the place of pastry is of an equivalent or higher standard. Sadly though, in this instance, and in many others, you are presented with a crunchy frozen burger heated up on a griddle and topped with a slice of limp processed cheese and some barely warmed through onions. Don’t believe me look at below:

Not a Pie.
Not a Pie.

Scotland, renowned for nurturing some of the best produce in the world, and this is what you get presented with. Then after discovering the one place where you always expect to ‘take a pie’ doesn’t provide one you are stung with the fact you have to pay more (£3!!) for the privilege to eat something that you wouldn’t look twice at it in the frozen meats section of your local supermarket.

I understand some people don’t like pies, these people are beyond help but understandably football clubs, in a bid to boost revenue streams, often provide alternatives. I don’t particularly like it but I don’t object to it. Burgers, fine. Hot Dogs, OK. Chilli, stovies, curry all easy to prepare in large quantities and warming to the soul on a cold day, I’d rather they weren’t there but they serve a purpose. All of them, all of them bar one: Chips. Sh*t chips. Really sh*t chips. Think about it, have you ever went to a game and walked out the ground thinking, ‘my, those chips were right braw!’. Football chips are an abomination and fall into one of two categories:

  1. Canteen style mass-produced tatties, usually found in larger stadiums. Available already sitting lukewarm under the heater for your tasting pleasure accompanied by sachet’s of sauce that are impossible to open because the smallest amount of grease on your fingers turn the small tear you need to pick at to get into the condiment of your choosing into some kind of water torture.
  2. Chips at smaller grounds where invariably a man stressfully fills the deep fat fryer he’s brought in from home with enough chips to serve one person at a time as an ever increasing queue populates itself with frustrated individuals unable to make their purchases until the 17 minutes required to cook these frozen beauties to just past raw perfection.

Chips! Do one.

I’ll stop here. You know my stance by now, I want pies, have your other things but I want pies. I want to protect the sanctity of a product that is so special to Scotland and ensure that at football matches in 2055 people are still letting the gravy smatter their face and the grease run down their elbow. With that in mind, and to support Scotland’s butchers and bakers I will be compiling the first ever (I think!) Scottish Football Pie Database. Telling you what pies you can get where and who can provide them. I want football clubs across the country to really champion there pies and the people who provide them. This year there were 53 pies entered in the Football Pie category, sounds grand doesn’t it, and yet there is:

  • 42 SPFL clubs
  • 18 Highland League clubs
  • 15 Lowland League clubs
  • 17 East of Scotland League clubs
  • 14 South of Scotland League clubs
  • 165 Junior clubs

Plus a plethora of amateur clubs I haven’t even mentioned, all of a sudden 53 out of 271 doesn’t sound that impressive. For the 2017 Scotch Pie Awards let’s get more involved!

Right that’s me. I’m off my soapbox and next time out I will be back with the first of two proper pie reviews from Linlithgow Rose but until next time, go forth and eat pie!

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

The VanCan ScranVan Diaries: Japadog

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After a couple of hours at the Rogers Arena watching a free-to-all Vancouver Canucks training session I had decided to embark on journey two of the VanCan ScranVan Diaries, there was a slight problem though. It was absolutely belting it down and I, being Scottish, was woefully under-prepared for bad weather on my holidays and as such the prospect of wandering the streets and getting a good drenching for my troubles wasn’t really revving my engine and it was at this point I remembered the stories I’d been told of Japadog.

As the name, suggests, a Japanese themed hot dog truck that now had a fully enclosed shop somewhere in Downtown Vancouver, I could get the ScranVan experience whilst not running the risk of pneumonia.

So with the intro done, let’s have some Van Scran fun!

Where: Static location in Robson Street with other carts and vans available.

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On entering I was greeted with the kind of scene you would expect to be greeted with in the bustling market of east Asia. A wall splattered with brightly coloured descriptions of food all lit up and laminated whilst the accommodation consisted of a smattering of small tables, after assessing the situation I realised I was a bit phased by the menu.

Would you like fish with your hot dog?
Would you like fish with your hot dog?

The general theme seemed to be a hot dog of some variety topped with some kind of fishiness, whether that be seaweed or bonito flakes. One of the boards on the walls championed the ‘Kurobuta Terimayo’ as the their number one best seller and so never one to shirk a food related challenge I placed my order, making it a combo deal with a portion of sachimi & garlic ‘shaked’ fries and a bottle of water. Due to the mental way bills are calculated in Canada, where bits and bobs of tax are tacked on afterwards, my order cost a rounded down CAD$10.10, (£5.75).

A Kurobuta Terimayo Hot Dog with teriyaki sauce, fried onions, terimayo and crispy seaweed with a side order of sachimi & garlic 'shaked' fries.
A Kurobuta Terimayo Hot Dog with teriyaki sauce, fried onions, terimayo and crispy seaweed with a side order of sachimi & garlic ‘shaked’ fries.

The first thing I noticed was that it didn’t smell like a hot dog but more pungent of the sea thanks to with the shredded seaweed topping, it was pretty off-putting to be honest but never the less I took my first bite.

Frankly it was all just a bit weird. Looking at the main event first let’s start with the positives, the dog itself was nice. It was billed as ‘Berkshire Pork’, but not really knowing what that is the closest comparison I can come with up is that of a Polish kielbasa, salty with a firm texture and an outer casing that popped when bitten for the first time. The bun was a little over toasted but was nice and soft without being stodgy but is at this point the positives end. The teriyaki sauce and terimayo were a strange combination, contrasting instead of complimenting each other. A good teriyaki sauce is a joy to behold but a bad one, oh boy, a bad one is like somebody has dispersed napalm onto your taste buds, this sauce was more napalm than joy and almost had a plasticky mass produced feel to it. The onions were fried but quite greasy and the seaweed apart from adding the smell of the coast added nothing to the overall taste. I ate it all but by the end I had decided I didn’t really like it.

It wasn’t all bad though, the sachimi & garlic ‘shaked’ fries were fairly tasty. The ‘shaked’ name apparently linked to the method of preparation where a portion of skinny fries are thrown into a brown paper bag along with the requested spices upon which the cook closes the bag and gives it a good shake. They were pleasant but paled in comparison with some of the cajun fries that do the rounds in burger joints back in Glasgow.

I left Japadog thinking that this was a gimmick that just didn’t work. I had been told stories of hour-long queues during the Vancouver Winter Olympics so there clearly is a cult following for the product but for me it was a disappointing take on the often glorious hot dog.

If somebody ever asks, ‘Would you like your hot dog with or without an array of ill-fitting Asian ingredients?’, politely say ‘without’ and ask about the fries instead.

VanScran Rating: 5/10 (3 of which were for the fries)

This was my second disappointing ‘new’ food experience in a few days. I had spent the weekend in Whistler and had my first ever Caesar. A drink made with Vodka, Celery, Celery Salt, Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco, Lime and Clamato Juice which, as the name suggests, is a combination of clam and tomato juices.

A Clamato.
A Caesar.

Garnished with a rim of salt and pepper it was a strangely hot and pickly mixture that started with promise before building to a crescendo of flavour that confused your palate so much that you felt compelled to almost instantaneously take another sip only to then curse that decision seconds later. All the components were there for this to be a taste sensation so I may give it another bash before I leave but as it is…

Until next time, Find a Van. Eat Some Scran!

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

The VanCan ScranVan Diaries: The Fat Duck Mobile Eatery Ltd.

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As I mentioned in my last entry I’m currently spending some good times with friends in Vancouver and as such my life of pie has taken a slight detour while I recharge my batteries and figure out exactly where I want my life to go next but I’m not going to bore you with that…instead I’m going to bore you entertain you with my tales of the best that Vancouver’s Food Trucks have to offer.

The idea to do this was actually floated to me by my host a couple of months ago, advising me that native Vancouverites (Is that right?) pride themselves on their culinary diversity and quality and that the food truck scene is something not to be missed. At the time I hadn’t really given it much thought, in fact it wasn’t really until last night that the conversation cropped up again but as I woke up this morning with no real clear plan it dawned on me to download the ‘Street Food Vancouver’ app and have a proper look. Imagine then my joy as 27 locations popped up open for business. The die had been cast and I would grab some lunch and then see where the day would take me.

Before I get started as followers of Meat Filled Pastries will tell you it is usually at this juncture that I will roll out the tried and trusted phrase of, “Without much further ado, let’s rate some pie!”, however since pies are not necessarily the order of the day it would be remiss of me not to pull another literary gem out of the bag.

So, with the intro done, let’s have some Van Scran fun! (That’s rubbish, innit?)

Where: Corner of W Cordova St. & Howe St. The Fat Duck Mobile Eatery Ltd.

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I had decided to head to the Downtown district of Vancouver for my first food truck foray, partly on the recommendation of my hosts but also because that was where all the arrows were pointing me too on the app. Initially I was going to start my journey blind heading towards which ever venue appeared first but knowing my mass indecision when it comes to food (I will pretty much try anything once), I thought it would be better to put a bit of planning into this maiden voyage and so the decision to visit the Fat Duck Mobile Eatery Ltd. was made helped by the fact that on hitting a click-through on the app a menu was provided.

The Menu
The Menu

My eye was immediately drawn to the Duck Confit ‘Philly’ Style. A rift, I assumed, on the classic Philly Cheese Steak. At CAD$10 (Approx. £5.50) it looked an absolute bargain and so I placed my order ignoring the tempting allure of something called a ‘Dirty Bowl’ whilst also trying not to giggle like a school girl while the young fellow in front of me asked if the woman behind the counter’s Dirty Bowl was spicy. I’m such a child!

As part of the ordering process I had to make up a name for myself as over the last few days it has become apparent that the Canadian ear seems to struggle with somebody saying ‘Chris’ in a strong Glaswegian accent and so ‘Marshall’ (These may get more intricate as the week goes on) awaited his order. When it arrived in its large boxed container it smelt amazing and on opening I wasn’t disappointed. The saliva glands were working overtime and I walked away looking for a place to devour my scran.

Duck Confit 'Philly' Style with Marinated Mushrooms,  Pickled Onions, Swiss Cheese, Scallions (Spring Onions to you and me) and Parmesan Mayo, with Chips (Crisps) and Chilli Mayo
Duck Confit ‘Philly’ Style with Marinated Mushrooms, Pickled Onions, Swiss Cheese, Scallions (Spring Onions to you and me) and Parmesan Mayo, with Chips (Crisps) and Chilli Mayo

My initial thought was to stroll along to Canada Place, a long pier just off the city centre, however as soon as I sat down a seagull the size of a Shetland Pony promptly sat itself down beside me and so I relocated to a less coastal location in the hope of eating my lunch in peace. As I hope the picture shows this was bursting to the crusts with meat and veggie goodness, served on a ciabatta bun I was concerned that any bite I took would end in disaster due to the occasionally chewy nature of this bread but luckily my bite was masterful as always and a couple of chews later and the party had started!

The first thing that struck me was how well the duck had been confit and the fact that there was very little fat amongst the meat, it was seasoned well and was speckled with lovely dark crispy bits throughout that added a deeper duck flavour. Next up on the palate was the wonderfully sweet and tangy pickled onions, using red instead of standard white onions should be considered a masterstroke as the sweetness complimented the duck superbly and the fresh scallions added a bit of additional crunch and a fresh, but light, onion back note to the sandwich. The marinated mushrooms added extra bite and pleasingly tasted of mushrooms. That may sound daft but an overcooked mushroom is a travesty to food, my only problem here is that as I write this a few hours later I am unable to pinpoint the marinade used.

The final part of this sandwich, and perhaps the most interesting to me, was the addition of the Swiss cheese and parmesan mayo. My natural instinct was to dismiss duck and cheese as a combination too far but I was sorely mistaken. The mild Swiss cheese melded really well with the tender pulled apart duck just melting and adding a smothness to the rich meat whilst the parmesan mayo added a salty seasoning to the entire thing that I really enjoyed.

The crisps were nicely baked and seasoned whilst the chilli mayo was a pleasant accompaniment, smoky with a mild heat but the sandwich was clearly the star of the show, if everything from a Vancouver Food Truck tastes as good as this you’re going to have a very happy pie man.

VanScran Rating: 8/10

I’d love to get some feedback on this, much like the first ever pie review this was an idea after the event so there will be some things getting changed for next time anyway. Although this is slightly outside my comfort zone in terms of writing it’s something I’ve always wanted to give a bash so we’ll see how it goes, until next time….

Find a Van. Eat Some Scran! (That’s better)

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

 

Pie 93: The Rossvale Bridie

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The worrying thing about the prospect of writing a book is that there is a lot of words involved. I’ve never really thought about it but since this little venture started with Pie 12: The Rob Roy Pie I reckon I’ve probably managed over 75,000 words dedicated to pie whilst championing football’s cause across all levels, mainly junior but with more than a nod to the senior and ladies game. There’s even a couple of pies from across the globe…well England but you get my point.

Along with all the peripheries that this journey has brought me that’s some achievement but it’s beginning to dawn on me that amalgamating all these tales of pastry themed whimsy is going to take all my accumulative nous not to end up with a soggy bottomed mess of pie all over the pages. The premise will be simple, it’ll be about pies and the journey of discovery that has taken me across the country whilst reflecting on some of the more bizarre things that have happened along the way. Will this be my pastry zenith? Only time will tell.

As it stands though we need to reach that magic hundred and leading on from, Pie 88: The Spartans ‘Haggis & Neeps’ Pasty, there is another non-pie based pastry snack on the way from Rossvale.

So without much further ado let’s rate some pie! I mean, bridie.

THE SURROUNDINGS

Where: Petershill Park, Rossvale 0-2 Pollok, Central League Cup 2nd Round

You could almost kid yourself on this was Summer.
You could almost kid yourself on this was Summer.

Price: £1.50. The same price as the previously reviewed scotch pie offering from the same venue, more than the single golden nuggets I’ve had to part with in previous weeks but still nothing to be sniffed at.

Presentation: It was one of those half and half paper and plastic bags which the bridie was wrapped into as tightly as possible. There was a small napkin dispenser at the counter but thanks to a bumper crowd there was but one dangling in the wind from it by the time I arrived twenty minutes in. When I started reviewing my pastries this kind of shortfall would annoy me but as I learned about the clubs and how they were run I understood the fine balance those at the very bottom of the game have to find between maximum profitability and the need to avoid a loss. Maybe ‘bigger’ clubs should be better at sharing knowledge in this respect rather than turning up and having a moan. Just a thought.

THE PIE

Well Bridie...
Well Bridie…

Meatiness: The reason I prefer a pie to most other pastry snacks is that the ratios usually always work to the benefit of carnivores everywhere with the pastry acting as supporting cast to the meaty main event. In a bridie the balance isn’t quite the same, I’ll come onto the pastry in a bit but it’s important at this juncture to highlight that to get to this bridie’s core you had to chomp through layer upon layer of pastry. Once there you were greeted with a well seasoned and moist oniony mince parcel, it was just rather small.

Pastry: As I have just highlighted there was an abundance of pastry to be had with this football snack. It was beautifully golden and flaked away well, it was consistent all the way round and had just a few layers of softer pastry underneath the initial crispness that eased you into a bite of meaty goodness further in. Due to a lack of pies, a number of my fellow fans had opted for a bridie and could be audibly heard singing the praises of this pastry surround.

Brown Sauce: Much like a pasty to add sauce to a bridie is an invitation for an ever flowing waterfall of brown sauce flavoured goodness ending on the floor around you with no obvious pool for it to lie in. No sauce here.

Overall: A tasty meat filled pastry, heavy on the pastry and perhaps a little light on the filling.

Gravy Factor: Sometimes I like to get a hunk of bread and sook up all the gravy with it. There just wasn’t enough gravy here this time.

Number 93 is in the books. Thanks to the wonders of modern-day Retail I currently have a Washing Machine scheduled to arrive at my flat sometime between 11-3 on a Saturday! I mean really!? Hopefully I can get that fixed and will be reviewing a luxury pie from Largs Thistle.

However until, next time, go forth and eat pie!

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

Pie 88: The Spartans ‘Haggis & Neeps’ Pasty

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Now if I’m being honest my hand was forced a little so this new aspect to the blog is perhaps debuting a little earlier than I had anticipated. As a 5th week of non-league fixture call offs rolled in I found myself wrapped up in the magic of the cup and a trip to Edinburgh to see if Spartans or indeed Berwick Rangers could continue to defy the odds as for either of these clubs to be Scottish Cup quarter finalists is a feat not to be sniffed at. On my arrival to Ainslie Park I was greeted with a sea of humanity draped in red and white or black and gold. A crowd of over 2500 to see a game that in normal circumstances would be luck to even see a fifth of that. This is where the problem arrived. Usually I like to arrive early to the ground to ensure a pie is destined for my belly but on this, the most busy of days, the fates conspired against me. The incredulousness in my voice when I was offered a hot dog instead was perhaps a tad too far but it was then matched with relief that my trip to Edinburgh had not been in vain and a Haggis and Neeps Pasty was on offer.

So with a meat filled pastry in hand, all be it in a slightly altered format, let’s rate some pie! Eh, I mean pasty!

THE SURROUNDINGS

Where: Ainslie Park, Spartans 1-1 Berwick Rangers, Scottish Cup 5th Round

Standing Room Only.
Standing Room Only.

Price: We enter new territory here, as I have no point of reference for pasty prices. My inclination would be to say that these goods should be no more or no less than the humble pie but we’ll see how things pan out. This offering was £1.50 a relative bargain and certainly nothing to complain about.

Presentation: This was curiously placed on a paper plate with no accompanying napkin. Now I’m willing to let the absence of a napkin slide as a table just beside the hatch could well have been housing a batch of mouth cleaning softness but I have a small issue with the plate. For all the benefits it gives in gathering any meat and pastry spillages it is also an awkward thing to hold whilst juggling a drink and programme. You’re also unable to roll a plate into a ball and put it in your pocket should no bins be present thus resulting in a bit of impromptu origami. This is just personal preference, but unless you know what you’re providing has a high moisture content then wrapping your pasty round a napkin is fine by me.

THE PIE PASTY

It's a Pasty. Not a Pie.
It’s a Pasty. Not a Pie.

Meatiness: It’s still a meat filled pastry so we shall still be assessing the meatiness of this offering and boy what a treat this was. Once you got to the filling, more on this later, you were greeted first with a lovely warm hit of smooth peppery haggis, spiced as you expect with the occasional pop of oats as you chewed through. Surprisingly though the real stars here were the small squares of neeps (in this case I’m guessing using swedes to take on the mantle, both by the colour and taste) tucked in and around the haggis adding little bursts of sweetness to cut through the spice. The filling here was sublime, an absolute triumph and lingered longer after completion had been completed.

Pastry: One of the good things about a pie is that by in large the pastry to filling ratio is pretty consistent aided by its hot water crust foundations with other pastries however, such as this pasty, the pastry will tend to be puff in nature and so the balance can vary quite significantly dependent on where you go. In this case there was perhaps a little too much pastry as my first, vegetarian friendly, bite would suggest with me unable to reach its meaty core until bite two was completed. Don’t get me wrong the pastry was flaky and tasted as golden as it looked it was just a little bit much although I’m pleased to report that it stayed together well at my mouths command.

Brown Sauce: With no obvious well for the sauce to sit in, as found atop a pie, no sauce would be forthcoming to this pasty.

Overall: A bit heavy on the pastry but wowsers what a filling, a helluva introduction to the world of non-pie based pastries.

Gravy Factor: Burns Night Gravy. Worthy of a national bard.

Well that is how you set the standard when you’re the first of a new breed, I look forward to seeing how others rise to the challenge. Next up though we will be returning to where it all started with a scotch pie offering from Airdrieonians.

Until next time go forth and eat pie! Or a pasty!

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial Scottish Sporting Optimist with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

2015 World Scotch Pie Championships: A Judges Story

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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!

3G or Not 3G? That is the Question.

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With more and more Scottish sides, at all levels reverting to next generation AstroTurf pitches and the Women’s World Cup next year in Canada set to be played on majority artificial parks, despite the protest of top figures in the ladies games, is it time to accept that ‘plastic’ pitches are here to stay?

grass

A decade ago most of us would return from a kick about with grass on our knees and a clump of mud inexplicably mashed into our scalp and whilst that scenario is still applicable today it becomes an ever rarer sight as grass stains are replaced with the occasional graze and clumps of mud being replaced by thousands of tiny rubber balls that get into every human crevice imaginable, and I mean all of them. For most casual footballers a midweek evening or Saturday morning is spent running about one of the thousands of artificial pitches across the country. So why is it that players with no discernible quality can muddle through but highly tuned athletes throw their toys out of the pram as soon as they’re asked to adapt ever so slightly? After all the ball is still round, the goals are still the same size and there is still the same number of players running about a marked out area of rectangular land, I think it’s time it throw off the shackles of negativity and embrace something that is here to stay.

So how do you start to look at something with a glass half full point of view? By focusing on one of the most predominant glass half empty arguments. Artificial pitches cause injuries that when playing on grass would never occur. The evidence suggests that this is the only real true negative of playing on an artificial pitch, I am happy to admit that on certain artificial parks I leave the pitch a lot sorer than others but then my warm up usually consists of eating a pack of fruit pastilles, a few impressive looking but ultimately useless stretches and blasting the ball at anybody who makes the mistake of bending down to tie their laces. I don’t spend my week training on it, following a properly structured warm up and warm down regime whilst having the luxury of immediate access to physiotherapists and trainers when required. Football and it’s stakeholders are renowned, when they want to be, for innovation and are quick to move the game ‘forward’ whether it be with neon ankle high boots, skin-tight muscle armour or shaving foam in a can. So why can’t Nike, Adidas or Gillette create something that helps with the aches and pains so many players fear? Do you know what? They can and they no doubt will. Therapies will develop and training regimes will be altered to accommodate the variances in conditions between grass and not-so-grass.

In fact it’s football’s ability to innovate that has seen the growth of these pitches in our game, for you see the UK, and Scotland in particular, is prone to the kind of weather that makes football in winter a bit of a challenge. neNer mind getting a match on sometimes teams can go weeks without training. Football’s solution: all weather training pitches, the pre cursor to those that are being used in competitive games today and in this lies the flaw in the argument that players aren’t used to playing on them, they very much are, in some cases everyday. The excuse that a team is not used to playing on an artificial pitch is catching up on the referee and injury lists as a justification for an abject performance. A win one week on is quickly  forgotten when a defeat occurs on the same surface soon after.

The excuses of failure, which often infuriate me so, can usually be justified by one of the following lines when a manger is pressed in a post match interview:

  • The ball just doesn’t act the same on an artificial pitch
  • Grass is better.

Let’s address these points together as best as we can. Firstly yes it is true that on occasion a ball can grip on an artificial pitch resulting in a bounce that’s a little higher and a run that’s a little quicker but let me give you some names to consider. Tim Flowers. Peter Enckleman. John Terry. Each victim, if they are to be believed, in some way shape or form to variances in a grass pitch that an artificial park never would have thrown up. Even considering my relatively young age at the time I still remember Flowers going down on one knee to catch a fairly tame long-range effort from Stan Collymore only for it to hit a divot, hop over his shoulder and drop into the net. While many will remember Peter Enckleman’s inability to control a throw in during a Birmingham derby resulting in an own goal that will forever stand the test of time the Finn bettered the trick a couple of years later when a miskick, no doubt of which will be blamed on a bobble, gifted Preston forward Chris Brown the easiest of goals.

Perhaps the best example belongs to John Terry though, self-proclaimed King of Chelsea and publically divisive figure. In 2008 he had the opportunity to do something that no other Chelsea captain had done before and lift Europe’s biggest club prize, the Champions League trophy, even better he could score the winning penalty. With the chance to confirm his blue tinged legacy the defender slipped and the ball went high into the sodden Moscow sky. The irony being that despite the Luzhniki Stadium housing an artificial pitch for much of the season prior to the final  UEFA decreed that their grandest prize must be played on grass. If the grass had never been laid then Dorgba’s glory a few years later could have all belonged to John. So you have to ask would Tim, John or Peter have preferred a pitch that would behaved itself like it should have done rather than one that made a ball bobble or a foot slip. It begs the question is grass really better?

Yes. In an ideal world a well manicured grass pitch is infinitely better than even the highest spec artificial surface. However how many of those parks really exist in today’s highly commercialised society where football stadiums also host rugby, NFL and music concerts amongst a plethora of other things. With ever-expanding international and domestic calendars designed to engage clubs of all levels football grounds are used more now than ever before so naturally wear and tear will become ever more prominent. All this though is based on the theory that the pitch to start off with is of a high standard.

Pitches at the last two World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, for example, have been chastised for their poor quality with brown patches painted green and enough sand to populate a small beach just some of the measures to improve the potential quality of play. How often during the festivities in South America did you hear managers moan, particularly in Manaus, about the state of the pitch.

I have to ask, what do you expect? A tropical climate where it’s baking hot one minute torrential rain the next is hardly an ideal place to grow a football pitch. The African Cup of Nations is forever being played on pitches that have as much grass on them as can be found in the middle at Lord’s or the Oval. The list goes on. Wembley couldn’t get grass right for years and switching sports for a second Murrayfield’s nematodes became as synonymous with the Six Nations as Archie Gemmell’s goal at the 78 World Cup became with Scotland’s ability to achieve glorious failure. When those at the very top can’t get it right what chance do those at the bottom have?

That’s not to say you don’t find many a fine grass park at lower league grounds because you surely do but when clubs are ever increasingly looking to find ways to make ends meet the last thing they need is an impromptu 6 week winter break and it is here that the artificial pitch comes into its own. In the summer Rugby Park became the ninth Scottish senior ground to host an artificial surface and the second in the current Scottish Premiership (Hamilton being the other). The reason for the move done at some cost, was done to facilitate a clearance of debt and move the club back to Kilmarnock on a day-to-day basis. But it doesn’t stop there as others have shown. Hamilton have hosted a number of Scotland youth internationals at New Douglas Park while current SWPL champions Glasgow City play their league and European games at Airdrieonians Excelsior stadium while clubs such as Stenhousemuir and Queen of the South amongst others use their artificial pitches to create revenue 7 days a week renting the pitch out for local teams and everyday punters like you and me for kick about. Making their stadiums the hub of their community, it sounds pretty fanciful but these things are actually happening right now.

This has even tricked down to the juniors, and while its sad many an old ground has fallen by the wayside for identikit supermarkets and three bedroom houses the money earned has been used to rejuvenate clubs who had merely been surviving. In a country where fiscal responsibility has been ringing in our ears for months is it not fiscally responsible for Scottish clubs in particular to make the most of the assets they have? In years to come will these teams be seen as innovators? I think so.

In an ideal world football should be played on grass at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Maybe those that lambast the usage of artificial pitches are longing for a simpler time, nostalgia has a funny way of doing that. Maybe they have some genuine concerns about the long-term health of players some of which doesn’t appear to be without foundation but just as television has made a 3pm kick off as common as 7.15pm on a Monday night so will an ever-changing climate and financial responsibility see artificial pitches work hand in hand with traditional grass park’s marrying the past and future for many clubs across the country, maybe even the world.

Artificial pitches are here and they won’t be going away.