Sunday, 22 November 2015

The top and bottom of it

For many years, pubs have had items on their menus that are described as “pies”, but which in fact are stews or casseroles with a pastry lid. A growing number of people have been concerned that these dishes do not really qualify as pies. Indeed, a petition to Parliament was created on the subject, which only fell because of the general election. Obviously this was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it’s clearly something that people have strong feelings about.

Make wrongly describing a casserole with a pastry lid as a pie a criminal offence.

For too long customers in pubs and restaurants have ordered what is described on the menu as a pie only to be served with casserole in a pot covered by a puff pastry lid. This is not a pie and is also curiously difficult to consume. A pie is defined by the OED as "A baked dish of fruit, or meat and vegetables, typically with a top and base of pastry." This petition urges the implementation of criminal sanctions upon the owners of food outlets that serve items described as pies without a pastry base. Exemptions will apply for Shepherds, Cottage and Fish Pies.

A week or so ago, there was an article on the Morning Advertiser website celebrating the rise of pie sales in pubs, on which I commented that the illustration wasn’t actually a pie. This reignited the debate on Twitter, with Boak & Bailey pointing out that many of Mrs Beeton’s pie recipes did not specify a bottom layer of pastry. Those layers of fowl, ham, forcemeat and hard-boiled eggs sound really appetising.

So, in conjunction with Mark Wadsworth, I decided to create a poll on the subject. With an impressive 146 votes, the results show just over three-quarters in favour of the proposition that a pie needs a pastry base as well as a top, but on the other hand a significant minority taking the opposite view.

Personally, I’m not really bothered, as I don’t like “gravy pies” anyway, although I love a proper solid pork pie, preferably with jelly. But it obviously grinds many other people’s gears.

The original poll results can be seen here, which also shows some interesting comments.


  1. I posted something similar along these lines several years ago. In my opinion, and that of the Campaign for Real Pies, a proper pie should have pastry top and bottom.

  2. A pie as you describe is still a pie. It's just a top crust pie. Less enjoyable, I grant you, but still within the definition of a pie. Indeed the use of the word even includes things that don't involve pastry at all. As such I never really have any sympathy with this sort of thing as it's just based on one use of the word where in fact there are several.

  3. Its funny that you'd never get a sweet pie that was just a blob of apple puree with a lump of shortcrust plonked on top. But yet somehow people think it is an acceptable means of serving a savoury pie.

    Ideally you should be able to lift up the entire pie with both hands without spilling any of the filling. If you can't, its a substandard pie.

    There's a solution: ask in advance of ordering: is it a proper pie?

  4. Bernie the Pub Landlord23 November 2015 at 14:19

    A pie is whatever I say it is. Whatever comes off the back of a Brakes lorry that I can flog as a gourmet pie for £20. Don't like it, go down Wetherspoons and eat with the doleys.

  5. Professor Pie-Tin23 November 2015 at 18:30

    A Melton Mowbray,equally cut into four quarters,with a large dollop of Colman's English Mustard standing to attention next to a pint of old-fashioned English ale and eaten while listening to Test Match Special and Blowers describing Joe Root cracking a cover drive past a flailing Australian fielder on a glorious afternoon at Lord's.
    Now THAT'S a pie.

  6. On principle I agree, but in practice I generally prefer the 'top only' pie as the ratio of filling to pastry is more to my liking.

    The traditional form is fine if you're baking a big fuck-off pie to serve several people, but with an 'individual' pie, like those served in Spoons, there's always just too much pastry relative to the amount of filling.

    At football matches this is just about acceptable for purely practical reasons, given that you're going to eat the bastard with your hands, but when I'm sitting down with a plate and a knife and fork, I want plenty of rich, unctious gravy, not just mouthfuls of dry pastry.

  7. If the pastry is dry, its a crap pie anyway. Good buttery pastry should just melt in your mouth.

    The pastry is the best bit in a decent pie. If you don't want at least 50% pastry, don't order a pie, order a stew or quiche or something.

  8. @py - yes, a pie should be a good combination of pastry and filling.

    If you think the pastry gets in the way, or is just there to hold it in, then you're missing the point.

  9. A pie with only the top covered in pasty is called a hotpot.

  10. I make a cracking hotpot.Some nice fatty chunks of lamb,a carrot,onion,mushrooms, a bit of garlic and layers of thinly sliced spuds.Takes about 10 minutes to prep and a couple of hours on a middlng heat while I bugger off down the pub for some scoops and then come back to finish it off with a blast under the grill to crisp the spuds.
    Not a bit of pastry in sight.


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