There are few things in life so satisfying as a really good pie. Indeed, whilst I would like to make bold claims that my defection from the south to the north was closely linked to matters of education, history and culture, it's probably more to do with the fact that - in my opinion - nobody appreciates the beauty of a pie more reverently than someone from the north of England.
Thus when the word "pie" appeared in my email inbox, closely affiliated with other words such as "Holland's", "tasting", "Guinness" and "Albert's Chop House", it was clearly a cause for immediate pastry-based celebration. Holland's are a proper local brand, based in Accrington and esteemed purveyors of pies for over 150 years - and the top floor of the Chophouse in Albert Square was unsurprisingly packed last week for an official tasting of the new Guinness range that launches at the end of this month. Holland's are also seemingly not a company to let people go hungry, for here is what we had:
Steak & Guinness Pie; Steak & Guinness Pudding; Steak & Guinness Top Crust Pie. We start with a mighty triumvirate of the new flavour combination - and very lovely they all are too. My favourite of the three is the pie, which has lovely crisp pastry and a gravy so thick that even when cut in half it remains staunchly contained within its pastry shell. You can really taste the booze as well - I'm not a big fan of Guinness on its own, but when cooked it has the most beautiful sweet flavour and it certainly comes through in each of these pies. The pudding, made with a non-suet crust, is a big hit with my dining companion and we both enjoy the Top Crust Pie. This is virtually a health option, as it has added vegetables and just a small disc of pastry on the top; it has to be said though that it probably only counts as healthy if you don't eat it following half a pie and an entire pudding.
Pub Classics Chicken & Ham Pie. This is one of two new flavours being added to the Pub Classics range and is also my favourite pie of the whole night - large chunks of chicken and ham hock in a creamy sauce with a sprinkling of dried thyme on the top. Indeed, I have just eaten another one for my tea tonight, and am starting to worry that people might begin calling me "Pie-head" - with some justification.
Limited Edition "Heroes" Pie. This is probably the most divisive pie of the night - designed to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, this is essentially corned beef and vegetables all minced up together. I was brought up on corned beef and therefore quite enjoy it, although I think it needs more seasoning. My friend is, however, not so au fait with 1970s British dining habits and is slightly frightened by the whole thing. Something of an acquired taste this one, it seems.
Pub Classics Peppered Steak Pie. If the "Heroes" pie doesn't have quite enough, this one is MAGNIFICENT in its liberal application of seasoning - chunks of steak in a thick dark peppercorn sauce with even more black pepper on the top. This is the other new flavour in the Pub Classics range - it is lovely, and I'm pleased to say there is one of these in my fridge ready to eat another day (as long as everyone promises not to call me "Pie-head".
It's easy to be sneery about a mass-produced product, but I was genuinely impressed with the pies I tried - the pastry is excellent and the fillings tasty and generous. Yes, I'll continue to buy pies from smaller producers (such as the lovely Bradley's Bakery, who make their debut at Levenshulme Market this Saturday), but I'm happy to give a place in my eating schedule to these as well. After all, excessive pie consumption is one of the terms of the visa that allows me to remain in the north - even if it does look suspiciously like I have written it on myself with crayon...
- This was a free event hosted by Holland's Pies, during which written feedback was requested on each of the new flavours. I was not asked to write a blog about the pies but I enjoyed them, so I have.