Watching the Great British Bake Off is always a mixed joy. The episode on pies was particularly interesting but threw up one of my absolute culinary pet hates.
Some had the gall to make something she called a pie but was far from it. It was essentially a stew with a pastry hat added later on. This was a catering short cut that I first saw in the 80’s and, heaven help me, I actually did when I was working in The Porter Cottage in Sheffield. It basically meant you could put two items on the menu but have to cook one. All you did was make a stew and bake a load of puff pastry circles. If someone wanted stew, you gave them stew; if the wanted pie, you gave them stew and chuck a pastry circle on top.
I must stress that I did this under duress.
As far as I’m concerned, a pie lives or dies at the point where pastry meets filling and cooks together. The layer of gravy laden pastry dough topped by crisp buttery pastry is the sublime joy of the pie and – I’d goes so far as to say – it’s raison d’etre. Divorce the pastry from the filling during cooking and you get a sterile joyless beast.
This leads to realization. Fray Bentos pies in a can are actually pretty good. Given that the joy in a pie is the point where filling meets pastry, Fray Bentos leads the pack. If you are going to by a pre-made pie, it has to be Fray Bentos particularly if it’s been stored upside down; the filling having soaked through the pastry to produce a tin of the point of a pie. The filling may be extraneous – and often unpleasant, but the meeting of meat and dough is possibly the best ever canned food.
Of course, being a terrible food snob, I’d never actually admit to buying them . . . <cough>