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MEAT PIES WITH SPICE!

Who would have thought the humble meat pie could be described as sexy? Well, the people at Holland's Pies, of Baxenden, Lancashire, England, did so earlier this year. "Want to check out your Valentine's appetite for love?" their website asked.  "Then clock what sort of pie they prefer to munch! We sponsored a seduction survey, which claims the filling he chooses and the size of his portion is a real giveaway.

"Psychologist Donna Dawson interviewed over 200 men and women across the UK for the lifestyle survey, which revealed seven key ‘pie personalities' including Macho Mike (meat pie man): super masculine, physically adventurous but probably into bedpost notching) and Funky Fiona (chicken and mushroom woman) who, according to the survey is earthy, sensual, passionate and loves energetic sex, followed by a massage."

Their Pie Personality Chart also describes these other pie-eaters: Sensitive Simon (potato and meat pie man), Steve the Stud (steak and kidney pie man), Adventurous Andy (steak pudding man), Confident Colin (mince beef and onion pie man), and Cocky Catherine (cheese and onion pie woman).

Walter Holland and Sons' famous pies and puddings date back to the middle of the 19th century. The company was founded by John Whitaker in 1851 as a confectioner's shop in Haslingden, Lancashire. Walter bought the family business in 1890 and moved to a much larger bakery in 1907, from where pies were delivered locally by horse and cart. The first of Holland's brightly painted vans appeared in 1927 and 11 years later 20 vans were making regular deliveries. Holland's is now part of one of the UK's major food manufacturing groups.

In many parts of Britain, pie-making is a family tradition. Weatherheads Butchers, of Pateley Bridge, Yorkshire, for example, was founded by Harry Weatherhead in 1876. The business has passed from generation to generation and is continued today by brothers Ian and Brian Weatherhead. Leading the fifth generation, Ian's son Andrew runs the family's own small slaughterhouse.

Pies are one of the world's favorite foods, but contrary to popular belief, making a good pie is far from simple, and the process may take  up to two days. So whoever coined the phrase easy as pie  was no cook.

Americans (well, some Americans) celebrate National Pie Day on January 23.  "Share the warmth of the ultimate 'comfort food' by giving a pie to a friend or neighbor,"  the American Pie Council suggests. "Your generosity will be long remembered."

The APC  is dedicated to preserving America's love affair with pies. Its website says the APC  is "designed to raise awareness, enjoyment and consumption of pies. Members exchange recipes... and participate in American Pie Council events." There's even an official newsletter called Pie Times, and members and friends are urged "to compete with other pie lovers in the annual National Pie Championships and win your claim to the designation of one of the best pie makers in the nation."

More than 16,000 slices of pie were devoured at this year's Great American Pie Festival. in a town aptly named Celebration, in Florida. The Never Ending Pie Buffet offered visitors a choice of flavours: apple, cherry, blueberry, lemon meringue, turtle, coconut cream and french silk (whatever that is).

In Australia, meat pies are more popular than hamburgers, pizzas and hot dogs. Harry's Cafe de Wheels is a famous little van parked at the navy dockyards in Sydney, which sells pies and peas with hot coffee to the city's residents, famous visitors, and other hungry tourists.

The story goes back to the Depression years of the late 1930s, says the owner's website. With the world on the brink of a devastating war, an enterprising Sydneysider by the name of Harry (Tiger) Edwards opened a caravan cafe near the front gates of Woolloomooloo naval dockyard.

For a while it looked like the venture would become an early casualty of the war when Harry closed down and went to the Middle East with the Australian army. But, on his discharge in 1945, he went back into business - realising that Sydney hadn't changed much and it was still almost impossible to get a good feed late at night.

Word spread quickly, with Harry's pies and peas and crumbed sausages soon becoming a popular part of the city's nightlife - keenly sought by sailors, soldiers, cabbies, starlets and coppers alike. The name Cafe de Wheels came about as the city council of the day insisted that mobile food caravans move a minimum of 12 inches a day. Harry dutifully obeyed.

As the years passed, Harry's Cafe de Wheels gained new fame as a tourist attraction. A visit to the caravan became a 'must' for visiting celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum and Marelene Dietrich.

Elton John held a press conference at Harry's, and the British singer is a regular customer when he visits Sydney. Other recent visitors have included actors Kevin Costner, Brooke Shields, Pat Rafter, Olivia Newton-John, Jerry Lewis. Billy Crystal and ex-Baywatch star Pamela Anderson.

Current owner Michael Hannah believes Harry's finest moment came in 1978 when Rear Admiral David Martin - over a pie and a glass of champagne - commissioned the caravan as HMAS Harry's. [Eleven years later, Sir David Martin became a popular Governor of New South Wales.]

Eastward 1200 miles to New Zealand, to the home of one of the world's most dedicated pie lovers: English-born Bernard S. Hall JP, who emigrated to NZ in 1963.

"One of the things about England I miss most is a pork pie of the Melton Mowbray variety," he confesses. "When we went to UK in 1992, I stated that I could get off the aircraft, eat a pork pie and then return to NZ a very happy person. I ate a PP almost every day I was there (five weeks). Faye [his wife] decided that she had better join in too and also became addicted.

"On my return to NZ I sampled every PP available in the delicatessens and failed to find any resemblance to the real thing. Bakers here cater to the taste of the New Zealander (naturally) and the thought of a cold meat pie horrifies the Kiwi, and heating up an English PP melts the jelly and results in a soggy pie, so Kiwi PPs don't have jelly or the necessary pork fat.

"The only thing for it was to make my own. I experimented over an extended period, weighing all ingredients, and keeping a spread sheet of the process and the results.  I have now gone into the tried and true cook's method of a pinch of this and a cup of that. The result has proven to be simpler, faster to make and, amazingly,  more consistent. If you try it, I hope you like the result."

Bernard's recipe covers three web pages, and his pie takes two days to prepare and cook, but if you feel adventurous, and enjoy a good (cold) English pork pie, it might be worth a go.

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Copyright © 2002

  Eric Shackle   

Story first posted September 2002

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