The winters of my youth were cold, in Canberra and Armidale, and nothing was better on a Saturday afternoon than a meat pie. Armidale possessed an itinerant pieman, Mr Beresford, who had a little trailer in which pies stayed warm in a kerosene stove. He did a fine trade at football matches. No tomato sauce here: the practice was to have a shot of Worcestershire sauce injected into the pie. It was hot, in both senses, and if you were not careful you burned your tongue at once biting into the savoury inside.
I’ve been a pie-lover all my life, and like making them too, though making half a dozen small ones is a lot of work. I much prefer them to hamburgers, and wish that McDonald’s, where we stop on long drives, had a pie section. There must be many more like me, because two other pie-lovers, Tony and Paul Clancy, have produced The Pie Buyer’s Guide to Australia, which I recommend unreservedly. Theirs is a systematic, suburb-by-suburb, town by town, survey of the Australian meat pie. The Clancys say that our pie’s ancestral origin is Wales, and I’ve had a good pie there, too.
They asked likely passers-by where to go for a good pie, and went to the source. Their assessment is much more rigorous than mine. They developed an assessment template, which covered ‘overall impressions of the pie, size, shape, colour, weight, aroma, flaky pastry type, shortcrust pastry type, filling composition, balance and other things that influence the quality and enjoyment of a pie’. And they decided on a five-part index of quality, with five for exceptional and one for inedible.
As it happens, I do that too. I decided a long time ago that a scale greater than five was unnecessary, and most of the time you get pies that are most acceptable, and would be graded 5, 4 or 3. It’s a long time since I had a disagreeable pie, let alone one that was inedible. I would add that pies are better than they used to be, a lot better, and of course that applies to Australian food generally. The Clancys don’t list any inedible pies, so their published scale runs from 2 to 5.
My own preference is for steak-and-kidney pies, with Plan B being steak and mushroom. But after reading the Clancy book I decided that I would check out their ratings by using their standard pie, which is what bakeries usually call their ‘plain’ or mincemeat pie. And of course I checked out all the places that they had gone to to see what they had said. Since we do a lot of driving, in all States, I had more than a few to look for.
The best pie I have had, for years and years, if not for ever, was a steak and kidney pie at the Braidwood Bakery. It was so good that I went back to the counter and told the serving lady so. We were there again the other day and I tried the plain pie — also very good. The Clancys gave it 4 out of 5, and thought it had too much salt. I didn’t think so, but then arguing about tastes is futile.
I like country town bakeries for pies, and so do they. We agree on the pies in Orbost, Nimmitabel, Raymond Terrrace, Deniliquin, Narrandera and Horsham, and that’s just NSW and Victoria. Their book has made me look much more critically at the pie, and not just munch away. They are neutral about the addition of sauce, while I am firmly of the view that a good pie needs no sauce — and the sauce that comes in the blister packs or in the bottles in some shops provided is close to ghastly.
Recipes? They give them, and since I haven’t yet tried one I’ll leave that for another time. Where do you get the book? Mine might have been bought in a bookshop, but if yours doesn’t have a copy, you can find it here. It’s $29.95, plus $11.95 for post.