The Opinion Engine 2.0:
The noble pasty or the ubiquitous pie. When should one choose one over the other and why?
Question asked by "Pastryman" from the comments section.
Food The first pasty I remember eating was a Sayers pasty. I grew up in Speke (Liverpool, L-2-4) and each trip to the parade of shops would include a visit to the Sayers. I now know this wasn’t the traditional Cornish style pasty which recently received the Protected Geographical Indication. It’s now what’s described as a slice, two flat pieces of pastry filled with some kind of meat, possibly beef, mashed potato and bits of carrot. Bought at the right time, just as it’s left the oven, it was just the thing to warm up my young body on a cold winter’s morning (assuming I didn’t burn my tongue) and I now know the perfect way for my cash strapped parents to make sure a cooked meal had passed my lips.
That’s (as is popularly known) why tin miners in the seventeenth and eighteenth century found them so useful, their capacity to contain a full meal, savoury one end, sweet the other, though when I saw that story on BBC’s Blue Peter I remember wondering how they’d know. When I did eat the more traditional shape, it was a treat, something special, something exotic even, with chewier meat and the crunchy plat across the top. Both are still available in Sayers, Greggs and everywhere else, but they seem smaller somehow, less special, presumably because there’s a lack of anticipation in something which is always available, always to hand. That’s true of most things when you grow. Apart from upstairs on the bus.
Only the larger variety, from The Pasty Shop, The West Cornwall Pasty Company and farmer’s market’s retain their mystique, a portable hot meal all in one place, less messy than a pizza, with less moving parts than a burger. I’ll sometimes buy one in Lime Street on my way home, for dinner, but in my heart of hearts its not the same from the plate, especially with the temptation to drown it in brown sauce or mayonnaise. But we humans are like that. We’ll design something which is perfect in and of itself then spoil it by add things it doesn’t need. I know I should simply eat it on the bus, but whenever I'm travelling home at dinner time, it's usually full and there's barely enough room to put my bag on my lap, let alone gulp down a a mix of pastry, cow and gravy.
Pies on the other hand love plates and there’s few more beautiful sights than the filling dribbling through the crack as you run you knife from the centre outwards as you prise opening the casing. That’s meat and gravy. But unlike pasties, pies are even more flexible, capable of containing a vast variety of fillings. All of the bakeries listed above have attempted to vary the pasty but not of them sit right, not chicken tikka, not baked beans and not even cheese and onion. But a pie could contain all of those and as well as a range of sweet options. It’s can also be shared. A pie for one might seem like a treat, but how much better for a family or some friends to be tucking in, and unlike a joint, without the potential to be disappointed by the cut of meat.
Pies are portable too, of course, but they can be unsatisfying alone, unaccompanied. The most memorable pie I ever ate, if not necessarily the tastiest, was accompanied. At the end of the last decade I was walking through Manchester city centre and because I happened to be wearing blue was offered a visit to Main Road to appear in the crowd scenes of the film There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble. It was October and it was cold. It was a long day too, despite the chance to meet the cast, Ray Winstone, Robert Carlisle and Gina McKee (who was very nice indeed). Plenty of people left, but at the end we were all given a meat pie, chips and gravy, which was warm, salty and filling and just the thing to tied me over for the long train ride home.
But the best pies, and if you’re really asking for my opinion, the pies I’ve most enjoyed are as deserts. Apple pies, cherry pies, summer fruits, pecan (though that’s more of a tart) covered in cream, custard or ice cream. Somehow, even restaurants with mediocre main courses are able to produce tasty sweet pies, because even soggy pastry is tasty pastry. That’s why the series Pushing Daisies and the film Waitress are so entertaining, not just the script but the visuals, pies which don’t seem to exist in the real world. Unless it’s just that I’m in the wrong part of the real world. Either way, in answer to question, pasties are best when portable, pies when they’re filled with fruit.