Forfar bridies: wedding treat or packed lunch?
Its origins may be disputed, but locals fiercely guard its reputation
It may look like a no-nonsense beef pie, but there's a touch more mystery to this horseshoe-shaped pastry than first meets the eye, as Zoe Bing finds out
Kirrimuir-born JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan, knew about bridies, giving them a place in his novel Sentimental Tommy, when Tommy’s homesick mother recalls it as a ‘sublime kind of pie’ that is offered to visitors at grander houses on Hogmanay.
Made to the traditional method, bridies have a high meat content, which makes them more expensive than many other styles of pie. In the heart of Aberdeen Angus country, people reckon lots of meat is essential, and although ‘bridie’ has become a generic term across Scotland for a crescent-shaped puff pastry pie with a sausage-type filling, a Forfarian would be very sniffy about such cheap imitations.
The bridie’s origin is shrouded in mystery, and there’s a friendly rivalry between the two bridie bakeries in Forfar over who tells the real story.
Michael Saddler, fourth generation owner of Saddler’s Bakery, says tradition has it that Maggie Bridie of Glamis gave her name to the pie in the 1820s, selling it at the three big farming markets in the area. Saddler believes the bridie was a good way for farm labourers to carry their meat to the fields, using the pastry to protect it from their grubby hands. He claims the first written reference to the Forfar bridie was in a publication known as the ‘Aberdeen Shaver’ in 1833, where it was announced that an Aberdeen baker was about to introduce this ‘famed sort of pie’ to Edinburgh.
It was Karen Murray’s great-great-grandfather who founded James McLaren and Son in 1891 after learning his trade with Jolly the Baker. She says that meat was not commonly eaten by most people back then, the staple diet being porridge and brose three times a day, seven days a week. This meant that the bridie was for special occasions only, such as weddings – hence the name and the lucky horseshoe shape.
An application for EU-sponsored Protected Geographical status is in the pipeline to defend the bridie’s reputation from poor imitations. After all, there is clearly a great deal of pride in what is probably the town’s most famous export. It’s still served at weddings and christenings to bring good fortune, but of course is eaten far more frequently than that. They’re consumed in large quantities on the terraces and in the boardroom of Forfar Athletic, too.
But there is one vital bit of information you still need to absorb: bridies with one hole on top have onions, the ones with two don’t. There, now you know.
How to bake a bridie
According to F. Marian McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen, published in 1929, one of the oldest recipes for a bridie comes from Jolly’s Bakery in the 19th century.
‘Take a pound of best steak,’ it says. ‘Beat it with the paste roller, then cut it into narrow strips, and again cut these into one-inch lengths and season with salt and pepper. Divide into three portions. Mince finely three ounces of suet. Make stiff dough with flour, water and a seasoning of salt and pepper.
'Roll out thin into three ovals. Cover half of each oval with meat; sprinkle with the suet and a little minced onion if desired. Wet the edges, fold over, and crimp with the finger and thumb. Nip a small hole in top of each. Bake for about half an hour in a quick oven and they will come out golden brown dappled beauties, fit for a king’s supper.’