How the Scotch pie made a comeback
A Fife baker has played a key role in preserving an iconic Scottish snack
John Cooke learns how injecting some competition into the world of Scotch pie baking got the industry back on its feet
The world was crumbling for pie-makers in the latter half of the 1980s. Scares about meat had the public shunning their products. Sales slumped by 40 per cent, which was depressing news for bakers who sold half the pies on the market.
Step forward Fifer Alan Stuart, sixth-generation baker and owner of the Stuart's of Buckhaven chain. His first idea to raise the profile of quality pies and reassure the public was a Scotch Pie Club, modelled on the Sausage Appreciation Society.
The Club soon launched their big idea in 2002: the Scotch Pie Awards. The first winner from 60 or so entries hailed from Greenock. ‘I thought it would last about three years,’ says Stuart, ‘but it’s still going strong. We had 90 companies entering 450 pies in 2012.’
In the dim and distant past, the Scotch pie contained mutton, but these days is filled with minced beef and maybe a little lamb. Unusually among pies, the filling is raw and cooked in the pie. Of course, every baker has his or her recipe when it comes to flavouring the filling, but pepper is invariably involved. The casing is a hot water pastry using lard for flavour and richness.
Stuart points out that the style of Scotch pies is distinctively different in different parts of Scotland. ‘A pie in Glasgow is much paler with softer sides, a bit peelie wallie. Here, in Fife, we like our pies crisper with a golden colour. We add a bit of soya flour to add that dark tinge.’
Stuart is clear that a Scotch pie is best eaten as fresh from the oven as possible. ‘I think when you make a pie to have a long shelf life, it’s never going to match a proper fresh one.’
Fife is a great place to find a fresh pie and not just at one of Stuart of Buckhaven’s 16 bakeries and three butcheries.‘We’re lucky in Fife to have kept hold of so many independent Scottish bakers. I think we’re the baking capital of Scotland.’
Fife's cabin biscuit, a post-pie sweet snack
Not to be confused with a hard-packed ship’s biscuit that’s built for longvevity, a Cabin biscuit from a Fife bakery like Alan Stuart’s is big, flat and sweet. Individually hand-cut from dough and pricked with holes, it’s a great basis for a sandwich. Some local Anster cheese or smoked fish will create a snack that smacks of Fife.