The pie in Scotland: The evolution of a cornerstone of international cuisine
Lanarkshire bakery Simple Simon takes pies into a brave new world
From dinner-party centrepiece to working lunch on the move, the humble pie is steeped in tradition. Sandy Neil grabs a slice of the local action
‘Say aye tae a pie’, beckon the signs outside Scotland’s high street butchers and bakers, tempting us in for traditional scotch, mutton, steak, and macaroni pies. But the pies enjoyed by Scots today have evolved a fair way from the rectangular ‘coffyns’ of medieval banquets.
The word ‘pie’ was shortened from ‘magpie’, the Oxford Companion to Food suggests, because ‘magpies collect a variety of things, and early pies contained a variety of ingredients’. This definition still holds true for Simple Simon’s Perfect Pies, filled from Scotland’s larder by father and daughter Bernard Alessi and Christina Wild in their Coulter farmhouse near Biggar.
A pie can form a feast’s most spectacular centerpiece – the nursery rhyme about ‘four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie’ refers to an ‘animated’ Middle Age pie hiding small, live animals. Yet pies are also handy fodder for working folk: a pastry crust acts as a baking dish, packaging, and serving plate all in one – like the old Cornish pasty, which contained meat and jam at opposite ends, perfectly adapted to tin miners’ daily lunch and dessert.
Simple Simon’s expertly designed and carefully constructed pies bridge both beauty and utility, with rustic, raised puff pastry sealing in natural juices of, for example, Galloway beef with Ramsay of Carluke’s smoked pancetta and west coast single-malt whisky, or Lamington pheasant and bacon, or smoked North Sea haddock poached with creamy leeks, white wine, Tayside dill and parsley.
‘It’s designed to be a complete meal,’ explains Holly Donaldson, one of the firm’s eight employees making, baking and delivering 2000 pies per week to Glasgow, Edinburgh and farmers’ markets around the UK. Among their broad range of fillings, Lanarkshire black-face lamb is stewed in olive oil, rosemary, white wine, carrots and onions with crab apple, mint and redcurrant jelly. Their cold Coulter pork pie uses fresh thyme, sage, spices and mustard, and for a hot or cold dessert, there’s even a chocolate and black cherry pie.
Many countries have their own national pies – Polish pierogi, Mexican empanadas, or English steak and kidney are a few – and perhaps Simple Simon’s Lanarkshire bakery is pioneering oor Scots pie into a brave, new world.