Speak to Me of Pork Pies

Well it’s not easy. There are a lot of different kinds of pork pies in England. However they fall into two broad categories: those that are made with cured pork products — ham, bacon, sausage, loin and the like — and those that are made with fresh, uncured meat. Of the latter the most famous come from a town called Melton Mowbray up in the Midlands of England in the County of Leicestershire (which is how the British spell “lester”).

There they make their pies tall and without forms, using a tool known as a “pie dolly” to shape them, basically a plug-like piece of wood. The dolly is pushed down onto a blob of dough and the walls of the pie are pulled up around it to create a cylindrical shape. The dolly is then removed, the filling put in and the lid crimped on. The shaped pies are then baked free-standing which gives them a slightly squat shape, but then that’s the classic look of a Melton Mowbray pie.

One other thing that defines this style of pie is that it contains a gelatin-thickened broth (“jelly” in the across-the-pond parlance) which is poured in through holes in the crust while the finished pie is still hot. A bit of an odd technique I’ll grant you, however the jelly is more than an oddity, it serves a real purpose: of adding moisture. For Melton Mowbray pies are rather massive. As such they require a lengthy baking time and that can dry out fresh chopped meat. The jelly gives the pie filling a moister mouthfeel. It also brings more flavor to the party.

This is clearly the pie I need to make. Apologies to all the vegetarians who regularly read the site, but this is going to be a full-on pork-fest: lard crust, meat filling, gelatin broth…the works. I can hardly wait!

17 thoughts on “Speak to Me of Pork Pies”

  1. Joe –

    I’m very much looking forward to your instructional take on hot-water pastry.

    I’m also looking forward to see, if you’re going to be cloning Melton Mowbray pies, whether you’ll include anchovy paste…

    And when you’ve finished with Melton Mowbray pies is there any chance you might take on Scotch pies? After a decade-and-a-half I still can’t figure what’s going on there or how to reproduce them.

  2. We have really mini ones – a couple of mouthfuls per pie – so maybe that’s why there’s no jelly in ours?

    1. Hey Alison!

      The ones I remember from Exeter were smaller as you say. Light lunch-sized. As I recall the filling was also pink, indicating they were made from cured pork. They were always excellent. Somehow these bigger ones just caught my fancy I guess…probably the shaping method! Maybe I can do some smaller once afterward.

      – Joe

  3. Vegetarian, but I can certainly not worry about keeping pace since I’ll be ‘bouching it in the near future. 🙂

    1. THAT is one big pie! But by no means unprecedented. Once that would have been about normal. More soon on that subject.

      Thanks, Stacey!

      – Joe

  4. Don’t know if you have ever seen “The Great British Bake Off” , which as far as reality cooking shows goes is , in my humble opinion, one of the best. It has the devine Mary Berry as one of the judges – anyway a series or so ago the contestants had to make pork pies – fabulous to watch . You can find it on you tube – GBBO pork pie episode:)

  5. > Leicestershire (which is how the British spell “lester”).

    Pretty sure it’s how the British spell “lester-sher”

    Looking forward to pork pie — I have never encountered one outside a novel.

    1. Deb – you’re right. Leicester (“lester”) is the city, Leicestershire (“lester-sher”) is the county.

      To confuse things, the dark, spicy, savoury sauce made in the English town of Worcester (“wuster”) is labelled as Worcestershire sauce, but everyone here always calls it Worcester sauce. Guess we’re just lazy.

      Also hoping Joe doesn’t push the English warm beer jokes too far, else I might have to retaliate with some “beer that actually tastes of beer” jokes…!

      1. Wurch-ter. That’s how I remember it being pronounced over there. And yes, sorry for the mixup on the…ehem…enunciation.

        As for the warm beer, that wasn’t a joke. Or very nearly wasn’t one. I sorely miss the Devon ales with the bits of spent grain floating around in the bottom of the glass (ah the Real Ale Society…all the drunken train trips). My year in Exeter was the year Budweiser made its first big marketing push into the West Country. They gave every pub that carried it a small refrigerator set to…I dunno, whatever they figured the perfect temperature was. Those first few weekends the halls cleared out as the students raced off to drink cold Bud. Ah well…more bitter for me.

        Nice to hear from you Howard!

        – Joe

    2. Ah yes, how silly of me. They come semi-close to almost pronouncing every other syllable of that word!

      My mistake.

      – Joe

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