The history of the Cheshire Pork Pie
PUBLISHED: 13:27 20 April 2013 | UPDATED: 20:55 19 December 2014
Cheshire Pork Pie is a delicous classic recipe to be found in cook books of bygone days. We asked a Nantwich baker to recreate it for us
In Hannah Glasse’s 1747 cookbook The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy there’s a recipe for Cheshire Pork Pie. The discovery and her sparse text beg several questions.
Why was the county associated with this particular pie teaming pork and apples? What was its history? And most importantly, what did – does – it taste like?
Food historian Colin Spencer sees its roots in antiquity: ‘Most of Hannah Glasse’s recipes bear the imprint of medieval cooking. The recipe almost certainly appeared in someone else’s collection long before hers. The use of sugar, fruit and spices were de rigeur with all kinds of meat and game. It strikes me as being a pie created for the nobility rather than the populace, for the palate of women rather than men.’
Author Laura Mason sees the same medieval roots, with Glasse’s version a comedown from earlier times: ‘There is a long tradition of food in this country having fruit and meats together, so possibly it did go back to medieval times. What is often the case is that things slip down the social scale and become simplified, with the expensive bits taken out.’
Laura mentions Joseph Wright, whose English Dialect Dictionary published at the end of the 19th century describes fitchett pies in Cheshire being given to reapers. Those pies were filled with bacon, apples and onions, perhaps sliding yet lower down the culinary social scale.
Tarporley cook and food writer Joanne Dodsley adds common-sense local knowledge to the pot: ‘I do know we have many apple varieties native to the county which could account for the inclusion in the pie.’ Katie Lowe of the Cheshire Landscape Trust adds: ‘Cheshire acted as a fruit growing area for Manchester at one time, with many varieties of apple developed here by the likes of Nicholas Barnes at Eaton Hall.’
The proof of the pie is in the eating. Trevor Mooney of Chatwin’s Bakers in Nantwich agreed to recreate it. Cheshire institution Chatwin’s is in its centenary year, and as Trevor is a recent winner of the national Baker of the Year award who better to do so?
‘For the first batch the seasoning wasn’t right,’ says Trevor. ‘The second has Bramleys instead of sweet apples, with the sugar mentioned in the original recipe. We use the same pastry as a Melton Mowbray pie - what we call boiled pastry, and I used tenderloin to get the texture of the meat cooking in the pie right. She went over the top on wine - there isn’t a lot of space when you’ve filled the pie with a layer of pork, one of apples, and another of the pork, with butter on top.’
But what does the six-inch-wide pie taste like? He cuts the crisp pastry. A scent of apple and nutmeg fills the room; a few drops of golden juice – wine and apple – spill out. The melting apple and toothsome tenderloin contrast superbly with the crust. ‘This temperature is perfect, between hot and warm,’ Trevor opines. It is utterly delicious.
Trevor and Chatwin’s have a line on the Cheshire pork-and-apple marriage: ‘Our second-best-seller is something we picked up from Crowther’s, a business in Frodsham, when the second generation there came here to learn his trade. He brought us his pork and apple pasty that we changed a little and added to our range.
‘Sadly with 300g of meat in the pie it’s not really commercial, though maybe for delicatessens or weddings.’ So perhaps the Cheshire Pork Pie won’t return to total obscurity, particularly so if Trevor takes up the challenge of Matthew O’Callaghan, chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association, to enter his 21st century Cheshire Pork Pie in the British Pie Awards in April. Watch this space