Thursday, 16 October 2014

Hello Pork Pie

Pork pie. One of the culinary wonders of Britain. Over the last 72 hours, I've eaten, quite literally, nothing other than pork pie. Let me explain...

On Tuesday, we launched the second round of the Food is GREAT/Taste of Britain campaign, the largest and most concerted effort ever mounted to see the best of British food and drink onto the shelves of Polish supermarkets and delis. The focus has been on quality premium products. Some have been here for a while (Scotch whisky, fine teas), some are emerging (cider, Cheddar cheese, chutneys, Indian sauces, shortbread) others are quite new (Wensleydale cheese, pork pies).

Pork pie. The defining savoury snack of England. Along with the sausage roll and Cornish pasty, the idea of encasing minced and seasoned meat into pastry, ideal for eating on the go. Britain's answer to the hamburger (from Hamburg) or frankfurter (from Frankfurt).

Pork pie. Two succulent syllables that require seven to articulate into Polish - wieprzowina w cieście. And launching this product on to an audience of food writers, buyers, distributors and importers, we stumble upon a major cultural difference between Brits and Poles.

Do you serve a pork pie hot or cold?

In my entire life, the question has never even entered my mind. Cold, of course. You do not heat the pork pie. That is its essence. It demands to be eaten cold (stored at +6C to +8C, served at room temperature), with chutney or pickles, and to be washed down with a fine ale, cider or a mug of tea. Eating a pork pie hot is a bizarre cultural quirk, rather like drinking tea with milk.

And yet Poles seem to expect that this delicacy be heated through before it can be eaten. And also prefer to eat it with a knife and fork, off a plate, rather than to be eaten from the hand, scattering crumbs on the floor.

Like Polish kiełbasa, pork pies fall into two categories there's the good stuff, and the mass-market product made down to a price point which has little to do with the original concept. Let's focus on the good stuff. The particular pork pies presented in Warsaw on Tuesday are made by Toppings Pies from Yorkshire and Dickinson & Morris (est. 1851) from Melton Mowbray (the home pork pie). Between them the two firms presented a vast range to be sampled - pork pies topped with caramelised red onions, with Stilton cheese, with sage and onion stuffing; huntsman's pie, game pie (where partridge and pheasant replace humble pork), vegetarian pie with spinach and Feta cheese...

Pork pie anyone?
The pork pies delivered to the Taste of Britain/Food is GREAT event were transported from the UK frozen then defrosted for the Big Day; all the samples that did not get consumed now need to be finished off in express tempo. So I'm doing my bit. And enjoying it thoroughly. Accompanied by fresh fruit and veg, man can live on pork pie alone. It contains the protein and carbohydrates, and - all-importantly - the taste.

Ah. and we need some chutney and pickles. And nostril-blasting English mustard (which a Polish colleague described as 'yellow wasabi'). These came courtesy of Tracklements of Wiltshire, a family firm producing premium condiments. The perfect accompaniment to pork pie.

My lunch, today. With a single-estate Pfunda tea by Birchall. No milk.
Pork pies need to be promoted to Polish consumers who've not yet tried them. So we need some celebrity endorsement - Britain's first Polish-born Member of Parliament, Daniel Kawczynski. Mr Kawczynski (who also happens to be Britain's tallest MP) represents the rural constituency of Shrewsbury, home to many quality producers of food and drink.

Daniel Kawczynski MP promoting pork pies in Warsaw.

"Mr Ambassador, the Polish nation awaits your verdict..." HMA Robin Barnett enjoys.

Kruche ciasto z nadzieniem mięsnym = Pork pie

Everything must be eaten by Friday evening, so I take home one large pie and two smaller ones. Moni and her boyfriend Maurycy tuck in. Maurycy asks whether it shouldn't be served hot. After hearing this question many times over the past two days, I'm not surprised. Moni's favourite is the pork pie topped with caramelised red onion.

Maurycy and Moni tucking in. Moni's off to Tel Aviv tomorrow. No pork pies there.

I guess that in 20 years time, British visitors to Poland will say: "It's the little differences. Example? In Poland, people eat pork pies hot." Just as Polish visitors to Britain say "In Britain, people drink tea with milk."

Now all that's needed is a good distribution network to get this culinary delight into Polish shops and thence onto Polish tables.

This time two years ago:
The meaning of class - in England, in Poland

This time three years ago:
First frost 

This time seven years ago:
First frost 
(this week the temperature has not fallen below +10C, not even at night)


Neighbour said...

After reading you post I can't stop myself from podjeść sobie :-)

Best regards,

Anonymous said...

So are we actually going to be able to buy these in Poland?

It's one of the few things that I miss, but which are too complicated to make at home.

I've never quite understood why in Marks and Spencer's food depts. in Poland you can buy frozen Asian or Indian dinners, but not frozen pork pies!

AndrzejK said...

Years ago when in the North (of England) I was surprised to find that some pubs served pork pies hot and beef pies cold!!! Don't know whether this is still the case.

My favourite is the Grosvenor pork pie - the size and shape of a standard loaf of English bread with hard boiled eggs arranged down the middle of the pork filling. Scrumptious with Brandston pickle.

And the Wold Top Marmalade Porter served at the evnt was an absolute treat.

Of course someone needs to explain that the reason why British food had/ has such a bad reputation was the effect of the First World War. So many men lost their lives that after the was the middle classes could no longer afford to employ a cook and the wives had no idea how to prepare a tasty meal. It took generations to rediscover that boiling vegetables to extinction and without salt added to the water did not make for anything appetising. No wonder HP sauce and then ketchup were so popular!