Steve Gray goes in search of the perfect pork pie and the experts who
Competition pork pie eating is never going to rank as an Olympic sport
and despite hours of television coverage, acres of editorial copy and
countless photo opportunities. Those connoisseurs of this dubious
vocation remain in obscurity. Indeed, to many the humble pork pie has
all the allure of synchronised swimming. yet believe it or believe not,
a conclave of pie aficionados hold regular tasting sessions in a
neverending quest to locate a truly great specimen.
The Old Bridge Inn Pork Pie Appreciation Society. Affectionately known
as the Pie Club, curiously enough meet every Saturday, at the Old
Bridge Inn, Rippondon, to discuss world issues, down the odd pint and
sample what they hope will he a tantalisingly tasty morsel.
However, competition pie eating, as described in the club’s official
charter, has nothing to do with consuming vast quantities of these
little beauties in a given amount of time and anyone who has ever
stumbled across the threshold of the Old Bridge inn on a Saturday
evening will confirm that this is a serious business, undertaken with
decorum and professionalism.
Old Bridge local Mark Travis enjoys a locally produced pie.
Seated solemnly under the society’s own coat of arms, proceedings
commence with a debate on world affairs. Often heated. these
discussions are broad ranging. Eventually, after everyone has put their
point of view, the 'scribe’ will he charged with recording three of
these items under the heading ‘Events of the Week’. Next a sporting
issue will he considered and again the details will be recorded in a
vast ledger. Then it’s down to the serious business of scrutinising the
pies, which will have been brought to the club by an appointed
Firstly the pie will be lovingly caressed and admired, ensuring that
its body bears no blemishes and the pastry is a uniform golden colour.
It must also possess a pleasant aromatic bouquet when sniffed, not
unlike a fine wine.
The real test comes though when the pie is surgically cut open,
displaying its internal workings for all to see. The meat must be pink,
smell fresh and be encased in just the right amount of jelly. It is at
this crucial stage that the first mouthful is tasted and from the
expressions of the assembled experts it is possible to speculate on the
quality of the as yet unidentified pie which has been brought to the
club, especially if the members reach for the HP sauce, or worse,
Tabasco chilli sauce.
Scores will then he awarded and each member allowed to explain why he
liked or disliked a particular pie. The fetcher is of course going to
be biased in the marks that he awards and the club make allowances for
this terming it ‘fetcher’s privilege’, though should he take advantage
of the situation, awarding his own pies high marks, he will be
denounced and accused of ungentle manly conduct.
Once again the scribe will record the marks and proceedings will be
brought to a close for another Saturday night when the identity of the
pie and the cost of it are revealed, so that they too can be noted.
The president. Kevin Booth, explained: Back in l982 a group of local
gentlemen would meet at the pub after strenuous exercise at the nearby
health club. Unfortunately, the pub didn’t serve food on Saturday
evening, so the majority of the group were reduced to munching pork
scratching and salted nuts, while one of the lads had the foresight to
bring with him a pork pie which he consumed in front of us. while we
looked on ravenously. He really did not mind the group enviously eyeing
up his pie and this went on for a number of weeks, until someone had
the bright idea of bringing in pies for the rest of the group.
After months of enjoying their Saturday evening treat. the pie fetcher
said he could no longer continue and suggested that the duty he shared
and the pie club was born.
Not all pies reach an acceptable standard and some have been
unceremoniously tossed into the nearby River Ryburn, which flows
conveniently close to the inn. Once a year local pie makers converge on
the inn to establish the supreme pie maker.
The competition, usually staged around the middle of March. sees
producers from Huddersfield. Halifax, Barnsley and elsewhere in
Yorkshire all hoping to he voted number one pie maker. However, the
society has had entrants from many other parts of the country chasing
the elusive title. Indeed pie makers from Lancashire occasionally enter
the competition, in the vain hope of success.
The pies have it! The gentlemen of the pie club sample a winner.
The event draws large crowds and raises substantial amounts for local
charities in the process. Kevin estimates that over the years they have
raised more than £5,000.
This year’s winner, Andrew Whitwam, of Hlinchliffe's Farm Shop in
Huddersfield. beat off 35 other challengers to take the trophy and the
title of Pie Maker Supreme. Like many other experts, Mr Whitwam insists
on using top quality ingredients and a secret recipe to produce a truly
Kevin commented: “We tend to find that the small family butcher who
makes just enough pies to see him through a day’s trading is usually
the most successful in the annual competition. Granted, we have had
some of the big producers enter but they are often not that
successful.” Kevin added: “Our members often bring back pies when they
go away on holiday, so it's not unusual for us to sample the delights
of Norfolk, Cornwall or some other location. I have even fetched pies
from Scotland, though for some reason pork pies don’t seem to be so
thick on the ground north of the border.”
Over the years various serving methods have evolved to ensure that
during tasting sessions the natural flavour can he truly appreciated,
so much so that pies arc now allowed to reach room temperature before
being served. A good pie will require absolutely no condiments and as
an aid to the tasting club members will be provided with a glass of
beer, which has been found to be a perfect accompaniment to these often
delicious works of gastronomic art.
As a club the members pay homage to the pie maker’s craft, but are
always on the lookout for like-minded individuals who might care to join
them on a Saturday evening. In total they now have 10 members hut new
faces are always welcome. Club members receive various awards for their
efforts on behalf of the society.
Each year the champion pie fetcher is presented with an inscribed
tankard, while the member who brings in the worst example of a pie will
be given a large shovellike wooded spoon. There are also prizes for the
furthest fetch and an award for the most expensive pie to be tasted at
For further details contact Kevin Booth, OBIPPAS, C/O The Old Bridge
Inn, Ripponden, Halifax, West Yorkshire. HX6 4AF, enclosing an SAE.
(Dalesman November 2000)