To the untrained eye, they’re just blokes pigging out in a pub. To our
pork-pie makers, they’re judge and jury.
For more than 20 years, a snug
room at The Old Bridge Inn in the West Yorkshire village of Ripponden
has been the setting for a unique gathering. Every Saturday evening,
exclusive even elite group of men assemble to discuss weighty matters
and cast a verdict of no small importance. Theirs is the power to lift
up or cast down, a responsibility not to be taken lightly. This is the
Pork Pie Appreciation Society, and their weekly meeting is about to
“We love our pies. We’re very passionate about this,” says Kevin Booth,
life president of the society and one of its founder members. Just how
passionate can be gauged by the fact that when his brother and fellow
society member Stuart was married earlier this year, instead of a
wedding cake there was a three-tier, 50lb pork pie, complete with
miniature bride and groom on top. “I think we might have made a few
converts,” Booth says with quiet confidence.
The society started in 1982, ironically enough following the opening of
a new health club in the village. “About eight of us used to go there
to work out. Then we’d retire to the pub,” recalls Peter Charnley, one of Booth’s
fellow founder members. “Because the pub didn’t serve food, the wife of
one lad used to pack him up with a pork pie, which he’d eat in front of
us. He never shared. So another lad offered to bring pies in for all of
us from then on” With the landlord’s blessing, the Saturday-night pork
pies became a ritual — until the week when the pie provider couldn’t
come. A pieless evening loomed.
“We were a bit upset,” Charnley admits. Drastic action was needed: they
decided they would take it in turns to fetch the pies. Male competitive
spirit being what it is, it soon became a matter of pride as to which
“pie fetcher”, as they became known, could bring the best Butcher’s
shops for miles around were scoured in search of pies with crispier
pastry, tastier filling. Marks out of ten were awarded and comments
noted, at first on the wooden Ceylon tea box used to carry
pies (which is still brought out for meetings like a religious relic),
but then in a more official logbook. The Pork Pie Appreciation Society
The club now has a hard core of nine members, from self-employed
builders to managers for Yorkshire Water, all living within a five-mile
radius of Ripponden. Each week, the designated pie fetcher will select
a traditional butchers shop, sometimes travelling up to 20 miles in
their hunt for the perfect pork pie. There are far fewer independent
butchers now than when the society started, although it’s generally
agreed that those that have survived are of a very high quality. “We’ve
done all the butchers in this area, so it’s nice when guests bring pies
from somewhere different,” says Booth, who is renowned for being able to
recognise an individual pie maker’s handiwork after a single bite.
Before anyone thinks this is just an excuse for a bunch of middle-aged
men to sit in a pub drinking beer and scoffing pies, it should be
pointed out that the society is now acknowledged in pork-pie circles
as one of the foremost authorities.
Its annual pork-pie championship, which takes place in spring, attracts
around 50 independent butchers and pie makers from the North and
Midlands. It’s so highly regarded that even a placing in it can make a
huge difference to the entrants.
“Business can double,” says Simon Haigh of Hinchilife’s Farm Shop in
Netherton, Huddersfield three time championship winner and the maker of
the giant pork pie for Stuart and Jo Booth’s wedding. There are, he
says, other pork-pie competitions, not least the National Pork Pie
Championships run by the Meat and Livestock .Commission. “But this is
probably more important They’re pie lovers, not from the industry. It’s
the best one to win.”
So what constitutes a good pork pie? For a start, it must come from a
traditional butcher’s rather than a supermarket. Ideally, it should be
eaten the day it’s cooked. While it is possible to “boost” an older pie
by warming it in the oven, that’s something pork-pie purists regard in
the same light as an athlete taking steroids.
Then there’s appearance. A pie should have straight or bulging sides
(pork pies should always be cooked in a mould so they keep their
shape). The pastry should be neatly crimped, crisp, golden, and
well-filled so there are no gaps “rat-runs”, as they’re known to
aficionados. The pork can be either cured or uncured but has to be
high quality, and seasoned using just salt, pepper and perhaps a few
herbs. As for additives or preservatives.., the less said, the better.
After that, it’s down to personal taste. “We don’t always like the same
pies. It’s not always unanimous,” says Booth. This week, hot weather
has meant the pies have been kept in the cool pub cellar to stop them
spoiling. Each member takes one, munches away thoughtfully and
scribbles his score on a scrap of paper.
But the results aren’t revealed yet. In fact, the pies aren’t
mentioned at all. In a sort of formalised version of what men tend to
do in pubs anyway, current and sporting events are first discussed,
with each topic faithfully recorded in the logbook. Finally, Booth
clears his throat. “Right We’ll get on with the pies now.”
One by one, starting with the
person sitting to the left of the pie fetcher, each member gives his
verdict. And it’s immediately obvious there’s a problem. The pub cellar
has cooled the pies too much: ideally they should be consumed at room
temperature. “It killed everything,” sighs the first speaker, but
awards it eight out of ten anyway. “This pie looks familiar,” offers
another. “Pastry thick but fresh. Well-filled, plenty of compact meat A
Finally, the pie fetcher himself delivers his own judgment a tad
defensively after the criticisms about the temperature and reveals the
pie’s provenance: bought that morning from P. & I. Hopkins at
Birkenshaw, Bradford. “Bloody hell, that’s a pedigree pie,” one member
declares, to general nods of approval.
Business concluded, the PPAS members settle down to their pints with
the satisfaction of a job well done. “I think we’ve helped to make pork
pies better,” says Booth. “There’s good pies and there’s great pies.
But there’s no such thing as a bad pork pie.”.
Report Simon Beckett Photographs John Angerson