This post is in honour of the first day of British Pie Week, a festival which I will be observing religiously. I’ve often wondered why so many poets I know share my enthusiasm for a good pie (by this, I mean a proper one with pastry top and bottom – not the controversial gastropub fare with watery gravy and a pastry lid perched on top like a squashed flat cap). Having recently learned that Oliver Cromwell briefly banned types of pie in 1644 as a ‘pagan form of pleasure’, I suspect it’s aligned with some kind of subversive instinct.
As The Telegraph pointed out today in its homage to British Pie Week, Shakespeare himself was aware of the literary potency of the pie:
“A recent study compiled all of Shakespeare’s 74 scripted deaths throughout his 38 plays. Among them are stabbings (30), poisonings (four), be-headings (three), and two poor souls had the most creative death of all: they were baked into a pie.”
(Titus Andronicus famously wreaks gruesome revenge on Queen Tamora and her family by baking her sons in a pie and serving it to her.)
I’ve never managed to write about pies. Perhaps I can’t handle the pressure: my dad is a pie connoisseur and – more recently – a pie chef in his own right and I fear that any poem on the topic would be subject to the same level of scrutiny as a slightly overdone shortcrust topping. A few years ago, my dad went on a pork pie making course here in Derbyshire and he’s been perfecting his recipes since, supplying pies to hungry climbers and runners across North East Derbyshire (and sometimes in South Yorkshire). My Lake District Trail Running Guide was powered by homemade pork pies (pictured: a pie near Melbreak, Crummock Water.)
Luckily, Tim Wells has succeeded where I have failed. Here’s a poem from his latest book ‘Everything Crash’, published by Penned in the Margins:
A University Education by Tim Wells:
The poshos behind me in the pie and mash queue
are puzzled. Firstly that there’s a queue, secondly
that the disappearing London they’d set out to discover
At the counter I order large pie and mash. Easy,
one perfect pie, mash smoothed to the side of the plate
and smothered with liquer. It fair sets a fellow.
There is some disquiet after me however.
Adding some toit to his hoity voice the chap behind
declares ‘I can’t seem to see a menu’.
The old girl serving stabs her wooden spoon
into the steaming vat of mash, stares at him blankly
and states, ‘this is a pie and mash shop dear.’
The rest of us punters burst into laughter.
A toff fumbles for change.
Finally, no piece about the poetry of pies would be complete without a link to Ian McMillan reading his poem about Denby Dale pies (as Ian says, this should really be referred to as a ‘piem’).
Happy British Pie Week. Rage, rage against the inadequate pastry topping.