The Pork Pie - a British classic

Food & Drink

The Pork Pie - a British classic

The pork pie is a traditional British food item, which continues to be a highly popular and convenient snack. Modern pork pies are a direct descendant of the raised meat pies of medieval cuisine.

Many medieval meat pie recipes were sweetened, often with fruit, and were meant to be eaten cold, and the crust discarded.

Pork pies are made with roughly chopped or minced pork and pork jelly - the latter helping preserve the pie’s freshness by filling in the air gaps within the pie. The meat is cooked in special pastry used for making savoury pies called hot water crust. The beginnings of the hot water crust stem from medieval times, when pies became fashionable fare for banquets, with chefs attempting to out-do each other in the largest and most ambitious creations. As butter and fats became more widely available, the chefs could create richer crumblier pastries, more suitable to be eaten rather than thrown away.

Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire is one of the most famous places to produce pork pies. Melton pies have been handmade there since the late 18th century. The uncured meat is chopped rather than minced and the crust is formed by hand to give an irregular shape. The pies are then cooked free-standing, so that the sides bow outwards during baking.

Considered the originator of the hand raised Melton Mowbray pork pie, Mary Dickinson (1768 to 1841) is credited with using the first wooden dolly to raise a pastry case. By 1851, John Dickinson, Mary's grandson, opened his bakery in Nottingham Street, Melton Mowbray, which is still the site of Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe today. In the 1880's John Dickinson took under his wing an apprentice, Joseph Morris, saving him from the local workhouse (see separate entry). The two worked so well together that in 1885 John added Joseph's name to the business and so the Dickinson & Morris pork pie was born, and continues today with an official 'Protected Geographical Indication' of origin.

Pork pie also has a place in Cockney rhyming slang! 'Pork pies', 'porkie pies' or 'porkies' mean 'lies'. This term dates back to the very beginning of Cockney slang around the mid-1850s and is also one of many terms still in use in present day England.

Popularly enjoyed as a cold snack, a pork pie is traditionally eaten with pickle, mustard or pickled onion.

Further reading

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