I’m a broken record when it comes to leaving London for the day. The feeling is always the same: the early start, the taste of sleep and bitter coffee, the gentle rock of the carriage, the warm, stale air, and the rain racing across the window. The train, ploughing that same furrow, yet again, twists from the grip of its suburban shackles, breaking into a straight run through seas of green and the occasional burst of grey. With each passing minute, the line narrows and the passengers thin. London becomes the distant past; that great, glowing centre of the universe, eclipsed by drystone walls, corrugated distribution centres, an inability to make good coffee, and sofas left in the rain.
And out here, beneath the dark, leaking sky, lies Melton Mowbray. A town sat on the thinnest of thin railway lines, where the rails merge seamlessly with the land on either side, nibbled by sheep, scratched by the hardiest of shrubs, and tickled by branches. It’s a town synonymous with a different time and a different existence. A chocolate box of memories, with the picture-perfect trinity of church, park, and tumbledown mews engraved on the lid. A town to excite every tourist and inspire every Englander; a place to meet the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker; and the home - both spiritually and literally - of pies.
Melton has it’s own pie shops; Melton has it’s own pie; Melton hosts, each and every year, the British Pie Awards. This is a town that eats, sleeps, and breathes pie. To some, this might seem a terrible curse. Pie is the food of fun, ridicule, and the perfect portrayal of an awful diet. Who ate all the pies? We all did and we all do. England is a country that has, does, and will forever love pies. Obesity be damned; the magic sparkle of bright, golden glazed pastry that delivers a satisfyingly crisp crunch beneath a knife, and the ooze of a sweet, salty, stewed filling, more than compensates for a bloodstream laden with cholesterol.
But, just how satisfying is that crunch? How golden the glaze? How sweet, salty, or otherwise, the bubbling ooze? At the British Pie Awards, we - the judges - gather to answer these questions (and more) in our search for the best pie. Gathered beneath the high, vaulted ceiling of St. Mary’s church, the wheat is removed from the chaff. Looking, cutting, prodding, poking, and tasting, the glaze, the pastry, the filling, all placed beneath the microscope. Look, touch, slice, taste, and repeat. Always repeat.
For many entries, pie is clearly a labour of love; care, craft, and thought neatly brought together and encased within a perfect pastry. For others, pie is a chore; a weak, wet millimetre of pastry, collapsing before the knife's touch, revealing a thin paste of filling not fit for a fork. These are surprisingly frequent and the bins overflow with a mound of disappointingly bad entries. It’s fine though, competition breeds creativity, innovation, and an attempt at betterment. The best pies rise to the top, scoring ever higher than the failures consigned to the skip outside.
Eventually, there’s a winner - or three, to be precise. Three fruit pies, stacked on the podium, from beautiful gold, so-so silver, and shameful bronze. Each demonstrated an almost edible visual appeal, with minimal flaws; each served up a perfectly even, firm, cooked pastry; each managed to deliver a balanced flavour, that met their description; each was so stuffed with filling, that a single slice was a meal in itself. Each was a pie worthy of its place and a reassurance, once again, that Britain knows how to cook the best pies, as well as eat them.