Always blow on the pie

18:04, Jul 13 2013
PIE EYED: We're a nation of pie lovers.

Great news for picky eaters. Contrary to multiple internet reports, that meat pie you ate last week did NOT contain snouts, ears or bone.

Pie filling is the stuff of urban legend. One blogger describes the consumption of the Kiwi culinary icon as "kind of like walking into a dark room in a creepy house". New Zealanders feel the fear and eat pies anyway. Some 75 million of them, annually. Eighteen pies for every man, woman and child. Mince. Mince and cheese. Chicken. Chicken korma and teriyaki and ,yes, that's an organic and free-range fowl.

Pies have come a long way. But how can we be sure what's really in them? Sunday sought clarification. Lorraine Belanger, acting manager of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), obliged. Via email she confirmed that, by law, a meat pie must contain no less than 25 percent meat flesh. And the definition of "meat flesh"? "The skeletal muscle of any slaughtered animal and any attached animal rind, fat, connective tissue, nerve, blood and blood vessels (and skin, in the case of poultry).

"Bone is not included in the definition. If a manufacturer adds offal such as tongue roots, liver, spleen or tripe, they must declare it on the label. Snouts and ears would not be considered to be skeletal muscle."

Pies are on the menu because this Thursday, 18 judges will convene to sample 4000-ish entries in the Bakels Supreme Pie Awards. The winners will be announced on July 23 and, three days later, New Zealanders will be invited to take part in the country's first Pie Day, where 20 cents from every pie sold at participating bakeries will go to the Duffy Books in Homes scheme.

Pies are important. Te Ara - The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand puts them in the same cultural category as Buzzy Bee toys, pavlova, jandals and bush shirts. This country's first novelty icecream was, actually, a pie (an Eskimo Pie - but we don't talk about that since the 2009 Eskimo lolly incident, when Seeka Lee Veevee Parsons, a 21-year-old Inuit woman, pointed out the inappropriateness of naming a sweet after a racial insult).

Pies are for road trips. Especially 3am road trips that are being filmed for television's Police Ten 7. In 2009 it screened a clip of a man suspected of breaking into cars, who told police sergeant and dog handler Guy Baldwin that he was heading to a service station to buy a pie.

"What must you always do?" asked the officer. "At three o'clock in the morning that pie has been in the warming drawer for probably about 12 hours. It'll be thermo-nuclear. You must always blow on the pie, always blow on the pie. Safer communities together, okay."

The clip went viral. A South Park spoof ensued. And if you look closely at the Trelise Cooper-designed Air New Zealand steward's waistcoat, you'll see the phrase reprinted for posterity. Pies have history. "It goes back to the pioneering days," the 2012 pie awards' chief judge Denis Kirkpatrick says.

"When they came to New Zealand they had very little in the way of food. They killed an animal and they had flour and the fat off the animal, and they made pies to take out to work clearing the bush. Sometimes they had a divider, and one side was apple, and one side was meat and that's what was called a ploughman's pie."

Kirkpatrick owns Jimmy's Pies, the Central Otago institution that churns out 20,000 pies a day. The biggest seller is mince, followed by mince and cheese. They've created a vegetarian pie - lima, green, redand kidney beans and mushrooms. It's quite delicious, says Kirkpatrick, but it is, he confesses, "a slow seller".

Pies create headlines. Search and read about "the poisoning cases at Parnell". The death of two men and the ongoing illness of a reverend, his wife and a guest, was, in the end, attributed to "a case of diarrhoea from eating meat" - the cooking had been done in porcelain covered vessels and there was "absolutely no ground" for thinking poison had found admittance to the pie.


Also on PapersPast, a recipe for pigeon pie which concludes with the instruction: "A pair of pigeon's legs should be blanched in boiling water and laid on the top." Colonial cooks had to know how to deal with pigeon pies. Tony Simpson's book A Distant Feast details an 1851 dinner for Governor George Grey and nearly 200 prominent settlers in the Hutt Valley. The menu included three pigeon and six beef steak pies (also three rounds of beef, six boiled legs of mutton, four hams, five geese, 12 ducks, three turkeys, three sucking pigs, four chickens... the list goes on). But wait, there's more. The 1913 Australasian Cookery Book, cited in David Burton's New Zealand Food and Cookery, suggests the endemic parrot, the kaka, is very nice when made into pies - though simmering for at least an hour is advisable.

The meat pie, writes Burton, is something Australians and New Zealanders have made their own. "Essentially, we've miniaturised it into the familiar square or oval moulds, small enough to provide lunch for just one person, eaten out of a brown paper bag, on the run, on a car trip or at a rugby match. Add half a dozen beers, the saying goes, and you have a seven-course New Zealand banquet."

He makes a case for regional cuisine, via the pie. "In the coastal areas of the upper North Island, smoked fish pies are to be found everywhere... on the other hand, the average North Islander would have never even heard of a mutton pie, let alone tasted one." In one Southland bakery, he reports, pastry was still made with mutton dripping. And on the West Coast of the South Island, the Cornish miners "pie" - the pasty - is still common.

Pies are in our movies (Goodbye Pork Pie), our lingo (pie-eyed), and - apparently - in our rose-spectacled demand for all things retro; witness the recent return of Georgie Pie's steak mince'n'cheese offering to 11 McDonald's restaurants.

"I've been waiting for this my entire life," Whakatane man Grant Duffield told the Taranaki Daily News. The 29-year-old supermarket worker was the man behind a 17,000 signature petition calling for the pie's return after a 15-year hiatus (they used to be $1, now they're $4.50).

Pies have moved with the times. Last year, the Bakels Supreme Pie Awards' supreme winner was a gingered peach, pear and cointreau pie from Kihikihi's Viands Bakery, near Te Awamutu. Over the years judges have been confronted with a herb and emu mix, possum pies (one was called Headlight; the other Road Kill) and, in the gourmet section, a sweetbread, spinach, smoked cheese and onion sauce combo.

This week, they'll be considering entries froma record-breaking 497 bakeries. Tim Aspinall, head of the North Shore International Academy, is chief judge and Auckland chef Michael Meredith the celebrity judge who will choose the supreme winner.

The rules are clear. All pies, except the gourmet fruit and cafe boutique entries, must be topped with flaky/puff pastry. They can be square, round or oval, but overweight pies will be disqualified. Seafood entries must have a minimum shelf-life of five days.The judges will look at presentation: does the pie have an attractive shine, where permitted? They will consider the pie's bottom: has the pastry been rested and "sheeted" gently. Does the filling look appealing? Are the flavours well-balanced? Is the pie, asks the judging sheet, "easy to eat"? 

Sunday Magazine