Our children started a new tradition this winter. After working up a sweat and an appetite on the football field or netball court we buy a meat pie. We wait until we get home to eat it. I tell them this is so that they can add tomato sauce, but it is because I don't want my car covered in spilt pie.
The meat pie has been a traditional part of the average Kiwi's diet for many years, and though they've never been out-of-favour, pies are increasing in popularity as we seek things retro. Pies are also somewhat "Kiwiana".
The pie industry in New Zealand is big business, worth more than $140 million per annum. The Heart Foundation calculates that we consume 68 million pies per year. (I found this on the internet so it must be true.) This means average meat pie consumption in New Zealand is 17 a person per year. As I don't eat pies, someone is eating my share. Who?
The Heart Foundation reckon that males aged 15 to 24 years are the biggest meat pie consumers. As my son is 9 years old I want to make sure that by the time he is 15 years he knows which are the best. Hence, our Saturday treats have become serious research.
At the most basic level, a meat pie is a pastry container that holds meat and gravy. But dig, or bite, a little deeper and you find not all pies are created equal.
Pastry is more than just a thing to prevent filling leaking over hands and clothes, as it was historically. It is an integral part of the pie experience.
It must be flaky, messy and melt in the mouth. A heating cabinet is not pastry's best friend, although some pies are deliberately undercooked, relying on the cabinet to heat pastry to perfection (and risking soggy pastry if it isn't). Other pies are cooked fully, and must be eaten before the pastry hardens rock-like.
Inside the pastry is meat, we hope. Food Standards Australia New Zealand requires that pies contain a minimum of 25 per cent meat. They also allow a meat pie to contain beef, buffalo, camel, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit, sheep or kangaroo. I am pretty sure we didn't come across kangaroo in Nelson. Some pie-makers add vegetables but my children think these should be served separately, if at all.
Also inside the pie is gravy and this is where a pie maker can show a bit of flair by varying the flavour with herbs and spices. However, some of the pies we sampled suggest that gravy is much cheaper than meat.
Our samples included those from the local supermarket. We warmed the pies in the microwave, then put them in a hot oven to ensure the filling was hot and the pastry a bit crispy, but not for so long that the pie turned into hard shell wrapped around dry meat. None of our supermarket pies were as good as the ones from bakeries, even with careful heating.
Pies from a bakery are generally made on the premises and we had lots of excellent experiences. Firstly, The Lunch Stop on Pascoe St where the large queues out the door mirror the large pies found inside. These were notable for an unusually rich gravy and crisp-but-not-too-crisp pastry.
We liked Bakers Inn on Waimea Rd. I have often noticed hordes of boys from Nelson College exiting this bakery with paper bags.
This bakery makes everything themselves and the pies are fresh, full of flavour and have wonderful flaky pastry. The staff tell me that a scaled-up version of their pies would be perfect for dinner. The hungry boys from Nelson College are on to a good thing and when my son is old enough he will no doubt want to join them.
Very close to home is Ka Pai Kiwi Kitsch'n, a quirky corner store whose owners pride themselves on using real butter, lean hand-cut meats, no added chemicals or preservatives, free-range eggs and locally sourced produce. "Ka Pai" is Maori for "good" and their pie had by far the best insides of any we sampled.
Good pies were also had from the Wakefield Bakery, Couplands and Stoke Bakery.
All this pie eating is bad news for the health-conscious, but I won't spoil your enjoyment of this slice of Kiwiana by providing a nutritional analysis. For those interested, pies in cellophane have the relevant information on the packaging. The high quantities of saturated fat and low quantities of fibre reinforce that meat pies are a "sometimes" food.
For that sometimes-treat of a homemade-style pie with golden flaky pastry and generous meat filling, our family recommends The Lunch Stop or Wakefield Bakery, but as the former isn't open on Saturdays and the latter is not on our route home from football, we head for the Ka Pai.
- Who gets your nomination for the Nelson region's best meat pie? Leave your comments below and we'll put your favourites to the taste test.
- © Fairfax NZ News