Walkers’ are back

September 30, 2013

LCFC legend Steve Walsh  - with a pie.

LCFC legend Steve Walsh – with a pie.

“Tim – would you like to come and have some pork pie and meet Steve Walsh?”

Oh, ok then.

I’m as vulnerable to the well-pitched PR invitation as the next completely independent food blogger, and this one had my name on it. The occasion was the relaunch of Walker’s pork pie shop in Cheapside, Leicester. The shop was originally opened by the company in 1824  – a fact spelt in large letters on the rather smart new frontage.  But they withdrew from retail some years back and the shop was run predominantly as a pork butcher’s by Fyfes.

When that company went under, Walker’s felt it was time to rescue the building.  Many generations of Leicester folk will remember queuing up there for pork pies at Christmas time – a tradition re-established last year when Walkers ran a pop-up shop from the premises.  It was so successful Walkers were encouraged to go for a full refurb and it is now a rather handsome food shop focusing on Walkers’ onw pies, sausages, breads and cooked meats, plus deli goods and hot food to take away.

It’s all rather pleasing.  With the market hall rebuild now progressing apace and Silver Arcade due to reopen next month with a restaurant (The Atrium – no further details as yet), chocolatier (Cocoa Amore) and deli among the early tenants, the area around the Western side of the Market could be developing a head of steam as a food area.

Walkers' baker Ian Heircock with a 52lb pork pie

Walkers’ baker Ian Heircock with a 52lb pork pie

Crowds gather  on Cheapside

Crowds gather on Cheapside

Breads

Breads

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I was at a party once in Berkshire. To be honest, I had gatecrashed it. The hostess, whom I knew to be French, eyed me suspicously and came over to investigate. “Where in France are you from?”, was my opening smalltalk gambit. “Dijon,” she replied rather curtly. “Ah,’ I counter. “Like the mustard.”  At that point her expression went from cold to glacial and I was asked to leave.

Maybe it’s that lingering memory of the doleful influence of cliche, but I try and avoid writing too much about pork pies. I love them and am proud of them, but y’know, who wants their culture to be defined by just one thing?

Me getting to grips with a pie

However I’ll break that rule today as I was lucky enough to spend the morning at Maiyango, eating and making wonderful pork pies with Walker’s master pie maker Ian Heircock.   It was a lovely ray of sunshine to lighten  the leaden grey skies and relentless rain of an English summer day.  Ian gave us his presentation, honed in visits to countless WI groups in the County,  which had plenty of appealing insight into the craft tradition of a 200 year old Leicester pie making business that now knocks out over a million pies a week.

Three things I learned today?  Melton Mowbray pork pies use uncured meat because the pie was developed for huntsmen and the slaughtering  of pigs took place at the same time as the hunt season, so they didn’t need to cure it but could use  fresh meat.    

The famous crisp brand was developed by Walkers  in 1945 as the business tried to diversify because pigs were in somewhat short supply. The brand was sold off to Pepsico in 1971 for £3million, and the rest, as they say, is Gary Lineker’s pension fund.

Before and after – showing the distinctive shape of a Melton Mowbray pie that must be cooked unsupported in the oven.

And finally, when pies were still hand raised every pie maker would have his own personal crimp styling,  giving ultimate traceablity back to the maker. I really hope that’s true  – I remember there was similar conceit used to try and legitimate a megabrand of polyfilla white bread in the 70s  – “Nice one, Cyril”.

Anyhow I also got a chance to work a billet around a dolly (two more terms I learned today) and raise and seal  my own pie. Sadly we didn’t get the chance to cook them but I did at least come away with a nicely enhanced view of our crowning glory and a pie to take home and enjoy with some Dijon – sorry, English mustard tonight. You should note that most of Walker’s pies are not officially Melton Mowbray pies (according to the PGI rules)  as they use hoops to support the pie in the oven, giving  them their distinctive fluted sides. 

* Oh and for those still on tenterhooks from last week – I’m pleased to say I was successful in Bistro Pierre’s Dish of the Month competition. Below  is a little reminder of what I shall now refer to as my award-winning effort.

toulouse sausage
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