Meeting the Pie Man
I love a good pie, who doesn’t! Crisp pastry of any description, succulent, moist filling, hot or cold – I don’t care. But when it comes to a pork, game or any hot water crust shrouded pie, I’m so often left disappointed, until I met a pie man by the name of Robert Corrigan a.k.a. Mr C’s Hand-Crafted Award-Winning Pies.
Robert invited me over to Fife to learn the art of a master craftsman. I’m never going to turn my nose up at the possibility of learning something new in baking. I have made pork pies before and they have turned out all right, but they lack something and I wanted to find out what. Robert was the man who was going to let me into some pie secrets. It was a beautiful sunny day and almost a shame to spend it inside (this was one of the three glorious days we had in April that could’ve been our summer) but where needs must …
I was greeted heartily by Robert and first things first, what tea would I like with my egg roll? Now that’s the best way to start any interview. I was introduced to his two apprentices, both Polish and as enthusiastic about Mr C’s product as the man himself.
Over breakfast, Robert explained how he came to make pies. Most of his life he has been involved in hospitality in one guise or another (he started in kitchens at the age of 15 and has rarely been out of them). His passion for local ingredients, Scottish food producers and his involvement in Slow Food, lead him to be invited to represent the UK at the 2006 Terra Madre event in Turin along with 30 other chefs. While there, he listened to farmers complaining about chefs and the industry just using the prime parts of meat, rather than using the whole beast, eschewing the cheaper cuts.
Robert decided to explore the idea of creating hand-made pies. After a couple of visits to one of the best pork pie makers in the UK – where else but in Melton Mowbray – he set out on a journey that would see him making some amazing award-winning pies. His latest was for his Bride’s pie that won bronze at this year’s British Pie Awards (he has won too many awards to list here, see the link at the bottom of the page). Trial and error followed with endless experiments until he was happy with his results. Using organic flour from Shipton Mills and Italian lard, which has a lower melting point than most animal fats, he perfected a hot water crust pastry that is crisp, crumbly and doesn’t leave a greasy aftertaste in the mouth.
It is a pastry that can be used cool; something I had never realised could be done with this sort of dough. Robert wouldn’t divulge his secret about this. Shame really, working with hot pastry is not easy and nigh on impossible if it cools too much!
He doesn’t skimp on his ingredients, sourcing them as locally as possible; outdoor-reared pork from Ramsay’s of Carluke, venison from Highland Game, mutton from Peelham Farm.
The jelly is a labour of love; made from trotters, it takes 17 hours to make a savoury, naturally setting jelly that is poured into the pies hot. Every stage of the process is done by hand; each pie is individually formed, filled, topped and decorated by him and his boys.
Hundreds are made each week and come Christmas time, Robert has to take on more staff to cope with the demand. Not only have his pies won copious amounts of awards, he was involved in the new Outlander TV show that was filmed in Scotland. Contacted by the production company, Robert was asked if he could supply pies for the set. Not just pies but also bread and other baked goods.
Another accolade is he supplies one of the most prestigious shops in London, Fortnum and Mason. From the humble pork pie to a luxurious variety that is stuffed with duck, foie gras, truffle and sauternes jelly.
Unfortunately, the latter won’t be available at the Crail Food Festival, but you will be able to try and buy a variety of excellent pies. The Piggy Black is layered with black pudding, while the chilli chicken has a nice healthy kick of spice. And who says you can’t have pie for breakfast? Not Robert, he makes one filled with egg, bacon, mushroom and tomato!
Like Mr C, I have to admit that a simple pork pie made with fabulously high quality ingredients will get my vote every time, unless I can sneak slice of the F&M duck and foie gras!
Catch Robert at the indoor market at this year’s Crail Food Festival on 13th June. – Stop Press (9 June 2015) – due to a large order for a major client, Robert is now unable to attend the Crail Food Festival 2015. We’re very grateful to The Wee Pie Company for being able to come along at short notice.