Go to Wigan and tell them that it’s British Pie Week and you’ll no doubt receive a volley of blank looks. That’s because every week is pie week in Wigan.
Pies are inextricably entwined with the residents of this Greater Manchester town. It is home to more than 100,000 people in a wider borough of more than three times that population.
Boundaries become blurred when we talk of pie consumption; also within the Wigan borough is Leigh, represented in Parliament by Jo Platt.
Only seven miles or so from Wigan, yet half the world away; Wiganers are known the world over as Pie Eaters. In Leigh they’re called Lobby Gobblers, due to their preference for lobbies, a kind of sloppy potato stew.
From maternity ward to funeral parlour, a Wiganer comes into this world with nothing and leaves with nothing, but in between is given sustenance, comfort, solace and pleasure from pies. There is no occasion for which a pie will not suffice or, indeed, not be welcomed.
Weddings, funerals, christenings, birthday parties. A Wigan buffet will always have a proud selection of pies. Feeling sad? Have a pie. Happy? Celebrate with a pie. Hungry? A pie. Not so hungry? Maybe just a small pie. Aliens have invaded the earth? Save the pies!
The truth of the matter is, in Wigan they just like pies. Before we proceed, however, a word on what constitutes a pie. It has to be round, baked in its tinfoil dish, and hot. It has a pastry top, and seamless circular walls, and a base. Wiganers can’t be doing with the things that call themselves pies but are just stew with a lid on.
Pies can be meat and potato, or steak. Steak and kidney, or even cheese and onion. Maybe even a butter pie.
Pies are not healthy, but that’s not to say pies can’t be sport. Every year, just before Christmas, the World Pie Eating Championship is held at Harry’s Bar on Wallgate, just a stone’s throw from where Margaret Poole opened her first pie shop 170 years ago.
The winner in 2017 was Martin Appleton-Clare, who retained his title from the previous year by disposing of a meat and potato pie in 32 seconds. He shaved more than 13 seconds off his 2016 personal best.
They’ll tell you in Yorkshire that they make a good pie; they don’t. Not a Wigan pie. Pies consumed anywhere other than Wigan are like tap-water down south or American chocolate. They look the same, but they aren’t.
TNT Food & Drink