by Janice Hopper

An unexpected trend, which is still on the rise and is positive news for farmers, is the utter streetwise coolness of the humble pie. Not something to be expected, pies were viewed as quite old-fashioned and a food cupboard staple when most of us were growing up, but their cool ‘rebrand’ is working wonders.

When you think about it, the pie was created out of necessity. The thick pastry was a mere disposable container for the meat and vegetables inside, it preserved the juices, and prevented the precious contents from burning in primitive ovens. The pie was a practical storage device, its pastry kept food relatively airtight and germ free as people went about their business. The focus was on nutrition and portability, but it’s changed days indeed when pies are considered cool.

Pie & Brew has recently opened its doors in the centre of Glasgow. This is a very hip city eatery with a focus on pies and craft beer, it’s hard to imagine this venue opening its doors 10 years ago. The approach is simple; eat a pie, drink a quality craft beer and listen to the latest live music. With a focus on the retro, simple living and back to basics, the pie ties in well with modern day sensibilities and the hipster lifestyle.

In Edinburgh the takeaway option at the renowned Piemaker is making waves. Not only do they offer Steak and Ale Pub Pies or Chilli Beef Bakes, they’ve accommodated the vegan and vegetarian market too. Pies are still an ideal food on the go - takeaway luncheons for all ages and backgrounds.

And in the Granite City, Aberdeen has become the first Scottish football club to trademark its pies. The club can sell up to 12,000 Thain’s pies during a match when the home ground is at capacity, so protecting the ‘Pittodrie Pie’ or ‘Piettodrie’ was the next logical step. Admittedly, the pie has retained a gently masculine image, which is part of its appeal.

Nationwide, the annual British Pie Week has just spent seven days, from the March 5-11 2018, celebrating pie perfection. The British Pie Awards were held on March 7 in Melton Mowbray, with Quality Meat Scotland sponsoring two awards (the Beef & Ale and Lamb classes) and also funding an award for the Best Meat Pie from Scotland. But what does this new found chic mean for farmers north of the border?

Well, with the ubiquitousness of the internet, the relative ease of establishing a mail order business and the proliferation of delivery companies, individual farmers can get their products straight to the tables of customers across Scotland and beyond. This direct link, between a Scottish farmer and a consumer anywhere in the UK, was far from straightforward thirty years ago.

Damn Delicious, based in Biggar, boasts grass fed lamb, free range pork, and Aberdeen-Angus beef that has been dry aged for 28 days, all straight from Thankerton Camp farm. They also run a bakery, employing a full time baker to produce award-winning pies. The enterprise is run by the Shannon family – farmers Michael and Michelle, plus eight children. The Shannons genuinely understand the age old pressure of feeding a large family, and the importance of not only providing healthy and nutritious meals as part of a well balanced diet, but also serving flavoursome and tasty food at a reasonable price.

Order a pie from Damn Delicious and it may well be vacuum packed, weighed or labelled by one of the kids. Knowing the faces and the farmers behind the products allows customers to invest a little more into the food on their tables.

Whilst there’s been a rise in vegetarianism and vegan/plant-based diets, equally, many meat eaters hold a greater interest in where their meat comes from, animal welfare and traceability. Rather than buy factory farmed meat from a huge conglomerate, it’s becoming easier to order quality food from individual farmers who are increasingly proactive in promoting their free range credentials and/or the butchers they source their meat from.

Pies by Post in Lochinver, in North West Sutherland, sources its meat from Scottish butchers and game dealers of specified Scottish origin. The company’s calling card is selling pies online with home-made fillings and home-made pastry. Whilst pies are a very traditional dish, the Pies By Post website stresses the very modern ease and convenience of their products, fitting into the most hectic of lifestyles. In an era of instant gratification, social media and short attention spans, pies unexpectedly fit into this brave new world – after all, the farmer, butcher and baker have done most of the work for the customer in advance. A few clicks online, and a healthy, hearty meal is in the post.

Ian Stewart of Pies by Post says: “Pies are back in vogue I think because they are a handy hot food for out and about, instead of a sandwich, and they are a real comfort food as a full meal. The country went budget for a while, even serving mass produced food in some pubs and restaurants for a time. At last I think people now want to get away from that. Pies by Post works because people try the product on holiday and like to have a stock of good pies at home, guaranteeing them a tasty meal at any time.”

By clearly stating that their pastry is vegetarian, Pies by Post can attract a wider market to their produce. Chestnut mushroom and red wine; butternut squash, sweet potato and goats cheese with chilli; and cauliflower, broccoli and cheese; are three vegetable options.

It’s also convenient that the pies are freshly made before dispatch, therefore they can be immediately frozen to create the ideal ‘ready meal’ with all the health benefits of lovingly crafted home cooking. The pies can be piping hot within roughly half an hour.

As pies get more on trend, it’s time to experiment with fillings. Scotland’s largest buffalo farm and butchery, situated in Kirkcaldy in Fife, does a fine line in buffalo pie, alongside more traditional offerings such as steak and gravy, chicken and ham, and Aberdeen-Angus steak pies. The Buffalo Farm has appeared on programmes such as Gordon Ramsay’s ‘F Word’, and Paul Hollywood’s ‘Pies & Puds’, so these pies are used to the limelight.

As farm shops diversify, and become engaging venues in their own right, modern consumers can be entertained in the farm shop then simply pick up a pie for an easy supper. The Tin Coo in Banchory, Devenick, Aberdeenshire is a perfect example. Offering a café, soft play for 1-6 year olds, an on-site butchery with viewing gallery, and ‘Milking Live’ where visitors can watch the cows get milked every evening, shoppers can spend time having fun with their family, rather than slaving in the kitchen.

The pie has come a long way from a portable, low status dish in a thick disposable crust. From on-trend city establishments, to rural farm shops and online empires, the pie perhaps isn’t quite so humble any more.