Unlike the United States, Brits don’t usually make a distinction between “pie” and “pot pie”, so you simply need to use the context of the ingredients to deduce whether to expect an entree or dessert.
Steak & Kidney Pie
Although many of us may shun offal in its basic form, most Brits will happily consume it when presented as Steak and Kidney Pie. This is a tasty, hearty dish, featuring small chunks of long-cooked steak, together with (usually) lamb’s kidney in gravy. For those who really don’t fancy kidneys, variants like Steak & Ale pie are also popular and widely available. Look for this dish on pub menus or places which serve traditional British food.
Suggested accompaniment: cabbage, carrots or another winter vegetable.
Smitten by Britain has previously played host to the wonderful English Pork Pie Company, so the concept of pork with herbs and flavourings, completely surrounded by pastry, may be familiar. Pork pies are almost always served cold, and, especially in individual sizes, are popular picnic food. In a full-sized pie, the inspired addition of a hard-boiled egg, waiting to be discovered in the middle of the pie, is a delightful variant.
Suggested accompaniment: Branston Pickle.
Voted Britain’s favourite home-cooked meal in 2010, Shepherd’s Pie features mashed potato for the topping instead of pastry. Interestingly, there is a distinct lack of agreement over what goes in a Shepherd’s Pie. Many cooks use minced beef, while others claim a shepherd would traditionally have used lamb (although surely he was supposed to care for his flock, not eat them?). The presence of vegetables, like carrots, is also used by some to distinguish this dish from its close cousin, Cottage Pie. A third family member is Cumberland Pie, where the main difference is a sprinkling of breadcrumbs on top.
Suggested accompaniment: Baked Beans.
Smitten by Britain has a couple of excellent guides to mince pies and their history. These might serve as a simple reminder that mince pies contain no actual meat, but are filled instead with a spiced mixture of dried fruits – confusingly, this is known as “mincemeat” in the UK.
Most mince pies can now be safely enjoyed by vegetarians (just check no beef suet is present in the ingredients). The weeks leading up to Christmas are by far the most popular time to bake, buy and consume mince pies.
Suggested accompaniment: Mulled wine.
Blackberry & Apple Pie
Of course, our stateside cousins have claimed apple pie as their own signature dish, and I was a little wary of including a similar treat here. But the fact remains, many British families love a good fruit pie, and fillings which combine apples with autumn berries (preferably picked wild from countryside hedgerows) are especially popular. With an estimated 3,000 varieties of apple growing in Britain today, it’s easy to see why.
Suggested accompaniment: Custard.
Pauline is British by birth and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area nine years ago and, apart from a yearning for afternoon tea and historic homes, has never looked back. Her work has been published by House of Fifty, Toasted Cheese and Alfie Dog Fiction. Her first novel, Saving Saffron Sweeting, was released in Spring 2013. Visit her site here.