The British Pork Pie—History and Tradition

In cockney rhyming slang pork pies, porkie pies, or just porkies, means lies.

But rest assured it’s no word of a lie that Brits love pork pies!

Pork pies are made with roughly chopped or minced pork and pork jelly sealed in a special pastry used for making savory pies called “hot water crust”.

Pork Pie from a Farmer’s Market. Credit Su-Lin

The jelly helps preserve the pie’s freshness by filling in air gaps within the pie, which is usually eaten cold.

Porkies. Credit Ian ‘Harry’ Harris

On a sunny day, it’s difficult to beat sitting at a bench in a pub garden and tucking into a ploughman’s lunch and a pint of ale, or a hearty sandwich with pork pie and branston, or even pork pie on its own with Branston pickle and mustard. Oh yes!

Ploughman’s Board of pork pie, scotch egg, mature cheddar, artisan bread, pickled onions, Branston pickle, and celery. Credit Matt, flickr
Pub lunch of ale, sandwich, pork pie & pickles. Credit Sebastien Cevey
Pork Pie with Branston Pickle and Mustard. Credit Kake, flickr

Pork pies can be found all over the UK under various brand names in supermarkets. But there is one place that is so special, it has its own signpost.

Pork Pie is Important. Credit Rob Watling

Melton Mowbray Pork Pies.

There are pork pies and there are Melton Mowbray pork pies.

Named after the market town in Leicestershire, Melton pies have been handmade in Melton Mowbray since the late 18th century.

The uncured meat is chopped rather than minced and the crust is formed by hand to give an irregular shape. Unlike molded pies, the pies are cooked free-standing so that the sides bow outwards during baking.

Unwrapping a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie. Credit ben dalton, flickr

Melton Mowbray is a beautiful town surrounded by ancient monuments and hundreds of buildings with special historical interest.

The name “Mowbray” dates back to the Lords of the Manor of feudal Norman rule—namely Robert de Mowbray, described by English chronicler and Benedictine monk Orderic Vitalis as,

Powerful, rich, bold, fierce in war, haughty, he despised his equals and, swollen with vanity, disdained to obey his superiors. He was of great stature, strong, swarthy and hairy. Daring and crafty, stern and grim, he was given more to meditation than speech, and in conversation scarce ever smiled.

It’s a shame pork pies hadn’t been invented yet—they would have given him reason to smile more often.

St Marys church, Melton Mowbray. Credit Russ Hamert
View of Burton Street, Melton Mowbray. Credit Russ Hamert

There lies an ode to the Melton pie in the 1961 book Eating and Drinking – An Anthology for Epicures

A Melton Mowbray Pork-pie
Strange pie that is almost a passion!
O passion immoral for pie!
Unknown are the ways that they fashion
Unknown and unseen of the eye.
The pie that is marbled and mottled,
The pie that digests with a sigh:
For all is not Bass that is bottled,
And all is not pork that is pie.Richard Le Gallienne.

In the town center sits Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe with the black and white fronted Half Moon pub next door.

Dickensons and Morris Pie Shop Melton Moybray. Credit Russ Hamer
Dickensons and Morris Pie Shop Melton Moybray. Credit Russ Hamer

The shop is home to Dickinson & Morris who have been baking pork pies in Melton Mowbray since 1851.

Since 2009, Melton Mowbray pork pies have enjoyed PGI status (Protected Geographical Indication), which means that only pork pies made in a zone around Melton can use the Melton Mowbray name on their packaging.

A British tradition lives on!

Other pork pie shops worthy of note

J Stanforth – The Celebrated Pork Pie Establishment in Skipton, North Yorkshire. Credit robert wade
Eley’s Pork Pies of Ironbridge, Shropshire. Credit Matt Brown

The Pork Pie Hat

The pork pie hat refers to several styles of hat popular since mid-19th century—and bearing and uncanny resemblance to a pork pie!

A classic brown felt men’s pork pie hat from the 1940s. Credit KDS444

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