High British Standard
The key to a good British pie is a saucy filling with a flaky pastry—but the filling can’t be too wet; otherwise, the pie becomes soggy. The proportion of filling to pastry has to be just right, with neither overwhelming the other.
At Parker’s, a British goods company located in upstate New York, the pies meet the traditional standards. Co-founder Damian Parker explained that meat pies have been a staple in British cuisine since medieval times, when the gentry favored them for a filling and easily transportable meal while traveling on the road.
Today, pies are a ubiquitous part of British life. “There’s no occasion when you wouldn’t eat pie,” Parker said. “Every convenience store sells them. It’s an everyday snack.” He compares it to the American burger, beloved by all.
Some pies are associated with particular holidays. For Bonfire Night, Brits typically eat pork pies with mushy peas (mashed up peas cooked with butter and salt), and for Christmas, it’s customary to eat mince pies, where these days the traditional meat has been replaced with nuts and brandied vine fruits.
Each region has its own variation. In northern U.K., people favor the steak-and-kidney, while southerners crave potatoes in their filling. In Cornwall, for example, people eat Cornish pasties, a pie that either resembles a small football or is folded in a crimped “D” shape. Inside are ground beef, turnips, potatoes, and onions. According to Parker, pasties gained popularity when workers in the mining industry brought them as portable lunches.
Done the right way, the vegetables bring out the flavor of the meat, which only needs a touch of black pepper for seasoning. The pie’s outer crust should be golden, buttery, and flaky, while the inside is thicker and chewy. Parker’s pies, well researched and perfected over the years, are just right.
Eight years ago, Parker journeyed all around the isles so he could learn pie-making from the masters and bring the tradition to the United States. He’d initially relocated to the States to invest in a startup company, but when he realized that no one was doing British food properly here, he decided to embrace his love for cooking and start a pie business. Since then, the company has expanded to become a one-stop shop for all things British, from candies to condiments.
Parker said a common faux pas committed by Americans is making shepherd’s pies with beef instead of the standard lamb used in the U.K. Indeed, lamb’s juicy richness is a more fitting match for the heavy mashed potatoes on top. The slightly browned gravy provides the perfect hint of char in each bite.
Parker strives to make pies as traditionally British as possible—complete with Victorian pie presses. “We speak to authenticity. That’s our driving force,” he said.
It could be why many British expats from around the country order pies from Parker’s. A popular choice among them is the steak-and-ale. The ale gravy has an undertone of smoky tang, adding a pleasing moreishness to the tender chunks of beef.
With different immigration waves, British pies have also absorbed the flavors of other culinary cultures, seen in Parker’s chicken tikka pie with its mild Indian-spiced filling.
Parker has also created some distinctly American flavors. In honor of his new hometown of Buffalo, New York (where his company is based), he created the Buffalo pie, with spices reminiscent of Buffalo wings. Though the spices punch your palate, they don’t overpower the taste of the chicken. Eating the pie is like eating a more refined version of your favorite messy wings.