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The surprising truth about meat free/vegetarian pies

One thing about us Brits that is never in doubt is that we are a historic nation of meat lovers. Part of the reason for this has to be the rich and fertile pastures, such as the beautiful dales here in Yorkshire, that produce high quality meat, helping to sustain our love of meat for centuries.

It’s why the French have been known to refer to us as ‘Les rosbifs’ (which no doubt is one of the kinder terms of endearment they have for us).

Meat has historically been a food for the higher classes, with the poor of yesteryear traditionally eating much less meat and more grains, vegetables and herbs as their main source of sustenance. The poorer classes often had ways of making meat go further, with Yorkshire puddings being a classic example. The Yorkshire pudding was originally used as a way of filling up on cheaper calories so that less meat would be consumed during the meal.

In modern times, a combination of new farming techniques and increased affluence among the general population have led to meat becoming a much bigger part of the average person’s diet, particularly here in Western Europe. The average Brit eats around 60kg of meat per year, which is high by historic standards and a reflection of the higher living standards we enjoy today.

In the coming years the trend for increasing meat consumption is forecast to reverse and the price of meat has been on the increase in recent years. Meat is unlikely to be as cheap as it once was and this is causing many people to reevaluate their relationship with meat and in many cases to reduce consumption. This is no bad thing in our view and one of our core principles is that meat should be something we aim to eat a little less often, but that when we do eat it we should be prepared to pay for the best we can afford.

When it comes to pies, we know that (nearly) everyone loves a great meat pie. But pies also lend themselves brilliantly well to meat free flavours and ingredients.

Pies have a huge advantage in that pastry is a naturally flavourful ingredient, particularly when it’s made using real butter (which ours is!). The naturally satisfying taste and texture of well-made pastry provides a vessel for many meat free ingredients to shine and make an outstanding meat free meal.

Meat Free Pies in History

During the war (cue Uncle Albert impression), the rationing of meat led to the creation of the ‘Woolton pie’ by a chef at the Savoy hotel named Francis Latry. The pie was the namesake of the 1st Earl of Woolton, Frederick Marquis, who was at the time the minister of food. The pie contained a range of seasonal vegetables including potato, carrots, cauliflower and parsnips which were baked with rolled oats, herbs and served in potato pastry topped with grated cheese. The Woolton pie was developed as a way of utilising whatever ingredients were available at the time, ensuring the great British public were able to continue devouring their beloved pies at a time when food was scarce and expensive. It’s hard to imagine fighting a war without a good pie to look forward to, so the Woolton pie no doubt helped keep the nation’s spirits up during a difficult time.

The other most famous meat free pie is the humble cheese and onion pie. In a similar fashion to the Woolton pie, the cheese and onion pie made use of cheaper ingredients and was particularly popular among the Northern working classes in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Cheeses that melt easily such as Cheddar, double Gloucestershire or Lancashire were commonly used, bulked out with potato (sometimes leftover mashed potato) as well as onion and some basic seasonings. The dish provided comfort, sustenance and nutrition to hard working folk after a hard day’s graft and the cheese and onion pie is another example of cheaper ingredients being used in an economical way.

Modern Meat Free Pies

Perhaps it’s time for us to rediscover meat free pies and the delicious flavours that can be enjoyed in a pie that doesn't contain meat. It doesn’t have to mean we give up meat pies (in our opinion that would be a tragedy), but perhaps there’s something to be learned from the parsimony of the pies from the past that didn’t always contain meat.

In modern times we are lucky to have access to a vast array of ingredients and we’ve recently expanded our range of meat free pies to satisfy both those who don’t eat meat at all as well as those cutting down on their meat consumption.

Here at Yorkshire Handmade Pies, we’re a team of meat lovers at heart and so our challenge has been to develop recipes that we ourselves would enjoy eating without missing the taste of meat. For example, we’ve taken the humble cheese and onion pie and elevated it to a new level, using a combination of mature Yorkshire cheddar and smoked applewood as well as slow cooked onions and fresh herbs to create a stunning meat free option that even the most committed carnivore can enjoy.

Another example is our Yorkshire samosa pie which takes the delicious spicy Indian flavours of a samosa and puts them into a pie. It’s one of our favourites and a perfect example of how you can create huge flavour without using meat.

Lasty, our Wild Mushroom and Nightmare Porter Ale takes the natural umami flavour of mushrooms and partners it with the dark and rich Nightmare Porter ale, which is brewed just 50 metres from our factory by our friends at Hambleton ales. It’s slow cooked with vegetables, fresh herbs and a dash of Worcester sauce. It’s a delicious pie that allows some fabulous natural ingredients to shine. It makes a great alternative to a steak and ale pie and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised if you try it!

Meat free pies have had their place in history and certainly have their place today. So if you’re considering cutting back on your meat consumption, then don’t think for a second that you can’t enjoy a delicious pie, because we’ve got you more than covered with our range of vegetarian and vegan friendly pies.

If you'd like to try some of the best meat free pies you'll try anywhere, then click on the link below to browse our collection.