Meet the men with stars in their pies

LEVEN; PIE Championship;'Amos Smith of Stark's and Keith Stuart of Stuart's 'Photo ; WALTER NEILSON
LEVEN; PIE Championship;'Amos Smith of Stark's and Keith Stuart of Stuart's 'Photo ; WALTER NEILSON

WHO ate all the pies? Well, next month that will be the judges in the annual Scotch Pie World Championships.

And coming under intense scrutiny will be freshly-baked entries from two former world champions, both from Buckhaven, WF Stark and RT Stuart.

Keith Stuart of Stuart’s won the championship back in 2007 only to see it taken from him the following year by Amos Smith of Stark’s.

Now, both are determined to bring the title back to Buckhaven.

The Crufts of crusts and the Grand Prix of pies, the Scotch Pie World Championship is a serious business.

Now in its 13th year, the championship started back in the mid-1990s, dark days for the Scotch pie which suffered a double whammy on the health front, with E coli outbreaks and links between meat and CJD on the one hand and negative press on the pie’s supposed central role in the unhealthy Scottish diet.

Alan Stuart, managing director of Stuart’s, was a founder of the Scotch Pie Club, set up to look at ways of restoring public confidence and to persuade butchers and bakers to look at their products and raise the quality.

Now, the Scotch pie is as popular as ever and Alan, while conceding the pie is not a fat-free snack, is adamant it is still much healthier than other fast foods, such as take-aways.

“It’s also only got about half the fat that you’d find in a pork pie,” Alan said.

Last year the competition, which also has categories for sausage rolls, bridies and five specialist classes, attracted nearly 80 competitors with around 400 products between them.

All the tasting is done blind and the judges score on a set criteria, including appearance, flavour and texture.

Amos, who took over as proprietor at Stark’s in College Street around six years ago, developed his prize-winning Scotch pie from the existing Stark’s pie, slowly fine-tuning the filling and mix of seasoning and adding his own secret ingredient. The quality of the filling is paramount, with Amos insisting on grass-fed beef.

“Consistency is vital so you’re always checking the flavour and quality and if I make even the slightest change, my customers are the judges and I always encourage their feedback,” said Amos, who, on one occasion, was first alerted to the fact that the type of pepper he’d been supplied had changed when a customer made a comment about the seasoning.

With a 150-year heritage behind him, Keith and his team of Robert Birrell, James Wilkie and Derek McMahon at Stuart’s know better than to mess with a winning combination of own-baked crisp shell and top quality filling, again with the all-important secret ingredient.

“I know my pies are good and can stand up against anyone’s,” said Keith.

Unfortunately, Keith won’t make it the actual event, which takes place at Carnegie College, Dunfermline, this year, as he’s getting married the day before and will have left on his honeymoon.

While there’s a healthy rivalry between the two world champions, it is also friendly – Amos served his apprencticeship with Stuart’s and later returned to work as butchery manager for a few years.

However, when it comes to the championship, everyone plays it close to the chest and Keith and Amos each hope their respective pies will deliver the knock-out punch.

Humble pie had luxury origins

ONCE commonly known as the mutton pie, the Scotch pie, according to cookery writers Laura Mason and Catherine Brown in their book ‘The Taste of Britain’, is descended from the 15th-century “villain”, a raised pie made by moulding hot water paste into a truncated cylindrical shape and left to harden before filling.

Pies in general are not indigenous to Scots cuisine and at one time were frowned upon as a luxurious import from the decadent land south of the Border.

The advent of the Scotch pie changed all that. Traditionally made from well-seasoned mutton but today containing mainly beef, the pie was made to suit a single serving.

The humble pie came into its own during the Industrial Revolution, when masses of workers and their families migrated from the countryside into the expanding cities.

With wages low, the pie became a sustaining and self-contained meal for the worker, either eaten hot straight from the vendor or reheated at home.

While it’s said to be an urban myth that a huge proportion of Scotch pies are sold on the football terraces, many bakers still go into overdrive on a Saturday, with some manufacturing as many as 35,000 pies in a week.