Make the perfect Melton pork pie this Christmas

Updated on December 11, 2014

It’s a great Leicestershire tradition to eat Melton Mowbray pork pie on Christmas morning with a glass of what you fancy. So why do pork pies have such strong connections to the county?

To condense hundreds of years of history into a few words, the pork pie connection exists for the following reasons…

Good-quality grazing in Leicestershire led to lots of milk, which led to Stilton cheese. The waste product of Stilton is whey, which provides economical food for porkers. When fox-hunting became fashionable in the 19th century, hunters flocked to the region because of its fine sport, and wanted energy-packed snacks for eating on the hoof. Bakers decided to wrap seasoned pork meat in pastry and pack it all in with jelly. They sold like hot cakes. Or hot pies. The rest is history.

The Christmas morning pork pie tradition has its roots in farm labourers’ festive celebrations, when they’d eat the pork lovingly raised over summer, while their masters tucked into a bit of swan or goose.

The recipe and tips below are provided by Stephen Hallam (pictured) of Dickinson & Morris, Melton Mowbray.

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To make a single 1lb pie

Pastry
* 113g plain flour
* Pinch of salt
* 50g lard
* 30ml water
* Beaten egg to glaze

Filling
* 225g lean pork, chopped
* Salt and pepper
* 125ml pork stock & 15g gelatine

Make the pastry
Sift flour and salt into a warm bowl and rub in 15g of lard. Gently heat the remaining lard and water together until boiling, then add to flour, mixing until mixture is cool enough to knead. Knead well. Reserve a quarter of the pastry for the lid. Shape the remaining piece into a ball-like dome and leave in the fridge overnight.

Raise the pie
Remove the pastry from the fridge two hours before making the pie case. Gently temper the pastry by squeezing so it becomes pliable.

Using your hands, carefully mould the pastry up and around a floured dolly or jam jar, ensuring the sides are of even thickness.

Remove the pastry case from the dolly or jar.

The filling
Chop pork and season with salt and pepper. Place filling into the pastry case.

Roll out pastry for lid, damp the rim of the pastry case with egg and press together.

Brush the top of the pie (not the crimp) with egg and make a hole in lid centre. Chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

Baking
Bake at Gas 4 (180C) for one and a half hours. When baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Jellying
While baking, make jelly by dissolving gelatine in pork stock. After baking, make two holes in the lid and pour in jelly. Place pie in a fridge overnight.

Eating
Eat cold and remove from the fridge at least an hour before serving.

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Stephen Hallam’s tips

“Have all ingredients weighed and ready before you start. And don’t over-knead your pastry – it’s not bread.”

“Your pastry needs to feel like Play Doh before you start to make the pie case. If it’s too cold it will crack and you’ll have to start again.”

“Using just pork belly meat may create a filling that’s a bit greasy, while leg meat alone will be firm and quite dry. A mix might work well but it’s up to you.”

“Care needs to be taken when baking as no two ovens are the same. Keep checking – opening the door is fine. You may need to lower the oven temperature during the last half hour – to about Gas Mark 2.5.”

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Protected status
Melton Mowbray pork pies have had Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status since July 2009. This means the hallowed words ‘Melton Mowbray’ can only be applied to pork pies if they’re:

1) Made within a certain geographical area that focuses on the Vale of Belvoir.

2) Made with fresh, uncured pork – pies containing cured (salted) meat have a pink filling that looks like bacon or ham; genuine Melton Mowbray pork pie filling is not cured and has the same colour as a cooked pork chop or joint.

3) Baked with no support.

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Dickinson & Morris is part of Great Food Club and has been baking pies at Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in Melton Mowbray since 1851.

 

Matt Wright
The author:

Matt founded Great Food Club in 2010 and is editor-in-chief. He loves to brew his own beer and unearth food and drink gems, and lives in Leicestershire with his wife, two kids and jack russell terrier.