Can a pasty be considered a pie? That was the question which sparked huge debate last year after a beef skirt and vegetable-filled pasty became the first of its kind to win the championship at the British Pie Awards.
The decision, which made national headlines, saw an army of pie lovers take to social media to discuss the divisive delicacy, created by Lake District butcher John Nicholl.
Online pie reviewing site pierate.co.uk, which contributes judges to the annual competition, even threatened to boycott next year’s awards as a result.
The judges of the event – held in Melton Mowbray – were unanimous in their decision and stood by the competition’s rule a pie must constitute ‘a filling totally and wholly encased in pastry’.
Fast forward 12 months and John remains unapologetic and is instead delighted to have picked up the top award in pie-making.
"I adhered to the rules in the competition, I did not break any,” he says. "There are some brilliant pie producers out there and to be among them is just fantastic.
"I thought there would be a lot of controversy it wasn’t a Cornish pasty which won, not that it was a pasty rather than a pie."
John started working at A.F. Huddlestons, in Windermere, in 1977 after graduating from catering college. He took over the shop in 1988 and now runs it with his wife Elspeth and one other member of staff, Alan Freeman.
The small shop on Cresent Road is known for its homemade pies and pastries after diversifying into production about 23 years ago.
“We were so fed up with being supplied with poor quality pies, with little or no filling, we decided to produce our own,” he says.
All the pies are individually hand-crafted on the premises and made with their own pastry and fillings using specially selected cuts of meat and fresh ingredients. Around half a tonne of pastry is used each week.
“It’s not uncommon to find butchers making their own pastry. Selling meat isn’t as busy as it used to be and people want quick and easy food they know is good quality and good value, which is why they sell so well.”
Meat is sourced as locally as possible through a wholesaler, although John buys lamb directly from the Lythe Valley.
Using chuck steak roll and skirt steak for the pies, great care is taken getting each of the pies tasting right.
“If you use good quality meat it tends to fall apart but the skirt and chucks stay as cubes. Our recipes have all been trial and error produced in small batches until we get it right.”
Known locally as The Grafter, John says the beef and vegetable pasty took four years to perfect and is made once-a-week.
Elspeth starts the pastry on a Saturday using flour, dough and half the fat normally found in other pastries.
“It takes two days to make the pastry for The Grafter, so we can get the gluten out of it and make it stretchy.”
The dough is made and left for 24 hours in clingfilm before being rolled into circles, stacked with clingfilm between them and left again for the same amount of time.
“It’s like a wine and matures as the hours go by. It becomes almost like the density of bread dough and we can then roll it very thinly.”
Potato, swede, onion and seasoning forms the filling and John has just 40 minutes before the seasoning begins to start drawing moisture from the vegetables.
Every Tuesday 60 pasties are sold through the shop and people travel far and wide to taste the latest batch.
The rest of the week customers can choose from a wide range of fillings from chicken and mushroom to mince and onion. Meat and potato and steak pies are always popular.
Working long hours (often from 7.30am to 9.30pm) it is evident John must love what he does.
“My wife says I am obsessed with pies and I even dream about them. It never stops.”
With research revealing 75 per cent of people enjoy a pie at least once-a-month, British Pie Week has been growing every year, with pie-eaters everywhere seeking their ultimate pie perfection.
When asked why we are a nation of pie lovers, he thinks carefully for a minute.
“Is it because we are British? The Brits love a good pie. It’s a meal in itself, you can eat it on the hoof, hot or cold and certainly in winter – it is proper comfort food.”
The 2017 British Pie Awards will take place on March 8 as part of British Pie Week (March 6-13).
The Guinness World Record for the most expensive meat pie ever sold goes to the Fence Gate Inn in Lancashire which sold its pie for £8,195 – or £1,024 a slice – to eight guests on November 14, 2005.
It was made from £500 worth of Japanese Wagyu beef fillet, Chinese matsutake mushrooms (which are so precious, they are harvested under guard), Winter Black truffles, French Bluefoot mushrooms (sold at £200 for 1kg), gravy made from two bottles of vintage 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine, topped with edible gold leaf.