The world-famous British Pie Awards are “back on the menu” after a Covid-enforced postponement, with a crowded field battling it out to be named among the upper crust.
There are 800 entries across 23 categories, with the Vegan category, which controversially provided 2019’s supreme champion, attracting the most interest this year.
Apart from what has been dubbed “the rise of the vegans”, other challengers range from the gourmet, such as Moroccan spiced lamb and apricot, to old favourite the pork pie.
Organisers of the awards, whose winners will be announced on Friday, said it had been a “tough” few months after the original March date was postponed due to the global pandemic.
But the 150 judges were back, excitedly hunched over hundreds of entries in the contest’s traditional setting of St Mary’s Church in the home of the pork pie, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, for the start of proceedings on Wednesday, which began with the ceremonial blessing of the pies.
Also popular with bakers this year are pasties, a category which has previously provided a supreme champion, with 48 entries for 2021.
Matthew O’Callaghan, chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association and host of the British Pie Awards, said the food-on-the-go favourite, originally from Cornwall, could be “making a comeback” this year.
However, free-from entries are also well represented this year, with Mr O’Callaghan adding it is “thanks to the awards you can now get a decent gluten-free pie”.
He said: “In fact they’ve actually slipped some of their pies into other classes, and people don’t notice it’s gluten-free.
“What can you say, better than that?”
He said getting the awards back on track this year, amid the pandemic, had been a challenge.
“We’ve had 800 pies entered – a cracking lot of judges, some really interesting pies,” he added.
“The British pie is back on the menu, but it was tough.
“Obviously we didn’t know if it was going to be Covid or not, we’ve spaced the tables out, we’ve taken a number of safety measures so as to limit the impact of Covid.
“But it has been tough.
“Pie-makers have gone under, sadly.
“There are others who are short-staffed, others who are working their socks off because the hospitality sector is open.
“So it has been really tough getting people to put pies in (for entry), getting the judges; the whole thing has been twice as difficult as before, but it’s happening – the pies are back.”
As for the sometimes thorny issue of what people think constitutes a pie, for the purposes of entries Mr O’Callaghan said the rules are clear – and even have a definition backed by Parliament.
“A pie is a filling completely encased in pastry and baked,” he said.
“So it’s not samosas, which are not baked, it’s not tarts, it’s not fripperty things with lattices and all those sorts of things.
“Interestingly, the House of Commons debated that definition some time ago and I am sure they came to the right conclusion – that’s what a pie is.
“I hate going into a pub and being served a pie and effectively it is a biscuit with nothing on the bottom, in a foil.
“No, that’s not a pie, that’s a casserole with a biscuit on top.
“A pie has to be totally encased in pastry – lid, bottom and sides.”
The focus this year has been about putting on the awards, with no new categories offered.
But next year could see expansion of the competition, which has been running since 2009, including the possibility of a halal class, according to Mr O’Callaghan.
He said: “We are looking now for next year at new classes – there are people saying we want a halal class, for example.
“So there are other opportunities, hopefully, to extend the pie awards – new classes, include more people in what we’re offering.”
As for this year’s trends, he said more bakers are going gourmet and “trying to put a restaurant in a pie”, adding that the British public’s appetite, with a £1 billion worth of pies eaten each year, shows no signs of waning.
“I think everybody is now starting to say ‘Let’s start developing the pasty’ and that’s an interesting class that’s coming forward,” he added.