Come January, Scottish butchers, bakers and other pie makers will all be biting the bit to know if they’ve made the grade.
The winner of the Scotch Pie category will be declared the World Champion, along with all Best in Category winners at a prestigious awards lunch on 16 January 2024 at the Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld by TV celeb and long-term pie award presenter Carol Smillie.
But first, the 478 entries from 78 of Scotland’s best butchers, bakers and other pie makers were put to the test by the 50 judges appointed by Scottish Bakers for the 24th annual World Championship Scotch Pie Awards.
“The judges comprise a mix of the bakery sector, the butchery sector and our sponsors who supply the ingredients that go into the products, so, a well-versed sector of people that understand the product,” recently appointed Scottish Baker CEO Lesley Cameron told me.
Organised by Scottish Bakers - the association that has for the past 131 years supported the interests of Scotland’s bakery trade - the ethos is to shine a light on the exceptional skills the country’s pie makers demonstrate day in and day out.
In pie we crust
The annual competition is a hotly contested - and very personal - achievement. So, having been appointed a judge (albeit a relative newbie to the Land of Cakes), my first task was to find out just what a Scotch pie is.
Scotland is poetically referred to as Caledonia, which means Land of Cakes. One of the country’s biggest crops is oats and it became famous for its Bannocks (oatcakes), with the first citing of a recipe dating back to the 8th Century. The name seems to originate from the Old Celtic English ‘bannuc’, derived from the Latin ‘panicium’, meaning ‘anything baked’.
For Garry Croy, UK business development manager for Andrew Ingredients, the key is the pie shell itself.
“Basic ingredients: flour, water, shortening - it used to be lard - and a touch of salt. The baker presses the shells out by hand or machine. You’ve got a bottom plate and a top place comes down and heats the pastry. These are placed onto trays and then racks to let them cure, sometimes for 24 hours. And that gives you a really beautiful, crispy, pie shell that holds the filling, but importantly, doesn’t split or belly out,” explained Croy.
“Some people call it ‘the humble Scots pie’, but it’s a fantastic carrier for all kinds of meat and of course, the vegetable shortening [typically used today] lends itself to a vegetarian filling.”
Added Gordon Newlands, brand development manager for Quality Meat Scotland, “It has to have that special crust with that ‘bite ability’ everybody goes on about, but the filling is also important - in different regions of Scotland a Scotch pie will contain different meats - but it’s a well-balanced, well-seasoned, well-filled product.”
For Suzie Finlay, regional sales manager for Bako Northern Scotland, it’s all about nostalgia and “sums up your childhood; a Saturday morning when your ma goes to the bakers and your da’s out in the garage.”
Thanks to its popularity among fans before or after a game, it’s also referred to as the football pie, said Simon Taylor, GM of Rondo.
The explosion and diversity of categories today is testament to how High Street bakers and butchers have moved with the trends. Beyond the traditional Scotch Pie are nine other categories, including Football Pies & Savouries, Macaroni Pie, Steak Pie, Sausage Roll, Hot Savoury, Vegetarian Savoury, Haggis Savoury, Bridie and Apple Pies.
According to Andrew Ingredients’ Croy, Hot Savoury is the “largest category in the competition and also the most diverse - everything from a fish pie to a tatties and neaps pie. A very exciting category but without losing the essence of the Scotch pie.”
“I’m judging the vegetarian category, which is a fantastic category to be involved in because there’s so much variety and so much creativity,” added Harriet Heath, Reformulation for Health executive, FDF Scotland.
Reformulation for Health manager Joanne Burns, however, would like to see the pie get a health makeover.
“It’s a traditional, well-known and well-loved product, but that doesn’t mean to say it can't be developed to become relevant to new consumer bases,” Burns told me.
“We’ve worked with some bakers who’ve looked at reducing the sodium within their pie shell to make that healthier. We’re also in talks with some ingredient manufacturers looking at healthier Scotch pie seasoning blends
“There’s lots of scope and potential to look at when improving the health of some of these pies while still maintaining their integrity as a traditional Scotch product - whether that’s the fat content of the meat or vegetarian filling; or the fibre and sodium content within the pie shells; or incorporating more fruit and veg.
“We might be sitting here in a year’s time and looking at a healthier pie category, which would be absolutely fantastic," she added.
Raising the profile
Scottish Bakers Cameron believes the Scotch pie belongs on the world stage.
“There is already a position for the Scotch pie as an exported product to different markets where you have expat communities: Scotch pies are synonymous as Scotch shortbread or whisky,” she said.
“We already contribute just over £1bn to the Scottish economy, but for me, the role of Scottish Bakers is to actually increase that and futureproof the industry, and to give them the tools they need to grow and prosper.”
However, she noted Scottish Bakers is a small organisation that “doesn’t make a massive amount of profit. Our membership fees covers the different legal and HR and futureproofing that I've mentioned, but we wouldn't be able to raise the profile and promote the industry without [the sponsors’] support.”
The overall awards partner and Scotch Pie category sponsor is Bako.
“Anything we can do to keep the bakery industry at the forefront, then obviously we want to be there and support it,” said Finley.
“We have got three arms to our business: Bako London, there's Bako Northwest and Bako Northern Scotland. Bako is primarily a bakery wholesaler - we sell everything from readymade products to raw ingredients - but it’s actually a cooperative funded by shareholders. So, our bakers are invited to become shareholders of the business and we invest back in our customer’s businesses.”
The Apple Pie category is sponsored by Carr’s Flour.
“We like to support our industry and also Scottish bakers,” said Ross Dea, technical sales manager for Carr’s Flour.
“We supply your baker on the High Street right up to your large multiples, retailers and almost everybody in between. Today is about supporting our customers as well and hopefully, when we come to have the awards in January, we’ll see the recognition that our customers deserve.”
The Football Pie category is sponsored by Rondo, which manufactures automation equipment for the production of pastry of all types.
“Rondo is actually a Swiss company, with a €100m turnover supplying customers all over the world. Rondo Limited is one of its subsidiaries, established here for about 25 years. We’ve had a long standing and very productive relationship with Scottish Bakers, so we like to give it a little bit back,” Taylor told me.
The Sausage Roll category is sponsored by Fleming Howden.
“Fleming Howden has been going since about the 1940s in Edinburgh. It used to be a private company but has changed hands over the years. Now it’s owned by AB Mauri, who are world leaders in bakery ingredient technology. But, we really exist by selling our products to Scottish bakers, so the least we can do is support the industry,” said Alan Leith, technical sales manager.
“Scottish Bakers is very important for the industry and it's good to get involved and meet the bakers that we sell our goods to make these products.”
The Hot Savoury category is sponsored by Andrew Ingredients.
“We started as a bakery ingredient supplier over in Ireland, but we’ve expanded into the UK in the past five years,” said Croy.
“So, all of the ingredients that you can see here - to make shells, in some cases, the fillings - we supply. We've always been very dedicated to the craft sector in terms of supporting them not only with great products and great ingredients, but also in terms of manufacturing.”
Other competition sponsors include DMD 2000 (Steak Pie), Dalziel Group (Haggis Savoury), Marshalls (Macaroni Pie) and Macphie (Vegetarian Savoury).
Scottish Bakers manages both the World Championship Scotch Pie Awards and the Scottish Baker of the Year Awards each year to recognise and celebrate excellence in the sector.