Every household has its own beloved Christmas tradition, like playing charades, getting drunk and accusing Our Donna’s son of stealing Nan’s rings or putting a paper crown on a fat old dog and taking a photo.
However, a group of Preston friends has taken the Spirit of Christmas, crammed it into a pie dish and turned it into the most fraught and tense competition of the year.
For 16 years, a couple from Fulwood have hosted The Day After Boxing Day Pie Off. Attended by friends who have known each other for over 30 years, it started off as a friendly little Jacob’s Join. However, over the years it has warped into a Eurovision Song Contest level of affair, with political voting, sabotage, disqualifications and pie-doping.
Held at precisely 3.14pm, pies must be cooked, labelled, presented, photographed and portioned out by 3.30pm. This year, I got an inside view of the Pie Off for Blog Preston, and had a proper go at the pies.
First up is the host with his steak and quince pie. Don’t be fooled by the quirky quince choice, beneath his jovial veneer is a man so determined to win that he once made a hand raised pork pie and set his alarm to go off three times during the night so he could go downstairs and inject his pie with gelatin. Rumour has it that he was also injecting himself with egg-nog, because nobody is that jolly at Christmas without being on something.
His gracious wife makes sure everyone’s glasses are full and dirty plates magically disappeared. Over the years she has also perfected the ultimate resigned and weary eye-roll for when things start getting silly. The host’s pie got mixed reactions, with people either loving the added sweetness of the quince or being outraged by the wrongness of it all.
Pete Zanussi Italian Cosmic Pork and Pasta Sauce pie went down well with most people, but despite the interesting creamy sauce it was an immediate fail from me because he had added the foul creature that is The Mushroom.
Also immediately losing my vote despite a valiant vegetarian attempt was the Stokowski’s Quorn and Mushroom offering. The pie would have been a contender as the Quorn and sauce was so similar to chicken, but the fungi took them down.
Their son’s pie was a surprise hit, despite the filling only having three ingredients: Heinz baked beans, sausages and cheese. All honourable fillings, making him the Luke Skywalking successor to his father’s mushroomy Darth Vader.
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It also made up for his entry the year before, an abomination comprising of a melted mass of Haribos, wrapped in pastry and baked until it became Captain America’s shield.
Posy and her daughter shocked the group by defiantly slinging a chicken and pesto tart onto the table.
Normally an easy-going, gentle pair of souls, they hadn’t even attempted to put a pastry lid on it despite knowing that particular abhorrent crime meant instant disqualification. It was so out of character for Posy that everyone just quietly accepted it, not wanting to ask if anything was wrong in case she started crying and told them.
The Midwitch Cuckoos and their scarily beautiful children brought a huge fish, potato and mushy pea pie. It was the most attractive pie in the contest, and this year’s offering was in a glass dish so others could check that it definitely had a base. This was due to casually letting slip last year that none of her pies had ever had a pastry base, including her winning pie from two years ago. Her title was retroactively stripped from her in a scandal that rocked the foundations of Pie Off. Theirs was an excellent fish pie, but was overpowered when eaten alongside the other, more strongly flavoured pies.
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The Kavs both entered the competition. Kazzee Kav, the only person in the history of Pie Off to have won with a vegetarian pie, made an excellent mild curried and roasted root vegetable pie. Her normally laid-back husband Dave shook things up by naming his pie The Lion of Judah and topping it with a pastry carving of a lion for extra intimidation. Filled as it was with his own secret recipe of jerk chicken and curried lamb, it was obvious that Dave was in it to win it.
The Jo was uncharacteristically tardy with her Not-Pot Pie, waltzing in at half past three and having to put her pie in the oven to finish baking it. It cost her dearly, as although it was a tasty traditional pie, by the time it was ready everyone was already too full of the other pies to enjoy any more. This was also why nobody enters a sweet pie in the competition. Paulthough did it once, and was so traumatised by the response that he hasn’t brought another pie since.
An honourable mention goes to the valiant but absent Wholesome Amy, the only vegan contestant. Despite the other contestants naming every pie she makes as Dust Pie, she always brings one, and has the bonus of taking it back home with only a couple of cracks and chips in the crust.
A dishonourable mention goes to the Yaps’. As Karlos Yap birthday falls on Pie Off, he is forever excused from making a pie. His wife must have two birthdays, like the Queen, as she appears to have suspiciously absorbed his right to cop out as well.
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When all the plates are cleared, contestants are given a tiny flag to stab into their favourite pie. This is the time to observe the pacts, strained undercurrents and politics of the friendship group. I would call it the dark underbelly of the Pie Off, but if I did, our host would slow roast it, cover it in pastry, inject it with something and win with it next year.
The sad tale of the Gormer sisters is a sobering one. They used to have each other’s backs before The eldest’s lack of a pastry base scandal hit. The rift widened as someone remembered that the younger sister’s pie came second to that of the eldest, which meant that year’s trophy should have been hers. When added to the fact that six months previously Gormer the Elder had eaten Gormer the Younger’s share of pizza knowing full well that she was saving it, it became too much for their relationship to withstand.
This year the winner was Dave’s Lion of Judah pie, and the trophy was presented by the previous year’s winner.
Runner up Pete Zanussi was given an out of date Fray Bentos Just Chicken pie, submitted by a disgraced Karen Glasford whose oven had broken on Christmas Eve.
Awards over, the group adjourned to the pub to pretend to each other that it was all just a bit of fun and that they weren’t already thinking about which pie to make next year that would humiliate and destroy their competitors in the nicest possible Christmassy way.
Would you fancy your chances at the Pie Off? And if so, what filling would your winning pie contain? Let us know in the comments below.