Grange-over-Sands is famous for many things, including its terrific food
PHOTOGRAPHY: JOHN COCKS
Friday, November 8, 2013
Thirty years running one of Britain’s best butcher’s is marked with a very special treat. Our pie correspondent Ellie Hargreaves grabbed a napkin and headed to Grange-over-Sands.
It was with a modest range of fresh meat, a handful of homemade pies and a healthy dose of ambition that Stuart and Pauline Higginson set out on the path to success when they came home from Australia to set up their Grange-over-Sands butcher’s business in the summer of 1983.
In the years that have passed they’ve appeared with celebrity chefs on TV, campaigned for the Cumberland Sausage to be given place of origin protection, and even been upgraded to business class on a flight to New York after the woman working on the airport check-in desk recognised the surname and Stuart’s accent. It turns out she was one of the shop’s biggest fans. And that’s not to mention the countless industry awards they’ve won – including the Meat Trade Journal’s Britain’s Best Butcher gong.
Now, to mark the 30th birthday of the business, they’ve not only completely refurbished the Main Street shop and have a new website in the offing, but launched a collection of celebration pies that are set to overtake cupcakes on the wish list of every savoury-toothed birthday boy and girl.
‘Perfect gifts for the man who has everything,’ according to Pauline, the large pie-cakes are ideal for slicing and sharing, while individual-sized varieties can be bought in assorted boxes, or as a dramatic tier of mini pies. The sponge is swapped for a succulent meat filling and crisp hot water pastry takes the place of icing. They can also be topped with names and messages.
‘They’re a bit of fun but they also travel better than a cake, we can send them via mail order and what’s great is that the flavour is only really limited by the customer’s imagination,’ she says. ‘They might choose something traditional like turkey and cranberry or go for a delicious layered chicken, pork and apricot pie or something more unusual like black pudding, pork and apple or an exotic Moroccan-spiced chicken and pork.’
A qualified cook, Pauline has been known to turn her hand to creating elaborate wedding cakes too – a move that first came about in 1998, after Higginsons was nominated in the Best Speciality Shop category at the BBC Good Food Show Awards and the couple were invited to attend a ceremony in London.
‘Although we didn’t win, we had a fantastic evening and a couple of months later the producer of the programme, Coralie, came up to visit the shop,’ recalls Stuart. ‘She was soon to be married and in the middle of planning her wedding and she was the first person to ask us for a pork pie wedding cake. Since then, we’ve had a few random requests but it’s only with the new website that we’ve decided to do it more seriously and we’ve already had orders from as far away as Scotland.’
The couple have come a long way since they returned from Australia to open the shop just a fortnight after they had their third child, Lisa – a Melbourne-based food writer whose early years were spent being swung to sleep in the stainless steel bowl of Pauline’s first industrial pastry mixer.
Starting out with just a small team of close family and friends, Higginsons has grown to employ 27 staff – without whom, says Stuart, the business would not be what it is today. Their loyal band of customers hail from as far afield as London and Devon and they sell more than 1,000 product lines.
‘The years have gone that fast we’ve hardly had time to notice,’ he says. ‘But truthfully, we feel very lucky and privileged that we’re still going strong, thanks to the support of our family and the loyalty of our staff and customers. And we’re also very lucky that we still enjoy doing it all these years later.’
What’s the secret of success when supermarkets are popping up all around them? ‘Consumer tastes have dictated the change to more convenient items and nowadays they can access an ever-expanding range of flavours from around the world but we’ve done our best to keep abreast of these changes,’ says Stuart, who will personally celebrate half a century of butchering next year. ‘We also feel very strongly about supporting local ingredients and suppliers and I think, more than anything, consumers like the personal touch.’
Indeed, always with his customers in mind, Pauline says Stuart goes quiet for months if he has to put the price of his sausages up by a few pence. ‘He likes to look out for our customers,’ she laughs.
Creating new products like their pie-cakes and constantly thinking of innovative ‘food experiences’ for their customers still clearly excites the couple and it is a testament to their tenacity and enthusiasm that Higginsons looks destined for continued success. And for that, the least they deserve is a slice of celebration pie.