Lancashire's Perfect Pies, local firemen and gravy wrestling!

PUBLISHED: 19:39 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:16 20 February 2013

Our cookery editor Philippa James starts off on the trail of the perfect pie and ends up at the fire station, plus the World Gravy Wrestling Championships

I called to see a friend for a coffee and a 'catch-up' recently. Barrie asked if I remembered a delicious, handmade pork pie that I had eaten on an earlier visit.

It came from a family butcher in Blackrod, near Bolton. 'Have you been to Phillips?' he asked. I hadn't, but off I toddled.

Although it was Monday, there was a queue. I eyed-up, and 'bagsied' the last pork pie, which was surreptitiously twisted into a paper bag. The next two young lads who walked in were evidently disappointed to have missed out, followed by Alison Wilcock, who declared herself a proud farmer's wife and daughter. Not spotting my booty bag, she said I must try the excellent home made pies.

I introduced myself to Paul and later, to his brother, Simon, who is also a butcher in the family business and asked about the provenance of their produce. The eggs come from farms just down the road and the delicious barm cakes for their sandwiches from Fletcher's, a local bakery.

Mrs Fletcher is one of their customers. My impromptu interview caused a bit of a stir, and in came the dad, Stanley, looking considerably younger than his 71 years. He told me about their own recipe Cumberland, pork, and leek and ginger sausages, and how they source their meats to be the most tender and tastiest they can find from regular suppliers they know and trust. They cook their own turkey and ham for the sandwiches.

Butchering is very much in the family's blood, to coin a phrase! Stanley's father started out working in a slaughterhouse, later moving to a butcher's shop, which was built in 1938, at the Beehive roundabout, as you head into Bolton. This was knocked down in 1968, and the family moved the business to Blackrod, opening in 1969, and they are now celebrating 40 years at this address.

Paul suddenly declared: 'We've told you that mum does all the baking, haven't we... lemon drizzle, sticky toffee pud, fruit pies, crumbles, and jam roly-poly?' They hadn't and, with this, Brenda, 70, and also looking considerably younger, was duly summoned!

As well as the entirely home made sweet treats, Brenda is also responsible for the scrumptious savoury range, using proper recipes, and ingredients including luxury steak, or chicken and mushroom pies, shepherd's pie, hot pots, curry and lasagne. I took some home, and will be returning, soon, to stock up my freezer, for those nights when I get in and it's just too late to cook.

I commented on Stanley and Brenda's youthfulness and the secrets of making a family business such a success, and the sort of shop that you just feel drawn to, where you feel as though you are a part of the furniture. They concurred; they still enjoy the company, never have time to be bored, and ultimately they love the job, the customers and they both find it very rewarding.

'Anyway,' said Brenda, 'you'll have to excuse me, I'm in the middle of making hot water pastry, and if I don't get going, it'll have gone cold!'

With this, Brenda disappeared upstairs, Stanley bade me goodbye and returned to the cutting room and the intrigued customers who were listening in turned back to the counter. Paul wished me a fond farewell and continued with, 'Good morning, and what can I get for you, today...'

She's on fire

Why, you may ask, was I delivering my Luscious Lemon Cake, to Hyndburn Fire Station? A small mark of my gratitude, following, 'Car trouble'...that's why!

It started with Patrick Barlow, a fireman who kindly helped me at Oakdene Filling Station, where my car appeared to be seriously over-heating, but this was not registering on the temperature gauge; huge thanks for his advice, and for getting me to the Lancaster Canal event, where I was giving cookery demonstrations.

Two weeks later, heading up the M65, clouds of acrid, white, billowing smoke emanating from under my bonnet...I have never been so relieved to see the blue lights on two fire tenders which turned out to rescue me!

The wonderful guys from White Watch, including ex-mechanic, Bruce Chapman, checked my car out, declaring it unsafe to drive back. The car was no longer at risk of being on fire, but I certainly was, by the time they left!

And, while I'm talking firemen, a final thank you to the lovely lads from Bacup Fire Station who turned out, again, for the World Gravy Wrestling Championships 'hose-down' at The Rose and Bowl in Stacksteads.

YouTube... Philippa goes Gravy Wrestling!

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