The fantastic meat pie
The meat pie is the original convenience food
Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014 06:00 am
Little Jack Horner Meat Pies at St. Albert Farmers’ Market evokes an era of simpler times when food portions were hearty and healthy.
Ryan Morrison mans the booth on St. Thomas Street selling up to 25 different types of frozen meat pies at any given time. There are even two vegetarian pies and three gluten free meat pies in the mix.
Like late 19th century pie makers who made a living calling out when their pies were cooked, Morrison calls out to passing shoppers. Many stop and ask questions.
“Are you out of curry puffs?” asks one woman.
Morrison nods in the affirmative.
“Try that pork pie,” he replies. “It’s delicious.”
A couple walks up to the glass-topped chest freezer and inquires about the Cornish pasties.
“One is a big meal. It’s very hearty. I can eat one and that’s it. And then again it depends on your appetite,” Morrison explains.
Another woman points to a round pastry and asks what pairs well with it.
“You can serve it with chutney, cheese, pickles,” says Morrison.
While food trends have spiked and dove in the last two decades, meat pies remain a staple, a generous meal enjoyed by every member of the family.
And it’s a constant that Little Jack Horner Meat Pies depends on. About 80 per cent of its business is repeat customers.
Dominated primarily by British-style pies, many customers make the pilgrimage to stock up on Steak and Kidney Pie, Sheffield Pork Pie or Shepherd’s Lamb Pie. Perhaps the most popular is the Melton Mowbray, a salt-cured pork paté with rich seasonings and spiced jelly, and the Drunken Beef Puff, a concoction of simmered beef in wine gravy.
“I love the spices, the way everything blends together. And the crust is to die for. They make them by hand,” says Franki Mossman, a vendor beside Morrison’s table whose favourite is the Melton Mowbray.
Little Jack Horner’s original founder started the business 30 years ago. Nearly 12 years ago, he retired and sold the business complete with recipes to Morrison’s aunt.
She ran the business for two years before selling to Morrison’s mother. Morrison, a welder-pipefitter by trade for 16 years, naturally integrated into the business, helping his mother first as vendor and then learning to make the pies from scratch.
At the beginning of 2014, his mother retired from the business. Morrison and his brother Brennan, a chef with 23 years experience, teamed up and bought the business.
They’ve added the very French-Canadian Tourtière from a family recipe, and tweaked older recipes to synchronize with modern palates.
In a typical week, the business sells anywhere from 300 to 500 homemade pies. The brothers have built a commercial kitchen in Kinsella and developed an assembly line process to keep up with heavy demand.
Sunday is shopping day. On Monday Morrison makes the pastry and fillings, and cools them in a fridge. Tuesdays to Thursdays are rollout days.
“We put everything together and get them ready for freezing. Once frozen, we put plastic bags on them and get them ready for market.”
Making pie pastry can be dicey. Morrison uses a French technique that requires a cook to push the heel of his hand repeatedly into the dough.
“It melts the lard and butter and everything comes together. It is so tricky and finicky. It the pastry is over worked, it turns greyish in colour and is tough. If it’s underworked, it’s crumbly.”
When you don’t see Morrison at the market, he’s drumming in one of three bands – the hard rock Even the Atoms, the blues project Quick and Dirty and an acoustic busking venture with Brennan.
So how does he balance this über busy lifestyle?
“I keep doing it, plugging away and praying a lot.”
The St. Albert Farmers’ Market is on every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.