pie club

...mince pie mayhem

 

Pie Club 2008

For those new to the club, this page is where you will find the latest mince pie reviews, the thrilling climax that is the Pie-Offs, along with graphic crumbshots and introductory twaddle. Clear? Good.

Bring on the pies!

Check out the final standings in the group stages league table.

The Pie Club Pie-Offs 2008

If you've stayed with us through the 27 mince pie essays that comprised the group stage, then you will no doubt be relieved to reach this last leg of our festive mull-marathon.

The pies finishing as top four in the league are now pitted against each other in a straight knockout competition. Gladiatorial pastry combat, if you will.

For those with no imagination, I've supplied a Readers' Pies image to keep handy while you read on.

Our semi-final line up is as follows:


M&S Connoisseur versus M&S Deep Filled
Duchy Originals versus M&S Luxury

Each tie is decided by a panel of 'three good men and true', who each vote for their favourite. Simple, but astonishingly nerve-wracking.

Semi Final One


M&S Connoisseur (CON) v M&S Deep Filled (MSD)

Friday, 12th December 2008, early afternoon.

Today's panel includes regular partakers PC and Robert Meakin, plus an eager outsider in Richard Hildebrand.

Let's see if the 2001 winner (CON) can overcome the double winner from 2005 & 2006, and last year's runner up(MSD)


First Bite:

Of the two, MSD packs the greater early punch. Masses of crystallised sugar jolt the fruit into life, at the expense of finer spice tones. CON's start is a more gentle, considered blend, but it will need to get through the gears to catch the runaway MSD.


Second Bite:

CON impresses with its greater array of festive elements, while MSD boasts neither nuts nor alcohol, like a reverse celebrity wedding. Things are certainly tightening up in this tie.


Final Bites:

Each panel member has had to make a tough decision. By the final throws, MSD was still hammering out powerful festive flavour (unchanged from first oral contact) and CON had developed into a sophisticated dinner party guest of renown.


A final score of 2-1 nicks it for M&S Connoisseur.


As Mr Meakin commented, MSD is high octane, full of tang and energy. By comparison, CON is a poor starter but has the benefit of being a fully rounded, three act pie.

So, who will meet our mincemeat Usain Bolt in the final? Next semi will appear here soon.

 

Semi Final Two


Duchy Originals (DUC) v M&S Luxury (MSL)

Monday, 15th December 2008, a sunlit lunchtime.

Following precedent, the panel includes two time-served indulgers in PC and Simon Wilson (although SW has been stoic in his resistance thus far) plus a newcomer to this pressured environment Roger Atkin.

Will the royal debutante force his way into the crown already abdicated by the outgoing Queen of Somerfield? Or will the House of Spencer regain its throne?


First Bite:

Mr Wilson's surprise at DUC's dishevelled appearance was shared by all. Perhaps MSL's bulbous star-covered lid had won the early mind games, explaining the distinct cower.
The palpable anxiety has translated into poor initial bites dished up by both sides. Once through the buttery, if a little soft pastry, DUC seems bereft of festive charm. Where is the fruitcake attitude that stunned us into subjugation?


Second Bite:

After that dispiriting opening, one pie starts to perform, at last. MSL's moist and spicy fruit inners find their feet and DUC seems unable to respond to the convincing tang. The uniquely dry fill of DUC was once their strength but in this tasteless form, only serves to hamper their efforts.


Final Bites:

While DUC splutter and grind their way to a total breakdown, MSL are showing off their vibrant inner essence, with brandy the latest addition to an already comprehensive Christmas list of flavours. Being bland is totally unacceptable in these savage final stages of competition, and Mr Atkin brings a veil down on proceedings by highlighting the musky aftertaste.

We very rarely get such an easy decision at this high level of pie play. The panel is united in their condemnation of the pie that let itself down.

M&S Luxury take it 3-0, and DUC are lucky to get as much as 0.

How disappointing that I had such an accomplished batch to sample in the earlier rounds, and then they serve up this meaningless filth next time out.
You've got to feel for the consistent, if not very festive, Walkers Glenfiddich clan. They finished fifth and must be thinking We'd have given it a real go this year. Shame on you, Your Royal Highness.

Therefore, M&S have taken a stranglehold on this competition once more, and very much like 2004 we don't just have a final, we have a Marks & Spencer, all butter, deliciously fruity finale.

A word of warning though the finalists (M&S Connoisseur & Luxury) are getting harder to come by, by the hour. We are obviously doing too good a job at recommending them, and the nation has nearly sold out.

So remember to panic buy any you see.

 

The Grand Final 2008


M&S Connoisseur (CON) v M&S Luxury (MSL)

Wednesday, 17th December 2008, high noon.

In order to widen participation and given the importance of this judgement, the panel contains arguably the biggest pie eaters of Pie Club 2008.

PC, Robert Meakin, Jon Callow and Simon Wilson have an estimated 200 pies under their belts (or spilling over). Yes, I know that's four panel members and not the usual three - it's helpful to have four in case someone suffers chronic raisin syndrome, and bows out.

That's enough ado. Bring on the pies!


First Bite:

Both Marks & Spencer powerhouses are unsheathed, and emerge blinking into the midday sun. These brandy-soaked bedfellows are more at home on the arm of a fireside Chesterfield than a stark office desk.
CON is first to the palate, and coats the inner cheeks with boozy shortbread crumbs. A sweetness from MSL cuts through the buttery fog, and then washes the digestive front step with its liquid fruit charms.


Second Bite:

Both CON and MSL exhibit their heart-warming spirit, emitting brandy benefits to all who explore their crust. The battle comes down to a scrap between CON's nutty crunch and MSL's fruity bursts.


Final Bites:

With a tear, the last mouthfuls of Pie Club 2008 are despatched to the annals, and the panel must now determine which member of the M&S family will hold bragging rights for the next 10 months or so.
The bookmaker's favourite CON, did nothing to dampen the clamour for its new look six. It has been undeniably professional throughout, despite the frantic attempts to fracture its controlled serenity. MSL raised its game to match posh neighbour CON blow for blow, and in many ways would be a worthy winner.

However, the verdict is in

It has that mark of individuality, that element of surprise, lacking in its consistent, albeit worthy congener. Remarked Mr Wilson.
..brandy ago-go, with a nutty motif and a luxurious gathering of fruits that linger long after the chew is over. Spouted Mr Callow.

They are talking, of course, about our shiny new champion for Pie Club 2008...



Congratulations to all involved in its development and production!

There's no faulting this pie polymath, but landing a box has resembled a quest the Argonauts would struggle with. Having had many reports of an early sell-out in the M&S Food Halls of the North, I've had an awkward telephone conversation with the relevant department (via Buxton and Macclesfield stores) and they assured me that they have amended their ordering system. Only time will tell whether I've been fobbed off or taken on.

So that leaves only the thank yous left this year.
A massive thank you to Simon Wilson, without whom this space on the web would just be a dusty void full of nothing but echoes of Rick Astley and googled Britney images. My considerable gratitude goes to anyone supplying a pie second opinion or featuring in a panel, especially the two giants in their field Jon Callow & Robert Meakin. Anyone having wasted their lunch hours over us cheers.

Finally, big love to my wife for letting me ruin her Christmas. Every year.

Have a lovely Yuletide and a joyous 2009
All the best
PC

 

Pie reviews - group stages


After more than five weeks of deep filled investigation, Im proud to say that weve reached the last pie of the group stages. So many highs and lows, Ive had both tremendous mincemeat experiences and spat out more unsavoury titbits than Andrew Sachs vilified answerphone.


Like any other worthwhile club, Im ending on a single malt whisky adventure, as today we meet Walkers Glenfiddich collaboration.
 A Licence to Kilt  Walkers Glenfiddich Mincemeat Tarts
A Licence to Kilt Walkers Glenfiddich Mincemeat Tarts
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Walkers Glenfiddich Mincemeat Tarts 9th Dec 2008 £4 6
Container Style
Black as night, to dissuade the juvenile nibbler no doubt, this is possibly the only sweet snack product to feature a double measure of whisky next to an image of the treats held within. The crumbshot follows the familiar Walkers 2-3-1 formation, with their lone striker clean cut and internally neat.
Incidentally, I have purchased the old style box. I noticed on a more recent visit to the vendor that a new sleeve is available with an emphasis on graphic design, rather than getting slaughtered on firewater.
Brown plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Being faced with what Im considering to be my sixth pie made by these baking Highlanders, I see the usual smooth motifless lid and generous rim overhang as fine examples of their ilk. Theres a touch of crystallised sugaring around the three semi-clogged airholes. 21
Pastry Marks out of 25
Getting close to the crust requires an appreciation of the distillers art. Im more of an Islay man myself, but that doesnt stop me floating toward the pie like a Glaswegian Bisto Kid. It takes a good while for the acetic tang to hit the crunchy chew. Until then, top class shortbread notes abound. 19
Filling Marks out of 25
Surprisingly, the malt whisky does not totally overpower the fruit attack. Theres certainly a warming residue to provide an afterglow, but I find that ginger rogers its way through every stage of the mouthful and is just as responsible for the warmth as the 3% Speysider. Definitely not one for the fruity purists. 17
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
If you like to surprise your loved ones at Yuletide with a gingery tartan ambush, then undoubtedly, this is a pie made with you in mind. Id be happy to have these sturdy enigmas handy all year round, for those circumstances when a chocolate pudding is too much and an almond slice just not enough. But its hard to give them my festive blessing. 18
Second Opinion - Simon Wilson, Bakewell Marks out of 25
This robust intruder from the north does itself no favours by sticking with the tart moniker. Make no mistake though, this is no girly open-top hairdresser, but a full on 100% bruiser of a pie, complete with lid. One doesnt have to look or sniff too hard to appreciate the alcoholic pretensionsthe whisky vapours are only too happy to escape their confines. Three generous air holes afford a closer appreciation.
Last years offering was beset with an experimental(?) acidic infusion so it was with some trepidation that I clamped my jaws around this beast. I need have no such fears this time around with no acetic unpleasantries detected. The pastry offers a near perfect crunch resistance, willing to offer a good workout but always inviting another bite. They havent scrimped on the inners here either. No discernible cavity was detected betwixt filling and lid; often the Achilles heel of the modern pie.
All in all, a very worthy contender to the M&S all stars.
22
Total Marks 97
Any Other Business Unfortunately, despite the highest second opinion score this season, they have missed out on the Pie-Offs by a couple of points. Commiserations to all the single malt fans out there.
That leaves the knockout stages to be contested by three Marks & Spencer varieties (Deep Filled, Luxury and Connoisseur) and Prince Charles Duchy Originals.
Semi-Finals and Grand Final to be staged as soon as is practicable.
Hold fast! Your champion will be crowned soon enough, sirs.
Date Added 11th Dec 2008

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Its taken a while, but we have at last reached the focus of much Press attention following Which? Magazines review of ten pies earlier this season. Aldi Luxury Mince Pies may sound oxymoronic, but who are we to prejudge? They may yet make oxyfools of us all.
 Ebenezer Doppelganger  Aldi Luxury Mince Pies
Ebenezer Doppelganger Aldi Luxury Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Aldi Luxury Mince Pies 4th Dec 2008 £1.49 6
Container Style
Jet black throughout, allowing the crumbshot to take centre stage. Glisten levels on the spilling fruit are phenomenal. A brave use of the notoriously hard to coax brandy sauce embellishment. The blurred spoon to the rear is a timely reminder that if youre going to toss the sauce around, youll have to trouble the cutlery drawer.
Black plastic inner tray (bagless)
Appearance Marks out of 25
Do my cholesterol-thickened eyes deceive me? What stands before me is the living embodiment of Marks & Spencers Classic mince pie (MSC). This is all too Dickensian. Were these two pies born to a poor mother, one going on to be adopted by the wealthy Merchant for whom she worked, much too personally some would say. The other left to struggle its way to success through a guile/work ethic combo.


If I must remind you of the style of the M&S legend, theres a darker cog-toothed rim round a well-sugared blank crust. Even the 2008 debut single airhole is present.
17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Whether or not Aldi take less care to seal in freshness is a matter for their conscience, but there is a precarious stiffness to this structure. Unmoving until total obliteration, it seems these pies havent the backbone for a fight. In a horribly convenient coincidence for my analogy, there is a textural coarseness not found in the body of MSC. 16
Filling Marks out of 25
The nature/nurture debate has its say in the fillings individuality. There is an abundance of the glucose syrup and brandy binder, with the 2.3% warmth of the nip fighting the cooling glucose for control of the hearts and minds of the festive demographic.
The brandy wins the day, but must be astonished by the lack of support from the rest of the illustrious ingredients. Walnuts, cherries, cranberries and cinnamon have all failed to make an impact.
18
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Im convinced that this pie answers all the questions raised by the cloning controversy. While something could have the same physical attributes as the original, the inner differences could be extreme. Thats not to say this entrant is without worth. For a decent brandy rush on a Gordon Brown budget, you could do much worse. 18
Second Opinion - Jon Callow, Bolton, Lancs Marks out of 25
The Albrecht brothers are rocking a German Minimalist look this year, their pies bereft of festive adornment and housed in an austere black box. The pastry gives a cursory nod to its buttery influences but otherwise does little to transcend mere functionality. The filling, though, is in complete contrast to its rudimentary environs, with the usual Fruit n Fibre refugees reinforced by a dash of booze, a glint of cranberry, a crunch of walnut and the oft-boasted-but-rarely-knowingly-encountered glace cherry. Like Gaudi lecturing at the Bauhaus. 17
Total Marks 86
Any Other Business Disaster has struck for Aldis near-anagrammatic Teutonic twin Lidl. Apparently, there is a problem with the supply of their mince pies, and certainly Chesterfield were literally unable to produce the goods. So if youre doing your big shop at Lidl this Credit Crunch Christmastide, think on that youll need to pop into somewhere else for your bits.
Date Added 10th Dec 2008

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Unless I was duped by a kindly sounding middle-Englander, our radio message should have reached the Persian Gulf and beyond by now. So hello to anyone joining us at this late stage youve made it just in time for the electrifying season finale (in a few days).


The honour of third last pie goes to J Sainsburys flagship range - Taste The Difference. Will last Christmas joy burglar turn our heads or our stomachs? Or both, like some kind of mincey ladyboy?
 Raiders of the lost tart  Sainsburys TTD Brandy Rich Mince Pies
Raiders of the lost tart Sainsburys TTD Brandy Rich Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Sainsburys Taste the Difference Brandy Rich Mince Pies 6th Dec 2008 £1.89 6
Container Style
Its with some trepidation that I spot that the box is unchanged* from 2007s catastrophic campaign. The crumbshot is in miniature, but you can still make out the panicked airhole-eyes of the carved open front man, and the ooh! cries of the many attending pie paramedics. Nice and gory.
Brown plastic inner tray (bagged)
Appearance Marks out of 25
Another creation of those Spey Clansmen, this Walkers variety comes with the powerful aroma of a public bar. Theyve browned the pastry a little more than for other retailers, and the three airholes are well-punched by nail rather than tack. Looking at the six, it seems sugar is applied to just one lid, in a kind of Diabetic Russian Roulette scheme. 20
Pastry Marks out of 25
Topically crunchy, theyve pitched this at the younger booze-hound. You need a decent set of gnashers to attack it, and a thirst for the hard stuff to accept the built in fumes straight from the barmaids apron. Im happy to report that it doesnt suffer from brittleness, and can be risked over precious cloths. 20
Filling Marks out of 25
I stand by my year-old comments regarding the desiccated nature of this museum piece. Unlike the dry Duchy inner, this was once home to a thriving slop, but the evaporation of the combined 6% port and brandy has left an embarrassing petrifaction in which vine fruits lie suspended in apple-puree torment.
On the introduction of animated saliva the chew manages to work up a little momentum and the odd festive flavour can be had, even almonds are freed to flit around the tongue, but its an exhausting process. Like Christmas shopping for Elton John, in a muddy field, wearing ill-fitting wellies.
10
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Perfect for anyone suffering from Roy Hattersley levels of over-salivation, and in desperate search of a secret brandy hit. You would certainly be making a rod for your own back dishing these up at the end of an already digestively taxing full Christmas lunch.
Only keep these in if you are expecting some third rate Carol singers or a visit from your MP.
14
Second Opinion - Dr Sarah Lillywhite, Darley Dale Marks out of 25
Quite a sweet & sour affair with an unnervingly sharp aroma when sniffed up close. Its best not to concentrate on eating this pie too much, and instead get on with enjoying the festive season via some other format (e.g. sing a carol). 15
Total Marks 79
Any Other Business * Actually, there is a slight change to the box front. Theyve added a third ampersand to the product description which seems a lot for one sentence.
Are we to assume that it will be entirely in text speak by 2010?
Date Added 9th Dec 2008

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And so, that most romantic of times is upon us once more, as we enter into the final week of pie competition. These next seven days should separate the wheat from the chaff of mincemeat delights, and one proud denizen of the foil case will be crowned as the best in the land.


With an inflation busting drop of 31pence on their 2007 price tag, Tesco Finest hope to do much more for less. Maybe they should set their sights on simply beating the standard Tesco Deep Fill entrant, who got the better of them last year.
Have you no pride Tesco Finest?
 Pies can get poorly too  Tesco Finest Mince Pies
Pies can get poorly too Tesco Finest Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Tesco Finest Mince Pies 2nd Nov 2008 £1.68 6
Container Style
Unlike Morrisons, Tesco have continued with their black and silver branding, and indeed, have changed very little. There remains a sleek viewing panel and a top left crumbshot, but I count only four pies in the shot (one gaping). We are spoilt, however, by an extra crumbshot especially created for the box side. Kudos to them for such an extravagance.
Black plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Suffering from the same ailment as Waitrose Shortcrust, their distended/anaemic lid presents with dark lesions. Sugar is crystallised but sporadic around the four puncture wounds atop. Hospital food? 14
Pastry Marks out of 25
While the lid is sweetened by the attached sugar, the chunky sides cant help but clag and cloy. A pastry adaptation of Of Mice And Men, the lid can look out for itself, but those tragic sides are just so clumsy. 14
Filling Marks out of 25
That bulbous and patchy crust wasnt caused by the filling trying to burst out it sits cowering in a smooth plop. Within lie more vine fruits than expected and the chew is a decent test, allowing the cognac and brandy a chance to inspire. Any nuts found constitute light relief to the teeth, and are dispensed with quickly as the boozy aftertaste hurries to warm the festive gobbler. 20
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
The level of difficulty prising these monsters out of their flimsy foil underwear should provide greater reward to the committed stripper. Sadly, my fumbling led to an average experience at best, even with the introduction of strong liquor towards the end. 17
Second Opinion - Les Rowland, Senior Metallurgist, Darley Dale Marks out of 25
Substitute Victorian Xmas for Napoleonic Xmas as we take a bite from the pie that must have been built as a tribute to the Martello Tower Fortresses, built to repel an anticipated French invasion!
The substantial (both in strength and size) walls and finely structured dome roof, firmly cemented on make the taster feel like a siege machine imposing upon the privacy within.
Unfortunately the 'spoils of war' were a little disappointing as, judging by the size of the cavity, the battalion of red-coated English soldiers that lurked there had long since gone. The mince that remained was nicer in taste than texture, albeit the mildly fruity sweetness was sadly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sugared pastry. The content was far less grand than exterior (just like the fort I suppose!).
13
Total Marks 78
Any Other Business We had a lengthy visit from an employee of William Hill the other day. Look out for their latest odds on the eventual winner.
For all those involved in Asian betting syndicates, you can contact us via the link at the foot of the page.
Date Added 8th Dec 2008

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Its at least three years since I ventured into a box of Sainsburys SO Organic pies. I allow only one supermarket organic entry each year, and Tesco had the honour of providing the green dream in 06 and 07.
However, the early emergence of Sainsburys Christmas stock (bought mid September) got their blow in first. Whether or not the blow will be a welcome slap on the back or a sneaky jab in the pancreas, only time will tell.
 100% Organic gap  Sainsburys SO Organic Mince Pies
100% Organic gap Sainsburys SO Organic Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Sainsburys SO Organic Mince Pies 29th Nov 2008 £2.49 6
Container Style
British Racing Green plus encroaching design swirls speak of a serious intention. Only the jaunty cream hat sported by the moribund crumbshot volunteer reminds us tis the season to be jolly. His inners appear to have been put together by a time-served dry-stone waller.
Brown plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Another possible Walkers creation, this time two airholes punctuate a smooth virtually sugarless lid. Gone are the days when organic fayre was synonymous with meagreness, it seems, as both girth and crust swell are considerable. 19
Pastry Marks out of 25
Crunchy enough to corroborate my Walkers shortbread intimations. One of their better efforts, this foregoes the strange acetic afterglow in favour of milkshake pleasantries. Always retaining their immense structural security, you can take these tough guys out on a rough ramble without need for pussy footing. 20
Filling Marks out of 25
Given both the packed crumbshot and the swollen lid, I could have been forgiven for expecting more than the 1cm deep lining I found at the bottom of the case. Once reached, the chew is casual and satisfyingly fruity. Currants make most of the running, and unusually, coriander stands out in amongst the spice mix. 18
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
It all feels a little stilted as my top set has to drop through a large air pocket to reach the filling and subsequent base pastry. Then I cant seem to get the excess air out of my mouth, which results in my hamsterisation in front of the neighbours. Only a Tango slap can reset my cheeks to their default position.
For those sworn to defeat the pesticide promoters, this pie will suffice. Not sure it will cheer you up though.
18
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, East Midlands Marks out of 25
Heres a pie that gets the job done. The pastry is not perhaps as soft as one might hope but its acceptable (no clogging effect). The filling is perhaps a little uniform and unadventurous (no tang, no mulchiness) but again its acceptable. Like a good neighbour, this pie verges on being bland. It has no desire to separate itself from the crowd. But this is not necessarily a bad thing: With a cup of tea in the morning this pie would be welcome at my house. 18
Total Marks 93
Any Other Business While that was the best performance by any supermarket organic pie for many years, it wasnt nearly enough to trouble the leaders. The anti-science flag is still waving proudly in second place though, through Prince Charles Duchy experiment. In your face MacGyver!
Date Added 5th Dec 2008

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If you love your supermarket shelves to tower above you, and enjoy the comforting touch of a pat on the bottom disguised as a coin jangle, theres no doubt that you will be a regular at Wal-Mart's European backdoor - Asda.
Since their 2002 heyday, Asda have struggled to find anything like form despite the wealth of resources available to them now they are part of the empire.
With a total of 99 points required to make the Pie-Offs, can they find an extra ten from their steady performance of 2007?
 Asda Rich Fruit Brandy Mince Pie  Peek-a-boo frontage
Asda Rich Fruit Brandy Mince Pie Peek-a-boo frontage
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Asda Rich Fruit Brandy Mince Pies 30th Oct 2008 £1.68 6
Container Style
Last years crumbshot has been reduced to a supporting role and we are afforded a viewing window for the first time. Im not sure I appreciate the intrusion of the three pie onlookers when Im enjoying Asdas unique ivory & lace take on Christmas branding.
Black plastic bagged inner tray.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Suspiciously uniform darker edges look in on the Lowry influenced star motif atop. Crystallised sugar is concentrated around the rudimentary design. A decent lid overhang is evident, as is some worrying pastry saturation around the sides. Ill get on with it before it springs a leak. 15
Pastry Marks out of 25
A stodgy affair, this. 2007s crispness is replaced by stale biscuit shame. Successful infusion of brandy aromas cannot justify the claggy labour required to make it through this crust. 14
Filling Marks out of 25
Id like to see a fill level of at least another 25%, but I am cheered by the obvious abundance of peel chunks and almonds (nibbed or otherwise). Those items add to a full chew that tends to finish on a lasting grind of tiny currants. Problematically, brandy cools the tongue on first contact - which has the effect of numbing my buds to further taste sensations. 18
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
As Asdas only serious contender, you will find all the extras in these pies. Unfortunately, just buying all the best food and drink doesnt always guarantee the best Christmas party. Somewhere, a touch of joy needs to be injected. But please dont take me literally and fill them with opiates next year, Asda chefs. 17
Second Opinion - Jon Callow, Bolton, Lancs Marks out of 25
Christmas it may be, but the Cratchit who christened Asdas star attraction this season should be given his cards forthwith without so much as a thought for Tiny Tim. Rich Fruit with Brandy conjures visions of a tipsily flirtatious Graham Norton, suggestively fingering the lapel of his smoking jacket as he minces purposefully across the bar. Or maybe its just me. Casting such horror to the darkest recesses of my mind, I crack on. Well-crafted, prettily motifed, and generously showered in sugary crystals, these pies certainly look presentable, if not quite Extra Special. The pastry somehow manages to be short and chewy at the same time, which is a bit weird, but not unpleasantly so. Inside, the vine fruits and plentiful almond hunks pay seasonal homage to the Christmas pudding, while the brandy comes with a rush and sticks around for the duration without ever outstaying its welcome. If Im being picky, theres room for a bit more filling, but itd likely as not have you slumped under the table before the cheese course turned up. A decent effort, then, despite Norton. 18
Total Marks 82
Any Other Business Having sat down to sample this pie well before teatime, I was reminded that the 1976 song Afternoon Delight by the Starland Vocal Band was inspired by a gastronomic experience not unlike the one I was about to embark upon. Please ignore the smut peddlers who try to tell you different - theyd have you believe Cliff Richard was a serial sex offender flaunting his Mistletoe and Wine modus operandi.
Date Added 4th Dec 2008

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I must confess that I didnt get my hands on one of Co-ops Deep Filled Mince Pies last season. My excuse is that they hadnt been released at the time of my 2007 visit. No such problems this Christmas, as their right-on, fair trading, Braille punching pie department got their Eco-fingers out in time for my October attack.


Sorry, Im feeling OK now. Were all friends here.
 Time for tinsel  Co-op Deep Filled Mince Pies
Time for tinsel Co-op Deep Filled Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Co-op Deep Filled Mince Pies 10th Nov 2008 £1.09 6
Container Style
The extreme pie close up refuses to reveal its inner secrets, but Im charmed by the broad grin manifesting from the friendly rim. Unusual to have pies touching cloth, rather than sitting upon a plate or board. Still, I have to respect their individuality.
Red plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Less golden than the crumbshot, but a neat smooth lid sports a clear star motif atop. A decent uniformity of crystallised sugaring. The upper body is let down by irregular damp patches around the bottom. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Firmness is evident in the bite, but inconsistent depth of the side walls leads to structural weak points. Once the sugar topping is spent, Im left with a floury ghost haunting my tastebuds. 16
Filling Marks out of 25
A withered and dark paste holds mostly sultanas and one anomalous apple chunk bulky but outnumbered. The blended spices afford me a burst of glad tidings and, to my surprise, linger for the duration of a prolonged chew. 18
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Marginally the better of the two Co-op offerings, probably due to its honest endeavour and more effective pastry crust, just. 17
Second Opinion - Jon Callow, Bolton, Lancs Marks out of 25
These look rubbish, and with good reason. The anaemic lid transforms pie into tart with minimal persuasion and stands close comparison with Crawfords Arrowroot, which can hardly be a good thing. Meanwhile, what lies beneath is truly a horror. The indistinguishable grey/brown sludge is punctuated only by a scattering of candied peel, and the remaining pastry is thick and cloying. The only festive feelings conjured here come from guiltily foisting leftovers on unsuspecting relatives. 14
Total Marks 82
Any Other Business Progress update - after 21 contenders reviewed, those Magic & Sparkle boys have three of the four Pie-Off positions sewn up. With only (hopefully) another seven pies left to compete, can anyone other than His Royal Highness throw a spanner into M&Ss end of term party plans?
Date Added 3rd Dec 2008

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We all learn by our mistakes, as Uncles whove bought their five year old niece Biscuits for Cheese thinking it was a war time ration trading board game, will testify. I believe my omission of Prince Charles own mince pies from this otherwise inclusive organisation has been an error on my part, and one I am glad to remedy this very day. So please be upstanding for the Pie Club debut of His Royal Highness Duchy Originals.
 A pie dissected  No colour licence
A pie dissected No colour licence
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Duchy Originals Organic Mince Pies 27th Nov 2008 £3.79 6
Container Style
An elegant black and white interpretation. Clearly, these pies are for those unconcerned with viewing the actual product, given the lack of either a crumbshot or viewing window. Theres a three-line description that bangs on about them being organic, and a stamp to explain that you are giving to charity by consuming these wildly expensive pies. Phew! Ive found a way to give to charity at last.
Brown plastic bagged inner tray.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Produced by those Aberlour craftsmen responsible for Walkers Tarts, these have the familiar shortbread colouration and smooth lid, and they even borrow the three airhole trademark normally reserved for their own tart crust. Not as swollen featured as the usual Walkers output. 20
Pastry Marks out of 25
A softer crunch is offered by Royal appointment, which I prefer to the hack through a stiff Caledonian wood normally afforded. No sign of the pungent acetic acid, which can detract from the sweet and buttery delighters of the early nibble. 21
Filling Marks out of 25
Unswervingly dry and clean, each currant and raisin looks to have been placed into the case by hand. Are we to assume that binding gunk cannot be manufactured organically? You wont be surprised to learn that the effect is akin to a handful of vine fruits from a Christmas bowl, but with the odd bit of citrus zest to be found towards the bottom. As a man known for his demented regimentation in all things, I cant help but think that maybe this new, clean approach might just be a breakthrough. For mince pies, if not my borderline OCD. 21
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Certainly a unique experience. Imagine you are one of the Kings men searching for Christmas cake smugglers and youve been tipped off that they are breaking the cakes up and taking them out piece by piece within small pastry cases. That mix of surprise and mild euphoria rewards each investigative chomp. 21
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, East Midlands Marks out of 25
One must confess to feeling a degree of class consciousness when approaching this Prince Charles pie. Perhaps, even a tendency towards reverse snobbery. However, actually eating it is a pleasant surprise. Its just an ordinary pie like any other, but definitely with its own unique charm. The pastry is soft and not overly thick and the filling has a nice sense of separation: Sort of like a fine compost. The sultana enjoys its individuality next to the nut. I liked eating this pie immensely. 21
Total Marks 104
Any Other Business For a Royal mince pie to eschew the usual dark brown dollop filling in favour of a distinct black and tan themed force, seems brave given the connotations with the Royal Irish Constabulary. This minceman is definitely one for the celtic conspiracy theorists to get their teeth into.
Date Added 2nd Dec 2008

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Welcome to December! Ready for a mince pie yet?


Usually my favourite box, and definitely the most eagerly anticipated each Yuletide, Morrisons The Best have led the competition in scaring Christmas audiences with their unsettling crumbshots. Like Fridays Waitrose All Butter, many considered them unfortunate to go out in the semi-finals last time out but will they mimic their more expensive colleagues and succumb to mediocrity in 2008?
 Get stuck in lads  Morrisons The Best Deep Filled Mince Pies
Get stuck in lads Morrisons The Best Deep Filled Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Morrisons The Best Deep Filled Mince Pies 25th Nov 2008 £1.69 6
Container Style
Always the trend setter, Morrisons have left behind the black and silver branding of recent years to embark on a new green-themed expedition. Gone is the elaborate wide angle crumbshot, and a single pie lies riven, with each mincemeat organ poking out like a dozen hernias. Im glad they havent lost the ability to shock under the new packaging regime.
Black plastic bagless inner tray.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Hearty dimensions give the viewer a thrill, as does the oversize snowflake motif atop. Liberally scattered sugar crystals cling to the bulbous lid, and provide a twinkle for my glossy eyes. 20
Pastry Marks out of 25
Moderate manipulation leads to an early crumple, but I find this is due to a characterful shortcrust fragility. Apart from the obvious pastry tasting notes, some of the liquor has infused from deep within to supply a preview of the mouth-warming snifter to come. 21
Filling Marks out of 25
Given the height of the crust, at least 25% of the filling was air, prior to my lifting the lid. The vapourisation process has not impaired the fluidity of the binding paste, and I find fruits sloshing around the grind zone instead of settling down to confront my waiting chew. Once the cool splash has been overcome, a sensibly poured booze nip accompanies below average fruit and nut toil. The aftertaste is unnaturally sweet. 17
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
With such glad tidings coming from the pastry case, you could almost excuse the unsophisticated Carol singing wafting from the cavernous mincemeat halls. Unfortunately, that factory aftertaste lives long on the palate. 18
Second Opinion - Jon Callow, Bolton, Lancs Marks out of 25
Not as imposing as you might expect from a prestige pie but easy on the eye all the same, with the attractive snowflake motif generously adorned with a flurry of sugar crystals. The soft, buttery pastry gives way to a fruity festive bite, where booze pervades without quite overshadowing the underlying almond essence. A tidy enough effort, certainly, but essentially little more than a bevied-up red-boxer, and certainly not worthy of the flagship status bestowed upon it. 17
Total Marks 93
Any Other Business Candidly, the box tells of differing levels of butter in the lid pastry versus the base. Theres 2% more butter in the bottom. Make of that what you will.
Date Added 1st Dec 2008

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Waitrose play their joker today. This All Butter heavyweight went the distance against two-time winner M&S Classic in the 2007 Pie-Off semis. Many are still bitter about his exit, having done nothing wrong. Will they have come back stronger, intent on proving their worth, or turn up with a massive chip on their shoulder insisting they are supreme, very much like an Arsenal First XI?
 Youre my wife now!  Waitrose All Butter Mince Pies
Youre my wife now! Waitrose All Butter Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Waitrose All Butter Mince Pies 17th Nov 2008 £2.19 6
Container Style
Despite an increase of 20p, all fonts have been reduced in size, perhaps to lure the myopic closer than ever to the shelves. All six pies are visible from the broadest viewing window that a frontage could contain, lest stacking integrity be compromised. As in 2007, the crumbshot is relegated to the side panels and re-uses the plectrum smuggling loner we grew to love.
Brown plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Looks to be produced by the Scottish developers who make a broad smooth lid, and only give the client the choice of 1,2 or 3 airholes. Waitrose have plumped for two. Sparsely touched by the hand of sugar or so slick that the fine crystals couldnt get a grip. 19
Pastry Marks out of 25
An easy to nibble overhang crunches like shortbread thats sat through a three hour meeting. While butter provides the background to this creation, stronger personalities take over. Think of it as a vinegary sales director shouting over the dairy goodness of HR. Once it starts, its hard to silence the acetic clang. 17
Filling Marks out of 25
Pleasingly, the inners made their best attempt at replicating the colourful crumbshot display, and even provided an almond plectrum to aid my nutty strum. Chewing this muscular paste requires committed rumination, but rewards with densely layered fruit and brandy/port chaser. 21
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
With a kick coming from both the pastry and its captive filling, this is a mesmerising mouthful. My concern is that with so much to contend with in each bite, many revellers may find this pie all-consuming, and be knocked out of their festive stride. Its definitely one for the all-or-nothing brigade. 20
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, East Midlands Marks out of 25
The box in which these pies are housed is so sophisticated it makes it look as if the pies themselves are wearing dinner jackets. Undoubtedly, this is a solid entry. The filling has a mulchy quality not unlike a good Christmas pudding and the pastry is good, soft, crumbles well. But ironically, the overall impression is of decent workmanship, which flies in the face of the aristocratic presentation. They may be dressed to the nines but if these pies spoke they would sound like Fred Dibnah. 19
Total Marks 96
Any Other Business Im afraid there may be more wailing and gnashing of teeth from those John Lewis executives who see both their entrants go out on 96 points, having had worse Pie Factor marks than Somerfield. Its cruel, but it may all become as academic as Arsenals morose manager should any of the remaining contestants hit the high 90s. Whod be a retail executive at this time of year, eh?
Date Added 28th Nov 2008

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Will wonders never cease? Apparently, we had a listing in last Saturdays Telegraph, probably under a Top 10 Mincemeat Related websites banner. If I get my hands on the actual newspaper Ill do my best to share it with you, cosmically.


Today I call for tolerance. As Jesus showed us, we must not turn our backs on tarts, mincemeat or otherwise. Walkers have a proud baking heritage and if they want to call their mince pies tarts thats their life-choice. Ill continue to include them in my annual pilgrimage through the foil and crumbs, unless they ever remove the lids. God help them if they ever remove thier lids!
 Let the wind blow high  Let the wind blow low
Let the wind blow high Let the wind blow low
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Walkers Luxury Mincemeat Tarts 20th Nov 2008 £2.65 6
Container Style
Despite my flagging up of the lack of vegetarian information, this box lives on, unable to recommend its sturdy team to curious salad-botherers. The crumbshot contains as neat a cleave as anywhere in the world of pastry. A hungry surgeon may have had a hand in this clinical subtraction. Tartan cloth and dignified baubles make up the numbers.
Brown plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Bulky enough to be a sandstone carving, and neatly crimped around the rim. We are given three vents to peer into, but darkness shrouds the inner depths. Not sugared with too much abandon (crystallised). 21
Pastry Marks out of 25
Determined not to crumble while under the control of such a puny English ruler, this chap provides a challenging crunch. So far, last years major problem chip shop vinegar, hasnt put in an appearance and the shortbread shines. 20
Filling Marks out of 25
Im faced with a very accomplished display of vine fruit shreds and peel chunks. Nuts not included, nibbed or otherwise. Given that it appears par-chewed, theres still plenty of tooth-work left to do, but the effect is that of a lengthy stroll rather than an uphill hike. Quite currant leaning, until you hit one of the candied peels and a rush of fruit gums invades the senses. 19
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
The antidote to their vinegar excesses has been found and this pie has come together very well. Youll need a fully fit jaw and stiff molars but if youve got the energy, this entrant will reward you with a bracing experience. 20
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, East Midlands Marks out of 25
Large. Very muscular in the pastry department in that theres plenty of it. But small. In the sense that theres little to enjoy. The filling can only ever be feeble in the face of all that thick pastry surrounding it like an eighteenth century prison wall. Eating this pie is too much like hard work. I actually lifted up my right leg when swallowing my first mouthful. 15
Total Marks 95
Any Other Business The picture in my crumbshot is The Bothy by Claire Fraser. Its not the view from Walkers Tarts holiday accommodation they are in fact holidaying nearer the sea. Certainly by the time Severn Trent Water and I have finished with them anyway.
Date Added 27th Nov 2008

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I understand that I overstepped the mark yesterday with my treacle/felicide talk. Sorry to pet and Bonfire toffee lovers everywhere.


Moving on, as Somerfields 2007 champion clings onto fourth spot, what can we expect from their standard Deep Fill will they force their more glamorous stablemate out of the Pie-Offs? Would they dare?
 Pie plus object atop  Somerfield Deep Filled Mince Pies
Pie plus object atop Somerfield Deep Filled Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Somerfield Deep Filled Mince Pies 13th Nov 2008 £1.3 6
Container Style
Sumptuous purple tones surround a weary band of brothers scouting a star field. The pastryman on point has had the misfortune to detonate one of those deadly stars, leaving a clear view of his monotone innards.
Red plastic inner tray (bagless).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Virtually no overhang from the ferociously crimped rim. The effect is a brutish feel, with broadness from tip to toe. A bit more sugar and depth to the three-leafed motif may have encouraged me more. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Crispness rules the lid, while flexibility is the pastry sides watchword. Both are prone to cloy. Continued investigation cannot produce clues to any other flavours it is an open and shut case of margarine abuse. 12
Filling Marks out of 25
Maybe theres an evaporation issue impacting on the deep filled claim, but Im not going to dive in headfirst. There are more colours on display than in the crumbshot, strangely. My chew finds juicy vine fruits in fine form, combined with an apricot nudge. Citrus peel arrives to make your mouth water, before the finish is applied by a leftfield fennel commando popping up from nowhere to launch a deadly assault on merriment. 15
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Happily, youd do well to identify the fennel when a full bite is had. Less fortunately, my second full bite of pie two contained a small but wildly unacceptable bit of stalk or pip. Not anything as manageable as grit, this was a painful encounter with a foreign body.

Ive got a newly found appreciation of Lembits plight.
13
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, East Midlands Marks out of 25
If a mince pie were to travel through time from the 1940s I imagine it would taste very much like this. Perhaps, the E-numbers have been scientifically crafted to create such an effect but, happily, I find it authentic. The pastry has an antediluvian simplicity. The filling is straightforward and homey. I was going to call this pie a swirl of somebody elses nostalgia, but I realise that may be over analytical. The pie only sits there innocent, unaffected Alone? 20
Total Marks 77
Any Other Business Yesterday we had visitors to the website from both Cambridge University and Barnsley College.
Great institutions, I hear you say, but which one is better? Theres only one way to find outFIGHT!
Date Added 26th Nov 2008

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Apologies to anyone who sat through the 20 minute discussion around damaged cupboard doors waiting to hear my too brief interview on BBC Radio Three Counties. An audio file sits on Pie Chat for those who feel like they missed out. Weve blown the bloody doors off this time.


At last, Im happy to direct you to visit our Readers Pies page for the first ever guest entry. Well done Mr Wilson, youve taken your first steps into a larger world.
Onto today Sainsburys Deep head up a three pronged attack from the try something more expensive boys. Taste The Difference and Organic to follow later in the contest.
 A pukka pie?  Ribboned and red
A pukka pie? Ribboned and red
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Sainsburys Deep Mince Pies 1st Oct 2008 £1.19 6
Container Style
Youll see that the cardboard design department have been laid off, as J Sainsbury decreed that last years pie apparel was good enough to last. Not only this red box variety, but all the mince range, have reappeared unaltered from 2007 or 1BC as I have tried to popularise (Before credit Crunch). Same old slice and a squirt for the crumbshot.
Black plastic bagless inner tray.
Appearance Marks out of 25
An honest workmanlike image, with distinct dual-tone lid. No heirs nor graces with this sparsely sugared crust. I understand that the designers set out to create a three leaved holly motif but time has taken its toll. So much so that youd have to cast either Ross Kemp or John Malkovich as this pie in its Hollywood life story. Choosing between the big two wont be easy. 19
Pastry Marks out of 25
Humble, yet life-affirming floury tones give way to a touch of infused spice. The solid structure of this pastry will require the filling to provide moisture throughout the chew. Totally avoids any unpleasant factory sweetener effect. 19
Filling Marks out of 25
Fairly well filled with a red-brown paste, which offers up a good handful of vine fruits from its depths. Disappointingly, the appley tang is eroded considerably by a heavy-handed treacle interference. Consistency is pitched perfectly, with oral manipulation never overstaying its welcome. 16
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
While the pastry combines well, to reduce the shadow of Bonfire Night, little fruitiness is evident. This is a real shame its not often that putting too much in is the error. If the treacle sprayer ever has a day off, they might be in business. A glimpse at the Club annals reveals that this entrant suffered from the same problem in 2006, but remedied it in 2007 to achieve a creditable seventh place. Why did they fall for his dark charms again? 16
Second Opinion - Jon Callow, Bolton, Lancs Marks out of 25
Oh my! Are we to assume Jamie is particularly excited about Sainsburys festive range this year? Trying manfully to ignore the mucky serving suggestion, I nibble tentatively at the pastry. What little taste there is screams CHEAP MARGARINE, though the sandy crumble engendered by the slightest disturbance suggests they didnt use too much of it. Beneath the sallow dunes lurks a run-of-the-mill Christmas paste - theres raisins and sultanas and a bit of peel, and I suppose theyve made a bit of an effort with the spices, though zesty orange is the overriding flavour sensation. Its the dusty crust that hogs the limelight, though, and its not long before this pie renders you unable to speak. And not in a good way. Underwhelming. 14
Total Marks 84
Any Other Business Wikipedia tells me that Treacle is the invention of Jonas Cropper, who was trying to invent a liquid that would best drown cats. Actually, it was either Wikipedia or Willy Premier my butcher/consultant urologist.
Date Added 25th Nov 2008

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If you like your supermarket shop to feel slightly like a bring & buy sale, you will already be aware that todays Holly Lane pies are in fact an Aldi production. Before you get carried away though, these are not the pies that knocked Harrods into a cocked hat in last weeks appalling Witch? Magazine debacle. You see, unlike Which?, we review as many pies as we can as sometimes the luxury range at any given retailer may not be their best pie. Rant over, lets have a look at Aldis red boxer.
 Anyone seen a lemon?  Holly Lane Deep Filled Mince Pies
Anyone seen a lemon? Holly Lane Deep Filled Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Holly Lane Deep Filled Mince Pies 23rd Nov 2008 £0.89 6
Container Style
The deeper red box lends a touch more gravitas than last year, and theyve invested in set dressing to accompany a golden plate used for the crumbshot. Im not sure that the correct level of contrast has been used as each pie virtually disappears on top, such is the blinding light from above. The split member held aloft by the other five interns seems eager enough to thrust his jammy makings our way.
Red plastic inner tray (bagless).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Perhaps the digital photography hasnt been tinkered with too much, as he is indeed a pale face gent. The three holly leaf/berry motif needs repointing, but the dilapidation proves charming, for now. Ample crystallised sugar pebbledashes most of the lid. 18
Pastry Marks out of 25
Just softer than a custard cream, but with a similar overall texture, there is much to commend this rustic crust work. The delicate flavours are buttercreamy and sweet. 20
Filling Marks out of 25
Natural light gives this lumpy dollop a hue closer to camel than the Goth black paste of the crumbshot. As the sultana-raisin wall is broken down an unnatural escape of glucose chills the tastebuds. Mammoth dried fruits occupy the grind for an awkward length, as the Lucozade influences refuse to diffuse. Eventually, each participant gives up and leaves only the ghost of energy tablets, reminding us of quick-fix revision substitutes. 14
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Tempered by the creditable pastry display, a full bite isnt a wasted venture. In fact, should anyone have to knuckle down to study for an exam on Boxing Day, this could be a lifesaver in the aftermath of a sedating turkey binge. 18
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, East Midlands Marks out of 25
It is liberating to have ones prejudices smashed. The look on my face was sour three seconds into this tarty surprise and everything pointed to a bad review. The pastry broke apart rather than folded and it was crunchy and the filling was immediate and sharp (a definite sign of cheapness in my book) and it looked runny as I held it up to my frowning face for closer inspection and it But then something happened and the sharpness resolved itself into a fuller flavour (still tangy, though, this pie didnt change its character), and the pastry mixed in most agreeably (I imagined the broken pastry looking like little sharks fins in that dark sea). And before I knew it I had arched an eyebrow and was nodding to myself while chewing away. It had won me over. Qualities I had formerly regarded as flaws were shown to work. 20
Total Marks 90
Any Other Business I notice that the 2008 box designers have reined in their joy, switching the word Celebrate to Festive above the pie description. How sombre a moment that must have been in the Holly Lane HQ, as they made that depressing change.
Date Added 24th Nov 2008

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Which? Magazine seem to have been given a lot of coverage for their hopelessly lightweight pie testing recently. Honestly, short of using Labradors and pixie dust points, Im not sure they could have thrown less effort into it. See for yourself, via a link in Pie Chat.


For those discerning guests who would only send their child to a school after reading the Ofsted report, rather than a cursory glance at a school league table, may I present a thorough review of Tesco Deep Filled Mince Pies.
 Try to remember - only 89p  Tesco Deep Filled Mince Pies
Try to remember - only 89p Tesco Deep Filled Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Tesco Deep Filled Mince Pies 9th Nov 2008 £0.89 6
Container Style
Tesco have created a charming new stitched label festive branding and it intrudes only slightly on a glorious crumbshot. Four pies on gingham have contrived to leave one unfeasibly over-filled partner broken but hanging on to its escaping innards. A different crumbshot adorns the side, featuring the same victim, but only one unharmed witness.

Red plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
The large-print star motif covers plenty of this smooth, generously sugared lid (big crystals). There has been an attempt to create a wave at the edges, but it has a more masculine feel from its lumpy imperfection. A pie you could be proud to take to your local. 21
Pastry Marks out of 25
Bland and aloof, it turns out that this pastry may not do well at a friendly social gathering. Even when challenged, very little bite is to be had. Im hoping this powdery blank canvas will allow a sensational inner to do the talking. 15
Filling Marks out of 25
A monotone raisin collective greets the expectant lid-lifter. This trend for simplicity continues in an easy chewing, cinnamon/raisin filler. If you have to be one-dimensional, you could choose worse dimensions than this classical Christmas spice world. 18
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Theres enough fluidity in the mincemeat to negate the touch of cloy arising from a dusty crust. The already unsophisticated display of Yule flavouring however, is further weakened as a result of this mashing. A quiet pie for excitement-phobes. 17
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, East Midlands Marks out of 25
Mountainous in stature but the filling is a shallow well. I imagine this doesnt have to be a problem, but almost a dozen chews in and my tongue is still lolling around dumbly looking for the taste. When found, it isnt at all bad, but as another writer once said, intention is all,* and here one feels a lack of generosity, rather than a lush intention we should be lost in pastry heaven.
* The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir by Toni Bentley. Harper Perennial, 2005.
16
Total Marks 87
Any Other Business Youd be right to point out that my crumbshot unearthed a couple of peel chunks, after Ive ranted on about the monotony of brown hues. What can I say? They must put them in every other pie perhaps.
Date Added 20th Nov 2008

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A chequered dating history dogs this veteran John Leslie-a-like. Very short sell by dates combined with virtually invisible printing elicited pantomime boos last year. Verily, an EU standardisation fairy has visited upon the brand and lo, now this pack exhibits its terminal deadline in the same clear way as the classic red box version. Something to commend those overly legislative Eurocranks at long last.
 Nuts about this pie?  Silver salver sleever
Nuts about this pie? Silver salver sleever
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
M&S Luxury Deep Filled Mince Pies 6th Oct 2008 £2.29 6
Container Style
Silver has continued as the colour of luxury for this once blue-boxed heavyweight. The full joy of the crumbshot is partially obscured by M&Ss 2008 band and badge device, telling us theyve been around since 1931. To be fair, the reminder of their omnipresence since Nat Lofthouse was a lad is something of a reassurance in these turbulent times.
The four fruits peeking gingerly from their pastry berth reek of neatness and conformity, very much like a pile of smartly folded pullovers.
Appearance Marks out of 25
As I welcome back the familiar cog-toothed edges, Im struck by how faithfully my pie has stuck to the covers crumbshot. This is a pale and bulbous lid with a considerable overhang. Long nails are required to prise away the foil case, revealing a slimmer bottom. A fine sight. 19
Pastry Marks out of 25
Biscuity and splendid to crunch through. Strong enough to withstand a firm grip, but can lose integrity if grabbed unawares. No spices yet, but a clean and crisp door to what lies beneath. 21
Filling Marks out of 25
Im pleased to see that the picture did not do justice to this colourful and fruity parade. Rich red raisin tones deliver a boudoir backing to the occasional currant and sultana embrace. A fleck of vegetable suet completes the scene. The chew is smooth with a good splash of port and brandy that diverts the attention from some honest tang. The tang doesnt mind though hell wait for you to catch up. 22
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Whisper it, but this accomplished past master may have returned to form. Well balanced fruits, peel and liquor have got me harking back to the glory days of 2004, when this entrants armour remained chinkless throughout. 22
Second Opinion - Jon Callow, Bolton, Lancs Marks out of 25
With Noemie and Myleene sending right-thinking men goo-goo in the adverts, it comes as no great surprise to see the Jewish grocers turn out such a spectacular-looking pie. The architecture is stunning - I nibbled a small hole at the apex of the dome to complete a passable scale model of the Pantheon. The faade is beautifully constructed, while the roof defies mathematical logic. Peering through the oculus, though, it soon becomes apparent there isnt a great deal inside. Though scant, the filling is splendid. The constituent fruits are delightfully intact and awash with heady overtones of proper booze. Alas, theres no ignoring the cavernous gap twixt filling and lid, with the biscuity shortness of the pastry doing nothing to limit this pies potential for disaster. A shame, since a bigger spoon could have had Fred Done paying out mid-November. 18
Total Marks 102
Any Other Business Jon paints quite a picture in his second opinion above. Should you come across any pastry architecture that resembles the work of ancient (or modern) craftsmen, please whip out your Olympus and fire the resulting digital imagery in to us via the Readers Pies page. Remember to mark clearly whether it is an approximation of The Pantheon or Buxton Dome though.
Date Added 20th Nov 2008

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As I understand it, our great nation is spiralling into a deep precession, or something. Which sounds to me like a perfectly lovely way to join in with a passing carnival, but some dour bankers still cant raise a smile.
Perhaps the news that the reigning champion pies are on sale in 2008 for a mere 1.50 (deflation of 14%) will lighten the odd mood. Although the sight of Somerfields New Improved flash fills me jitters. Will they have strengthened after a title-winning season like the Liverpool of the 1980s, or lose the magic like Leeds United in the early 1990s?
 Somerfield Best Ever Mince Pies  The Defending Champion
Somerfield Best Ever Mince Pies The Defending Champion
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Somerfield Best Ever Mince Pies 4th Nov 2008 £1.5 6
Container Style
The new widescreen crumbshot sits all six box occupants high upon a single narrow white server. Much leaning and pushing has resulted in one poking out over the edge only to be viciously bitten, starting his scarlet-tinged inners inexorably towards touching the cloth napkin below. Lots of regal purple on display to confirm their status as last years king.
Clear plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Wild confusion abounds, as I may have encountered an imposter. The crumbshot clearly depicts six furrowed lids, but Im met with a smoothly finished crust leaving my brow to plough a lone furrow, of furrowing. The contender before me looks much more appetising than his cardboard colleagues, so Im willing to allow this. No motifs or airholes anywhere. 18
Pastry Marks out of 25
The unusually speckled case yields like a seedy hotel bed, but leaves no bitter aftertaste. If an insider revealed that this pastry is actually knitted candyfloss, I would have no hesitation in believing them, and passing on my compliments to the talented weavers. They have created an ultra-sweet fluff of a nibble. 20
Filling Marks out of 25
With the emphasis taken off the saccharine, the immediate crunch of nuts with a cherry smother plays harmoniously. Port soon arrives to provide seasonality. Then its back to a sweet finish as the plentiful apple puree guides the vine chew. 21
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
If you can forgive them the cake-soft level of bite, Im amazed to say that Somerfield may have genuinely improved their 2007 champion. However, the controversy may rumble on with those that insist on the glamour of a more biscuity shortcrust. 21
Second Opinion - Simon Wilson, Bakewell Marks out of 25
Being a big fan of last years champion pie, hopes were high for another brandy fuelled lunchtime treat. Teasing the 2008 version out of the clear inner sheath immediately resurrected that heady scent of 12 months ago. Upon moving in for a first gobble of the outer casing, an immediate sense of anti-climax pervaded however, greeted as I was by disappointingly fragile pastry work. All butter and no crunch. Such was the lack of resistance offered, 2 hands were instantly required to prevent total structural failure. Maybe the cause was a higher than average temperature in the exams & data office, although judging by the woolly layers sported by the pie club messiah today, I somewhat doubt it. Whatever the reason, this spoilt any enjoyment one could muster from the admittedly burgeoning fruit content within. Even that part of the deal seemed somehow to be bereft of last years zing. Nothing sweet about SBE.


It seems like the weight of expectation was just too great for last years hero, the pressure too much to handle and mid table obscurity seems the best that can be hoped for this time around.
16
Total Marks 96
Any Other Business It seems poacher has turned gamekeeper and vice versa.


To clarify, this pies staunchest fan has turned their most vociferous critic. Mr Wilson, what have you done?
Date Added 19th Nov 2008

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We have now arrived at the tenth pie. The group stages league table is beginning to take shape, with red hot pies atop and damp squibs abottom. And Im beginning to eye my Christmas compilation albums. Holidays are coming!
Will Londis encourage us out of our shell, or will they bore us with their feeble smalltalk? Its their party today, so lets find out
 Whole lotta wool  Londis Mince Pies
Whole lotta wool Londis Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Londis Mince Pies 12th Nov 2008 £1.19 6
Container Style
The credit crunch has hit the pie box designing department over at Londis, as we have a return for 2007s atmospheric bauble background. One badly grazed pie fronts an active five surrounding a disparate band of lost ingredients. The chances of avoiding a nibbing must be pretty slim for those worried walnuts.
White plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
A crinkly frown-themed lid hosts ample crystallised sugar, and hasnt sunk too far inside the spiky case sides. This is a competent example of the smaller motifless pie. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Still easily stripped from its fruity contents, relations havent warmed since the last contest. Enough dough has been rolled to provide a well-paced chew, but a touch more baking may have created a better resistance to the teeth. Reminded me of when I was eventually allowed to pinch a bit of my mothers raw pastry while she tried to stretch it to cover a large plate tart, last week. 16
Filling Marks out of 25
Theres no fear of getting bored amongst this Yuletide collage of colours, textures and flavours. My investigative nibbling unearths hearty cherry chunks and secret nuts along with the vine fruit and peel regulars. An improved tang is the only change from what was a sporty attempt in 2007. 20
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
If you are in the mood for a cheeky little nibble (and you are not a 1970s Carry On scriptwriter), then you could do a lot worse than these modest operators. You might end up shifting at least a couple though. 18
Second Opinion - Les Rowland, Darley Dale, Derbyshire Marks out of 25
Visually we have a nicely browned crust-edge, with distinctive unidirectional ripples on pie lid. There is a tantalising gap between lid and crust (although I suspect this was unintentional). Generously proportioned, at least for what is obviously a mass-production item made to a standard supermarket formula (note obvious avoidance of the word 'recipe' as this word infers a far greater intimacy and involvement in baking than would be have been applied in this instance).
Pleasingly well filled, the blend of tangy fruit and sweetness from the copious sugar coating contrasts sharply with the somewhat sad, bland texture (and taste) of the surrounding pastry. No surprises, not unpleasant but nothing special - 'Mr Kipling clone'
16
Total Marks 86
Any Other Business I hope Les wont mind me giving his marks as 16 out of 25 he submitted a score of 6.5 out of 10 and I applied a rudimentary multiplier. Maybe I should have rounded up or down first? That debate will just run and run, I assume.
Date Added 18th Nov 2008

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We pay our first visit to the happy world of Asda today. Im pretty sure that these are the cheapest pies in the competition, even usurping those giants of discount and memory tests - Aldi. Cost has never been at the heart of our thinking here at Pie Club, and pastry prince or pauper will be probed with the same unprejudiced palate. Then ingested into my emotionless large intestine of honour. And so on.
 Eyes on the Pies  Asda Rich Fruit Mince Pies
Eyes on the Pies Asda Rich Fruit Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Asda Rich Fruit Mince Pies 28th Oct 2008 £0.85 6
Container Style
Asda have abandoned 2007s Classic description to return to its more familiar Rich Fruit moniker. Given the disaster a year ago, the fact that they have changed only the name makes me quiver - as I spy the recycled five-pie crumbshot. Im further unsettled by the festive Asda logo, which consists of a melted plastic Christmas tree with ruined toys attached, possibly the result of a tragic house blaze. Im sure most firemen will not thank them for this reminder of the potential horrors to come.
Red plastic bagless inner tray.
Appearance Marks out of 25
The meagre girth is exaggerated by an oversized star motif atop. Plenty of micro sugar crystals coat the smooth lid, all the way out to the darker brown rim (spiked). A dainty gobble. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Very seldom do I lose my composure whilst testing, but I must admit to mild panic as I found no end to the chew once the lid was bitten. Im still not convinced Ive achieved a full swallow. The flavourless flour paste has glued itself to my tongue and other unfortunate surfaces, determined not to enter into my gastric flow. I cant blame it, but thats not the point. 10
Filling Marks out of 25
I cant help but feel appreciative to the below average mincemeat, firstly for introducing a modicum of food character into my mouth its got a couple of juicy fruits, but also for its willingness to break down under masticatory pressure. Theres a bitter darkness to the spice mix, which overwhelms any apple tang, and with only vine fruits to fall back on, this is a one-speed entrant. 10
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Strangely, both the poor inner and outer can combine to present a better outcome than their individual talents suggest. They still fall a long way short of whats expected to enliven a Yuletide gathering though. 12
Second Opinion - Jon Callow, Bolton, Lancs Marks out of 25
The architecture showcased here is strikingly rudimentary, with flavour almost completely absent and lid sat in, rather than atop, the unnecessarily bulky walls. Things pick up a bit inside, mind: the Sultana is certainly the public face of this pie, but hed be lost without his citrus entourage and the steady influence of apricot. Unfortunately, location is everything for festive innards, and this tolerable resident would do well to swap his current cardboard abode for something a bit more upmarket. 14
Total Marks 63
Any Other Business Asda still expect customers to quote the code FOB when calling or writing to complain about these miscreants. Its hard to imagine a more discourteous way of dealing with the public.
Date Added 17th Nov 2008

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If politeness was fluorescent, Waitrose would be impenetrable by all but the blind (if they could find some Labrador sunglasses). Of course I realise that by lauding their staff as gods of courteous replenishing, they will inevitably let me down one day, and knock my spuds about, for example.


Its the Shortcrust Mince Pies on trial now.
 In sickness and in health  Waitrose Shortcrust Mince Pies
In sickness and in health Waitrose Shortcrust Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Waitrose Shortcrust Mince Pies 31st Oct 2008 £1.19 6
Container Style
Uniformly red all over, this box is as familiar as the bathtub antics of the Summer Wine gang. The crumbshot makes at least its third appearance, and yet we still feel for the wounded pie staring aghast at its severed limb. A sweet new design of Christmas branch adorns the top corner of this frontage, complete with hiccuping robin.
Red plastic bagless inner tray.
Appearance Marks out of 25
It seems that last years pie blight is with us again I can make out a small damp patch toward the crumbling edge. Combined with a conservative use of sugar around the Scientology Cross motif, this pie does not demonstrate a deep commitment to the push for perfection. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Despite the outwardly soggy appearance, this is stiff enough to gladden my dispirited jaws. This shortcrust lives up to the name and provides a smooth transition from buttery crunch to sweet afterglow. Even when the walls crack, they do not tumble good pie build. 22
Filling Marks out of 25
Loosely bound fruits sit in a great lake of paste, and are delayed once within the chew arena as the flood of apricot jam splashes then dashes away. Sultanas plus guests take over to provide a sporty chew before apple and orange tones influence the aftertaste. 20
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
As a full bite, its harder to be touched by each of the various inner flavours due to the distraction of a competent pastry. The effect is a co-ordinated and holistic pleasure. After an ugly start, this red boxer has given me much to mull. 20
Second Opinion - Mrs Cooper, Derbyshire Marks out of 25
A steady, serviceable lunchtime pie. A very pleasant treat for the early November build up to the festive season, but might struggle to hold its own after a Christmas dinner. 18
Total Marks 96
Any Other Business After all that, you must be wondering what do the Waitrose branches in Lincoln, and Chesham actually look like?. Amazingly, youre in luck, go to Wikipedia and glory in their Waitrose page.
Date Added 14th Nov 2008

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For those with a firm constitution, a stunning new mincemeat shocker awaits your intrepid glance over on the Readers Pies page.


Before you dash off though, stay for this mornings review. The Co-operative supermarket has provided much to cherish throughout the ages, from dividends to pre-internet social networking sites for the elderly. We find their luxury range under scrutiny today. Never having troubled the end of season Pie-Offs, can these all butter six reverse their fortunes?
 Co-op All Butter Mince Pie  The Purple Box
Co-op All Butter Mince Pie The Purple Box
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Co-op All Butter Mince Pies 19th Oct 2008 £1.59 6
Container Style
Three pies are exposed by the familiar visor window pane beneath a top corner crumbshot. Sensibly, we have seen the last of their dazzling pile up style stack from 2007, and five happy pies are pictured intact.
White plastic inner tray (bagged).
Appearance Marks out of 25
The massive holly leaf motif dominates a smooth and well-sugared lid. Twee fluted edges on the generous overhang has felt the oppression of oven heat more than usual, given its rich tan. Not the tallest, but acceptably so. 18
Pastry Marks out of 25
From the very moment of first tooth contact, my mouth screams out for salvation after the shock of damp yet cloying crust work from this pastry menace. I can clearly make out a depth inconsistency around the sides, which speaks of a loveless constructor. At the time of writing, no flavours were available for comment. 13
Filling Marks out of 25
In contrast, the mincemeat appears to be the product of a joyous union betwixt apples and sultanas. Plenty of large fruit pieces jut from the rich paste, along with their seasonal allies nibbed almonds. The chew delivers a nutty apple crunch, but very little in the way of a brandy belt. So far, no reappearance of the grit from 2007. Well done. 19
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
When taken as a whole, the cuteness of the lumpy paste is buried deep under the clag of wet newspaper from the surrounding taste-free prison walls. Hopefully, by 2009 this cheeky filler may be lucky enough to move into better accommodation, should it secure the services of Barry Georges legal team. 16
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, East Midlands Marks out of 25
A shabby affair. The pies sit in an unlovely box, as if their parents dont expect much of them. And theyre right not to. Biting into the pastry is rather like biting into a large dry Alkazeltzer tablet. All that can be said about the filling is that its tasteless. An improvement on the pastry. I feel sorry for these pies, but I felt most sorry for myself eating one. We both deserved better. 7
Total Marks 73
Any Other Business To pick up on one specific nut term used above, nibbed almonds are tiny cubed and skinned bits. You might like to ask your tattooed ice-cream vendor for nibbed nuts next time you order a cornet.
Particularly if you enjoy verbal abuse.
Date Added 13th Nov 2008

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Morrisons of Bradford make their first appearance of the season today. Yes, Morrisons. I thought the of Bradford bit might add a touch of class to an often misunderstood northern grandad.


I think youll find this deep filled veteran similarly open to interpretation. Hopefully, this review will lead you to the conclusion that its useful to have two perspectives on each contender.
 Morrisons Deep Filled Mince Pie  Blair Witch Pie Set
Morrisons Deep Filled Mince Pie Blair Witch Pie Set
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Morrisons Deep Filled Mince Pies 13th Oct 2008 £1.19 6
Container Style
Somehow, in a busy pie lab somewhere, a team of honest Yorkshiremen has combined mistletoe, glitter, fir trees and the colour purple to produce a cardboard Halloween spookfest, which must have come as a surprise to all concerned. Lost in the woods, the crumbshot victim has been torn in two, exposing what looks like sultana lungs. Theres no way back from that.
Red plastic inner tray (bagless).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Brazenly wavey around the rim, this well-browned gent peers down on his stumpier brethren. Hosts of sparkling sugar crystals gather in every deep ripple. One leaf battles three berries for the holly motif atop. 19
Pastry Marks out of 25
Happily, the Bradford craftsmen have improved upon 2007s powder puff nightmare, and introduced enough fat to provide a satisfying chew. Plus, an uncommon earthiness abounds, despite the odd pile of sugar. 19
Filling Marks out of 25
My pre-bite nerves are allayed by what looks like a vine fruit merry-go-round sitting in a shroud of Christmas jam. Unfortunately, the internal cracks of a dental AK-47 going off burst my bubble. The crunchy horror gives way to a lengthy and sloppy grind. Each raisin, currant and sultana yields only a slight glimmer of hope before the tasteless paste pushes in to rinse away their chances. Woeful. 12
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
I believe Morrisons have underestimated how tiresome it can become when each bite starts with a crack as you come up against stiff viney resistance. If your enamel is anywhere near as thin as my own, I would urge extreme caution, and frankly, with such a lack of reward to the brave gobbler, this pie is for the reckless and/or desperate. 13
Second Opinion - Jon Callow, Bolton, Lancs Marks out of 25
Mozzas branding boffins may have upset the traditionalists with their chromatic meddling, but the boys in the bakery have kept their collective eye on the ball amid the controversy. Theirs is a good-looking pie whose soft, light pastry belies its sturdy appearance and whose filling is hard to fault given the constraints of red box cuisine, the usual fruity constituents unexpectedly underpinned by a pleasing apricot tang. If the basics are anything to go by, flagship offering The Best could prove a serious contender come the post-season. 18
Total Marks 81
Any Other Business If my memory serves, I think that this is my first experience of the keep flat symbol, as sported by the box cover. Not sure that the design will make the request clear to those unable to read the explanation beneath. Other interpretations could be, consume only on public transport or squeeze hard above and below to open.
Date Added 12th Nov 2008

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Hello and welcome to any of The Independents readership that have come aboard for our cruise through an ocean of mass-produced mincemeat treats. If you're here on the promise of graphic crumbshots, hopefully todays snap will provide enough encouragement for you to stick around.


Anyway. We dip our toe into the most expensive range M&S have to offer Chesterfield today. They may have stopped the husky voiced food seduction adverts, but this range is the cardboard embodiment of that sultry schtick.


So, lets find out if its going to be post-turkey heartbreak for Margo and Jerry Leadbetter this time out with M&S Connoisseur
 M&S Connoisseur MP  Tanned box
M&S Connoisseur MP Tanned box
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
M&S Connoisseur All Butter Mince Pies 15th Oct 2008 £2.99 6
Container Style
A new direction for their connoisseur elite. Out goes the shiny golden cardboard to be replaced by matt tones a deep gold everywhere except the leather-look frontage. The viewing window has reduced to a sleek visor introducing a full row of three. These are so posh that they dont tell you what they are. You have to pick up the box and scrutinise the underside. The mysterious Connoisseur motif is all that accompanies the smooth plastic pane atop.
Black plastic inner tray (bagless).
Appearance Marks out of 25
Another redesign for the pie itself. 2007s cog-toothed edges and pudding bowl sides have been deemed too common. In order to stand out from its Luxury and Classic ranges, this Toff has the slickly smart rim of a pre-crunch stockbroker. The star motif is the only survivor in this new world order. Not sure Im in favour of the new straight sides, and the smooth lid is massively controversial. 20
Pastry Marks out of 25
Certainly a pleasant biscuit appearance and no immediate collapse upon moderate finger pressure. A delicate sweetness sits upon the tongue in the aftermath of minimal chewing. Im trying not to get excited. 22
Filling Marks out of 25
Visually stunning. My salivation hits dangerous levels at the sight of all those finely chopped nuts and apricots in amongst the usual vine suspects. As you may imagine, these extra flair players lead to a more diverse grind mid-chew. The texture is hard to concentrate on, however, as the VS Cognac occupies much of my imagination. With eyes blurring over, I cant see my sideboard anymore, its turned into the bar of a classy hotel, and Im sipping from a outlandishly sized brandy balloon by a roaring fire. Wonderfully, the liquor flavours have developed without attacking the back of the throat. Much improved. 23
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Dont get me wrong, you definitely know that these fellows have turned up a bit tipsy, but you can excuse them, given their debonair demeanour.
The filling has found a very competitive blend this time out, and the pastry construction has benefited from better festive engineering.
22
Second Opinion - Mrs. Cooper, Derbyshire Marks out of 25
As I bite into a raisin, there is an atomic bomb explosion of booze that bursts to the very depths of my gob and then gradually infiltrates the walls of my cheeks and into my tongue and tonsils. Happily, a nuclear winter does not follow. Overall, rather yum. 20
Total Marks 107
Any Other Business This is the highest total weve had since the 2006 competition, when Connoisseur topped the group stage scoring but couldnt handle the pressurised knock-out stage. Will they get the chance to rebuild their reputation this December?
Date Added 11th Nov 2008

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Last week, the Press informed us that mince pie sales are up 27% on the same time last year. Given that Im virtually the only person in Britain to be buying them in September/October, perhaps Ive got a bit ahead of myself. The cupboard piled high with six-man Christmas hit squads waiting to be scrutinised tells the story of Rain Man levels of thoroughness.


Today we have Lyons available at Somerfield mostly, and did you miss Sundays Mr Kipling review? Even I was surprised at a Sunday posting, so dont beat yourself up.
 Spare hapenny govnor?   Lyons Mince Pies
Spare hapenny govnor? Lyons Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Lyons Mince Pies 29th Oct 2008 £0.85 6
Container Style
Theyve had some decent people in to retune their box this year. Out has gone Baking cakes for 100 years, and in comes 100 Years of Cake as the battle cry beneath the jazzed up brand name (now with added heart). We are afforded yet more hearts as the playful snowman thinks loving thoughts about mince pies. Amazingly, the frost apologist conjures up a crumbshot so similar to 2007s that only the most eagle-eyed can spot the difference (rejigged raisin/sultana formation).
Red plastic bagless inner tray.
Appearance Marks out of 25
A taller, slimmer pie than in the crumbshot confronts me. The wrinkled lid sports only sporadic sugaring (crystalised) as it sits below a high rim, itself sporting unconvincing spikes. 14
Pastry Marks out of 25
Explosively brittle walls crumble upon the deftest lift and nibble. The particles that make it through my lips dissolve immediately to leave me awash with biscuity saliva. It seems that the improvements have been limited to include only the box design. Unfortunately, those pretty pictures cant rescue this irresponsible baking. 15
Filling Marks out of 25
What little there is, holds my attention by displaying knowledge of tang dynamics. Candied peel throws its weight around to boss the other flavour streams (apple, sultana), while the apricot mulch holds everything together with fruity effectiveness. 18
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
With so little of that creative filling to influence the mid-chew, all joy is lost under a saturating wave of disinterested pastry. Maybe this was the style of 1908, but 100 years later we expect more. 15
Second Opinion - Dr S Lillywhite, Derbyshire Marks out of 25
This is vile. I had to spit it out. If you cant get it down your throat, is it really a pie? Very much like trying to eat a chemistry lab buried in a tub of Stork magazine. 0
Total Marks 62
Any Other Business Lyons devote a corner of the box to hark back to a bygone time when people found time to relax with a good cup of tea and a slice of cake. They go on to demand we ..pop the kettle on and enjoy some cake and a cuppa. Should I have binned these pies and nipped back for some Battenberg slices instead?
Date Added 10th Nov 2008

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Having received my haughty missive last yuletide, todays team Mr Kipling have smartened their act somewhat. I cant claim all the credit for them finally changing the crumbshot, but my pointing out their slack marketing must have rocked them to their very foundations (I assume). 2007s promise of a refund if not convinced of their best ever effort has been consigned to the dusty pages of the pie history books. Will todays entry join them in those festive annals, perhaps upon the oft-thumbed winners page?
 Ruddy hard?  Mr Kipling Mince Pies
Ruddy hard? Mr Kipling Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Mr Kipling Mince Pies 4th Oct 2008 £1.49 8
Container Style
The green baize edgings from 2007 have been dispensed with, allowing a red and gold explosion, complete with streamers and table stars. The office party theme is thickened by an 8 for 6 deal the equivalent of that cherished/abused free bar phenomenon.
Thankfully, they have changed the crumbshot at long last, although the desire to shock remains. Bloody entrails spill from a gaping wound that the pie watching on will try hard to forget.
Black plastic bagless inner tray.
Appearance Marks out of 25
What would be a smooth and sugary lid has suffered from widespread splitting around the darkened rim. This muffin trait adds a home-made feel, but is badly let down by the Christmas Tree motif atop. Every home baker would spot the obvious road-kill appearance why cant Kiplings men? 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
From powdery edgings to chewy sides, this pie manages to display everything except proficiency. What flavour there is, doesnt enrage or excite the senses. Uninspiring but not distressing. 16
Filling Marks out of 25
Meagre and multi-coloured block of fruits, like a tiny Rubiks Cube in many shades of 1970s brown. They have rid themselves of the extra currants that ruined their 2007 competition, and the traditionally strong Bramley apple tang has taken its chance to burst through, dragging the other fruits with it to achieve a modicum of good cheer. The last few moments of mastication are sullied by tough vine scraps. 17
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
The full bite provides an abundance of pastry (the sides are 6mm thick in places) and little of that jolly new filler. Those chewy sides bully the more lightweight, almost ethereal tangy paste. Certainly better than their entrant last year, but still way off the festive pace. 17
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, East Midlands Marks out of 25
This happy little fella calls forth a chorus of yuletide yums. Its all in the pastry, which has warmth and buttery depth. The filling is discovered deep within and it resists the cheap temptations of tartness, confident enough to be subtle. A winning combination that allows for high consumption-to-feeling-sick ratio. 19
Total Marks 85
Any Other Business If my maths is correct, given last years six cost 1.35, the new price of 1.49 would be the price of 6.62. My assumptions include a 0% inflation rate which might enrage the purists.
Date Added 9th Nov 2008

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Todays entrant, M&S Deep Fill, has a real Pie Club pedigree. Having won this competition in 2005 and 2006, last year they finished as runners-up to the virtual unknown Somerfield Best Ever.


However, they are no longer described as Classic mince pies and have fallen in line with other red box versions to emerge as Deep Fill. What else can I expect to have changed from its near perfection of recent years?
 Our man in Venice  M&S Deep Fill Mince Pies
Our man in Venice M&S Deep Fill Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Marks & Spencer Deep Filled Mince Pies 23rd Oct 2008 £1.59 6
Container Style
Desperate to win its title back from the Somerfield interrupter of 2007, M&S have ditched the plain white plate in favour of a luscious red platter partnered with what looks like a full six inches of berry. Plenty of pies cram into the lacklustre crumbshot, with one bitten (but not oozing) front man atop a neatly stacked colleague.
Red plastic bagless inner tray.
Appearance Marks out of 25
To my mind, the single punched pie hole through this undulating lid is a break with tradition. Theyve survived without an airhole for Christmas past, but clearly wish to breathe life into their 2008 challenge. The jury is still out, for me, but matters are not helped by the sallowness of the complexion and some scruffy cog wheeling at the rim. Lots of large sugar crystals for adornment. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Pleasingly short, without tumbling into fragility. Perhaps slightly lacking their familiar healthy spice levels, but the void is not filled by anything problematic. Those big sugar crystals atop present the only challenge to a velvety oral surrender. 18
Filling Marks out of 25
The black and tan melee is disturbed by apple chunks and vegetable suet, visually. However upon chew, a greater impact upon the sultana/currant mainstay is made by a clove-led spice force. This invading force occupies every territory of chew, and lasts until well after the firm fruits have yielded then been whisked off to the internment of my spare tyre. 21
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
With much gusto in the spicy filling, the neutrality of the pastry case acts as a welcome moderator to even this hearty experience. The joy of a comprehensively mulled wine is eventually brought to mind, and perhaps should accompany any event employing these past masters. 21
Second Opinion - Robert Meakin, Derbyshire Marks out of 25
The look of this pie is sturdy. Nothing avant-garde or special, save for the Kirk Douglas dimple on the pastry top. Pastry is soft and crumbles nicely and the filling very fine and fruity. Its called a classic, which is the right name. Everything is classical, including the music in my ears as I was eating it.
Is there a criticism? Perhaps, its beauties are a little mechanical. Old school. Pre-68. But an actual contender, never-the-less. A heavy hitter.
21
Total Marks 98
Any Other Business Marks & Spencer helpfully print the story of mince pies on each box. They remind us that its customary to make a wish as you eat your first of the season. Hope Ive caught you in time!


I wished for a chocolate Kerplunk.
Date Added 7th Nov 2008

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We are back again, with empty plates and empty pages, ready to fill everywhere with the joy that mince pies can bring to this special time of year. Will we have another first time winner or will one of the old masters sparkle back to form? I hope that you can stay for the exhilarating and fruity ride, and the priceless reward of cutting edge mincemeat knowledge.

The honour of kicking things off this season goes to the little Holmfield Bakery crew from Derbyshire. Hailing from a windswept trading estate on the edge of Buxton/reason, we find their comestibles in a multitude of buying arenas from petrol stations to garden centres. Lets find out if this previously paltry contender can hit its stride in 2008.
 Pie Venn  Holmfield Bakery Mince Pies
Pie Venn Holmfield Bakery Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Holmfield Bakery Mince Pies 8th Oct 2008 £1.75 6
Container Style
Red and gold cellophane sleeve around a two-layer clear plastic tray system. The crumbshot is neat and tidy, if a little lacking in adventure. In previous years we have been treated to images of ingredients, piled high before entering the factory process, but no such extras reward my eager gaze. Instead, a window allows me the opportunity to compare the sheathed offerings to the cleaved lead on the cover.
Appearance Marks out of 25
As low as a tart but with pie breadth, Im concerned that Holmfield may struggle to deliver felicity in enough volume with such a modest disc. Looks to have been baked effectively, given the darkened rim. Although, a discoloured patch where a motif should lay is a further worry. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
On the plate-to-mouth lift Im startled by the absence of all weight. Scales confirm that this slim contender weighs in at 40g, which is less than four walnuts (unshelled). The bite is soggy with a hint of stale sponge cake a massive swing from last years unnatural crunch. 12
Filling Marks out of 25
Terrifyingly, the truth behind the featherweight lift is that theyve nearly missed altogether with the inners. A hearty teaspoon is how much they value your Christmas fun this year. After a deep breath, I find that tart apple sludge is the only consideration in this pitiful drip. 10
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Oh dear me. Legend has it that somewhere in New Mexico, countless unsold copies of Ataris ruinous E.T. console game are buried deep beneath the desert. I suggest that someone sets to work digging every last one up, tipping the entire production run of Holmfield pies to the very bottom, and then reburying the unplayable cartridges atop. Its common sense really. 10
Second Opinion - Andy Fox, Process Metallurgist, Derbyshire Marks out of 25
First impression was that it looked a bit shallow. I thought the pastry base was quite thick and nicely cooked leaving it a nice crumbly consistency though I found the lid was a bit thin and dry. There wasnt a lot of filling and it was pretty mild.
Overall there was too much pastry compared to the amount of filling.
8
Total Marks 56
Any Other Business As these miscreants were purchased from a salubrious garden centre, Im guessing therell be more than a few long faces from the green welly brigade. Or longer than usual anyway.
Date Added 6th Nov 2008

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