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...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 from the group stages league table.

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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



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.
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.
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!).
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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