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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



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.
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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