pie club

...mince pie mayhem

 

Pie Club 2009

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 2009

With PC retired, the 2007 champions in liquidation, and seasoned commentators like Meakin and Wilson replaced by a whole host of rookie tasters, 2009 has been a difficult year for Pie Club. Pies proved particularly hard to come by at times, too, but I'd like to think we've made a fair stab at things by getting through 23 of them.

It's crunch time now, though, with the top four from the group stages thrown into no-holds-barred pie-on-pie combat.

Welcome to the Pie-Offs

The semi final line-up was finalised shortly before two o clock on December 17th, with confirmed sceptic Geraldine Glendon drawing the home pies and a nonplussed Amy Madden drawing the away pies.

Here's how it's going to go down:


M&S Deep Filled versus Selfridges

M & S Connoisseur versus Walkers Glenfiddich

Each tie is decided by a panel of three, who each vote for their favourite by secret ballot.

The Grand Final 2009


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

Tuesday 22nd December 2009

Pie Club convenes for the last time this year to once again pass judgement on Marks and Spencer, who supply both finalists for the second year in a row. Girding their loins for one more big push are JC of Pie Club, Michelle Allbright of Hampshire and Chris Tighe of Chadderton.

Let Pie commence!

First Bite:

These two might come from the same prestigious roster but there isn't so much as a nod of recognition between them as they emerge into the bright December sunlight with blinking eyes firmly on the prize.
MSD are up first, as reliable a herald of Christmas as advent calendars or the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. They're straight in with the short pastry and the sweet zesty filling, augmenting those familiar flavours with an early shot of clove. CON nods on landing at the first hurdle, throwing all the shapes that got it here in the first place but surprising a couple of the panellists with a short measure of filling.
MSD 1, CON 0

Second Bite:

More of the same from MSD sweet, sweet fruits and the tang of citrus with cloves dominating the spicing. This pie has a tried and trusted formula for success and it's sticking to it. CON recovers its equilibrium a bit after that first bite stumble and puts on a fine booze-warmed chew to balance the crisp butter pastry. It's a battle and a half, this one.
MSD 1, CON 1

Final Bites:

The final bites of the season will determine which of these class acts emerges as the winner of Pie Club 2009.
MSD suffered a near catastrophe of pastry engineering in the group stages but had enough class and experience to ensure its classic credentials were once again showcased in the latter stages of the competition. CON, meanwhile, has emerged as a worthy rival to the old favourite, almost arrogantly reinventing itself after last year's success and yet still thrilling onlookers with its good looks and showmanship.

It all comes down to this

It's a cracker Remarked Chris Tighe, coming over all Frank Carson amid the tension.

With its perfect pastry belying its looks and the boozy temperament flawlessly cohering with vine fruits, citrus and spices what I mean to say is YUM!, waxes Allbright, giddily.

Towers above its rivals both physically and metaphorically. And drinks them under the table as well. What a pie!, babbles JC.

Many would suggest there was an air of inevitability about it from the off, but the simple fact is, this is one hell of a pie, as

holds sway for the second year running. We can only imagine what form this pastry changeling will take this time next year.

A massive thank you to Simon Wilson, whose infinitely superior grasp of modern technology enables Pie Club to steer clear of deforestation controversy. Big thanks, too, to PC, whose warped mind and long afternoons in the office got the whole shebang underway some ten years ago. And thanks to the myriad of debutant second opinioners (Tighe, Kinsey, Allbright, Lau, Holland, Joynt, probably a couple more I've overlooked), whose combination of bewilderment, gusto and iron constitution proved invaluable during the course of the season.

Have a cracking Christmas and a very good do in 2010.

All the best.

JC




Semi Final Two


M & S Connoisseur (CON) v Walkers Glenfiddich (FID)

Monday, 21st December 2009

Once again, a panel of three sit - separating the crme from the crme today are JC of Pie Club, Brighty of Bishop's Waltham and Bob Allbright of Portchester.

After a spectacular performance in qualifying, will new look 2008 champion M & S Connoisseur have enough in reserve to see off the challenge of this pugnacious border raider? Whatever the outcome, a proper boozy do looks on the cards.


First Bite:

Early problems for the champ as the lid of one pie comes clean off during the extraction process. Recovery is swift, however, as the crisp, sun-kissed outer shell gives way to a luxurious, booze-soaked, filling. Meanwhile, across the border, whisky is dominating proceedings, permeating the thick buttery crust and reducing the dry fruit's role to that of hapless bystander.



Second Bite:

Buoyed by such a promising opening bite, CON piles on the pressure. The pastry is incredible and Christmas flavours abound in this stunning chew. FID isn't for lying down, though, with the powerful whisky blast settling down mid-pie to allow the vine fruits a chance to shine. The drier filling isn't for everyone but it's putting up a hell of a show going into the final bites.



Final Bites:

CON keeps the heat up to the end, throwing nuts into an otherwise moist mix and wrapping things up with a flourish, with a smooth brandy and port finish that lingers long after the pie is over. FID isnae going away, though, with candied peel adding some much needed zing to the chew and ginger coming in to form a classic union with the whisky. This could be close.


Not a foregone conclusion, then, but M&S Connoisseur keeps hopes of a second successive title alive, going through 2-1 after a valiant effort from the Jocks, whose contribution to the semi finals was summed up by one panellist as whisky whisky pastry pastry fruity whisky whisky.

A tad uncharitable, perhaps, but the Glenfiddichs certainly came off second best in the battle of the booze, and Walkers will doubtless be disappointed to find their much-lauded pastry deemed equally culpable for this defeat.

A bit less of both next year could easily garner further improvement for this progressive pie.

So that's that, then. An all Magic and Sparkle final for the second year running, with current incumbents M&S Connoisseur putting its title on the line against store colleague M&S Deep Filled, whose pedigree suggests nobody will dare put the ribbons on the trophy until the last crumb is cleared from the plate.

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Semi Final One


M&S Deep Filled (MSD) v Selfridges (SEL)

Friday, 18th December 2009.

Today's panel is made up of JC of Pie Club, Dave Kinsey of Wigan and Michelle Allbright of Hampshire.

It'd be hard to find two more contrasting performers for our first semi final. Tee-total two-time champion M & S Deep puts age and experience on the line against the boozed-up precocity of controversial newcomer Selfridges. The timeless struggle between pie and cake has come down to this.

First Bite:

Not much between the two early doors. MSD looks calm and assured with a seen-it-all-before swagger - crystallised sugar and a firm, buttery crust give way to sweet, zestful, juicy fruits. SEL's opening gambit is a strong one, too, however, sending in dense almond cakiness and lashings of butter in a spirited response. It's very much chalk and cheese here, ladies and gentlemen.

Second Bite:

MSD is relentless in its attack, pushing on with more of the same and playing up its classic credentials with nuts and a short burst of festive spice. To its credit, SEL is undeterred, playing the cherry bakewell card early and coming over all moreish and melt-in-the-mouth.

Final Bites:

MSD knows its strengths and maxes them up big time, giving its sizeable fruits their head before bringing them home with a couple of smacks of clove. SEL is starting to feel the pace after looking dangerous coming off the back straight, with the cakery starting to clag, the almond sweetness wearing thin and the filling still struggling to make a meaningful impression on proceedings.

A comfortable 3-0 success sees M&S Deep Filled move ominously into the final.

A plucky debut effort for today's loser, whose modern take on a traditional theme just didn't have the legs to see off the challenge of such a seasoned veteran.

With Walkers Glenfiddich finally in the cupboard after a shortage scare threatened to scupper their Pie Off appearance, the second semi final will take place tomorrow.

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Pie reviews - group stages


After more than a month of near-solid pie consumption I fear I may have become a shortcrust version of Flint Marko. Thankfully, Pie-Offs aside, this is my last one. Selfridges' debut appearance is almost certain to spark outrage among purists but the big question is whether Pie Club funds will run to a second box should they secure a place in the Post Season.
 Ker-CHING!  Selfridges Mince Pies
Ker-CHING! Selfridges Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Selfridges 15th Dec 2009 £5.99 6
Container Style
Selfridges has eschewed traditional packaging conventions to present their product in stylish clear plastic, with a slim yellow sleeve lending credence to the theory that these are indeed pies, not sushi.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Pleasantly golden and generously sugared, with more than enough airholes to suggest OCD is rife in the Selfridges bakery. Weirdly, they have a look of savoiardi biscuits. Quite small, but very, very pretty. 19
Pastry Marks out of 25
This is no run-of-the-mill festive crust by anyone's standards. The buttery notes are lovely and there's a hint of booze and the merest suggestion of spice, but there's something else here that just isn't making sense. My eyes say "pie" but my mouth bellows "almond slice". Toto, I have the feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. 21
Filling Marks out of 25
Vine fruits and candied peel come together in a glossy, pale brown paste shot through with brandy and citrus and gently spiced with cloves and cinnamon. It's spread a bit thin and there's not much chewing required, but it turns out this is very much a utilitarian filling 16
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
As a rule, pies dominated by their pastry fall by the wayside fairly quickly. That's because Pie Club has never seen pastry quite like this before. Taking inspiration from the Bakewell Tart, this "pie" actually benefits from its paucity of filling, which allows almond to lead the understated festive flavours on a giddy waltz around the tastebuds. Is it pie or cake? It'll cost you six quid to find out. 21
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Bishop's Waltham Marks out of 25
The carton alone is a work of minimalist modern art, with the traditional cardboard box cast aside for a sexy sheer look. Here the pies are their own PR, showing off their perfectly sun-kissed curves through the transparent casing. And it seems to work, or maybe I'm just shallow. For Selfridges it seems image is everything and, visually at least, this elevates these pies to a whole new stratosphere. But everyone knows that, with a mince pie, it is how it tastes which is of the essence. And did they tantalise the tastebuds as much as they teased the eye? "Well um yes, sort of", is the answer. Once released from its shiny enclave, the pie glistened with a frosted sugary crust. Amaretto biscuits momentarily sprang to mind, but the ring of sleigh bells and carollers in my head (no, no - I mean on the TV) brought thoughts of Christmas mirth and myrrh back to the forefront of my mind. And mincemeat. But as I chewed through the delicious soft cakeyness of the pie the mincemeat remained strangely elusive. I know it was there, immersed within the crumbly confines of this enjoyable treat, but it was impossible to discern any of the principal characters I would hope to meet in this brief and weirdly Mediterranean encounter. The overriding presence of almond that pervaded throughout further compounded my sense that this was not a mince pie I was scoffing but a distant Italian cousin. No less pleasurable, but when you are expecting Santa to visit and you get the Holiday Armadillo I don't know, something feels weirdly amiss. Or maybe it's an appealing alternative. 20
Total Marks 97
Any Other Business With late lunges in the final strides leaving Morrisons' rags-to-riches dream in tatters, the 2009 Pie-Offs will see reigning champions M & S Connoisseur defend their title against Walkers Glenfiddich, newcomers Selfridges and perennial favourites M & S Deep Filled. Christ, it's going to be like mince pie Monte Carlo.
Date Added 17th Dec 2009

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Rentokil have been baiting up the office this week following a rodent infestation caused by numpties leaving food in their desks. Now I have an image in my head of mice in party hats having it large with the plethora of mince pies in my bottom drawer.


Fortunately, this batch proved too rich, even for their tastes.
 It's a pie, Mrs Walker, it's a pie...  Walkers Boozy Do
It's a pie, Mrs Walker, it's a pie... Walkers Boozy Do
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Walkers Glenfiddich Luxury Mincemeat Tarts 16th Dec 2009 £3.69 6
Container Style
Exactly the sort of presentation box you'd hope to see at Christmas, though you'd expect to find a half bottle of booze and a couple of glasses when you opened it. As black as you like, with the Glenfiddich stag putting in multiple appearances and the crumbshot restricted to a thumbnail stage left. Interestingly, Walkers maintain a low profile, even on their own box.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Tall, blond, broad-shouldered and Scottish - Colin Hendry, then, except with three holes and a drift of sugar. The cogging is deep and meaningful and the lid has that tell-tale Walkers overhang that all but begs a precursory nibble. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Walkers appear to have done away with water altogether here, glugging in the whisky with gay abandon instead. Butter still comes through strong, mind and, while the pastry isn't quite so biscuity as weve come to expect down the years, it's still a million miles away from cloy. 18
Filling Marks out of 25
With apple paste desperately short staffed behind the bar it looks like it could be a dry night, but there's a rewarding chew here for the patient reveller. A large party of vine fruits makes itself heard above the low hum of whisky and the zingy clamour of candied peel, while ginger's voice echoes round the palate long after the pie has closed for the evening. 19
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Sturdy and ginger with whisky heavy on its breath, this pie is only a sporran and a failed World Cup qualifying campaign away from being your stereotype Jock. Quite possibly Scotland's finest export since Andy Walker. 19
Second Opinion - Edd Lodder, Prenton Park Marks out of 25
A sturdy, solid-looking pie that doesn't fall apart in your hand after the first bite. The whisky taste is unusual but not overbearing, allowing the flavours of the pastry and the fruity filling to come through. The box looks cool as well! Best enjoyed with a good single malt on a cold winter's night. 23
Total Marks 96
Any Other Business The Free Online Dictionary defines a tart as "a pastry shell with shallow sides, no top crust, and any of various fillings", while a pie is defined as "a baked food composed of a pastry shell filled with fruit, meat, cheese, or other ingredients, and usually covered with a pastry crust".


Think on in future, Walkers.
Date Added 16th Dec 2009

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I've been in three Somerfields this weekend and they had Co-op mince pies in all of them. The Co-op would appear to have been a bit daft, standing by their own range of seasonal underachievers and consigning the 2007 champions to the Pie Club history books. In their absence, here's another stab at glory from Sainsbury's.


Lest we forget.
 Pie Hard  Sainsbury's Organic
Pie Hard Sainsbury's Organic
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Sainsbury's Organic 11th Dec 2009 £1.99 4
Container Style
No-nonsense British racing green with a half-hearted attempt at some design jiggery-pokery to the right and the trademark Sainsbury's ribbon to the left. The crumbshot shows a cross section of what appears to be a painstakingly reconstructed model of last year's entry.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Smooth, sugar-free and pallid almost to the point of veganism, though stocky enough to suggest it's been sneaking the odd sausage here and there while nobody is looking. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Though a determined scout around the box turns up nothing by way of evidence, you'd be putting money on Walkers having their fingers in this pie. Short and biscuity with plenty of butter and an aftertaste that has you up all night trying to figure out if you like it or not. 17
Filling Marks out of 25
A negligible quantity of binding apricot jam means most of this mob are recognisable on sight. Raisins nestle shyly in the corner, currants bounce about all over the shop making a nuisance of themselves, and sultanas stride around like they own the gaff. The warming influence of coriander and brandy is more than welcome, though the repeated crack of pip and stalk most certainly is not. 18
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
The 'Organic' tag is usually enough to strike fear into the heart of the pie enthusiast but these fair better than most. The crisp, buttery bite of the pastry gives way to a dry but flavoursome chew - these could have mounted an unlikely Pie-Off challenge had it not been for my fear of dentists. 18
Second Opinion - Brighty, Hants Marks out of 25
Despite a season of either dry or nondescript pastry, and fillings so sweet they made you fear a filling, I embarked upon this pie with a sense of optimism. The pie was a tidy construction with a pale winter pallor. A bit of festive frost would have been nice. Faced with an underwhelming pastry and with not a hint of sugar glistening on its surface to stir the taste buds, I took my first bite. I was pleasantly surprised. The filling was rich and succulent and in the very small space between bite, gulp and next bite, a medley of spices ricocheted around my gob. One final clove note echoed long after the rest and I eagerly delved in for more. Bizarrely, a hint of banana seemed afloat somewhere within the balance and form. Like Joe McElderry's mysterious X-factor, it's something I just can't explain, but I found its tropical introduction quite appealing. However, it was very subtle and maybe I had been drinking. It is yuletide after all. SO, whilst not an orgasmic experience, this organic pie left me feeling festively fruity. 18
Total Marks 87
Any Other Business Apparently salt is an acceptable non-organic inclusion in organic produce.


The hours fly by here.
Date Added 15th Dec 2009

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I love the smell of mince pie in the morning as much as the next man, but these soldiers were standing by their beds ready for inspection at half past bloody seven! Still, my digestive system is on 24-hour stand-by throughout December so I'm sure I'll cope manfully with any resultant intestinal ravages.
 That's Asda pies  Asda Mince Pies
That's Asda pies Asda Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Asda Mince Pies 12th Oct 2009 £0.88 6
Container Style
Oh my, this is a bleak do. The power is off and the clotted cream accompanying the lead pie looks to have suffered accordingly. Still, the candlelight carries at least a whiff of festive romance and the whist pies in the background will go down a treat on Boxing Day. Red plastic inner, bagged.
Appearance Marks out of 25
As small as you'd expect for a 15p pie. The lop-sided, sunken lid does little to keep the "perfectly formed" end of the bargain despite the twinkling Star of Bethlehem and an attractive golden rim. 14
Pastry Marks out of 25
Short and sweet, like Shakira only less annoying. Nothing to write home about, but certainly nothing to write to Asda Refunds Department about, either. 15
Filling Marks out of 25
Universally brown, with only the biggest sultanas recognisable after what must have been a nuclear pureeing process. Orange and apricot are the cockroaches, thriving amid the devastation as cinnamon and ginger cling on grimly to what's left of their lives. 14
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Though price remains a Pie Club irrelevance it's hard to be too critical of these reddest of red boxers. There's plenty of scope for improvement but you wouldn't be crossing folk off your Christmas card list if they were to foist one upon you in the build-up to the big day. 15
Second Opinion - Steve Holland, Wigan Marks out of 25
Presentation was pleasing, with pastry lightly browned on top and including a pleasant surface design/decal. On tasting, pastry felt medium to light with a good moisture content - not too hard or soft with good but not overpowering taste. The amount of fruit in the pie was just about right as it blended well with the pastry to create a pleasing taste. The fruit itself was very tasty and left a pleasant zesty, spicy aftertaste. Overall the experience was good and I would have eaten another one. 22
Total Marks 80
Any Other Business We''ll have to get Steve to sample some of the big hitters, I think.


Frame of reference has been a real issue this season.
Date Added 10th Dec 2009

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As indigestion and chronic pastry fatigue start to take their toll we turn to 2007 Pie-Offists Morrisons The Best, whose boxwork was the stuff of legend until their controversial switch to greener hues in 2008. Will the wares within bring similar disappointment or will 2009 finally see the Bradford boys fulfill their promise?
 CHERRY ALERT!  Morrisons The Best
CHERRY ALERT! Morrisons The Best
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Morrisons The Best Deep Filled 7th Dec 2009 £1.69 6
Container Style
As unnecessarily gory as ever. With unexploded dynamite just inches away, two pies cower in resigned horror as their recently exploded chum offers a graphic preview of their inevitable fate. Four pies peer through the viewing window from an unbagged black plastic inner.
Appearance Marks out of 25
A belated first appearance of the season for the snowflake motif. Lightly sugared and gently cogged, this well proportioned pie is easy on the eye despite rocking a disturbingly wholemeal appearance. 18
Pastry Marks out of 25
In the days when football teams were still allowed a luxury player or two there were midfielders who went quietly about their business without ever getting the credit they deserved, combining hard work and no little skill to give the playmakers a platform on which to perform. This, then, is the pastry version of Stefan Schwarz and Neil Maddison, supplying quality without stealing focus from the main event. Short almost to the point of fragility but just about thick enough to get away with it, with buttery notes and an understated sweetness that put it head and shoulders above many rivals in what has been something of an annus horribilis for pastry. 19
Filling Marks out of 25
Big, bold fruits and candied peel slosh about happily in the dark ooze as the tang of citrus and warmth of a two-pronged booze attack tussle playfully for supremacy. The woody bittersweetness of walnut cuts thrillingly through the gentle spicing and there's even the all-too-rare glint of glace cherry to really get the pulse racing. 19
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
A strong showing from Yorkshire's finest, tempered only by a slightly disappointing air-to-innard ratio and the vague post-pie notion that you were mainlining Refreshers twenty minutes earlier. And that's nothing a decent brew won't sort out. 19
Second Opinion - Dave Kinsey, Wigan Marks out of 25
High-domed sugar-coated snowflake top to typical deep-filled pie with pale wholemeal colour. Crisp, crumbly lid with solid body and basic shortcrust base is nothing special, or odd. The filling gave off little or no inviting smell of spirit and the pie was half full of glossy jelly containing mostly sultanas. Adequate but not luxury. 17
Total Marks 92
Any Other Business According to the font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, Morrisons ad man Richard Hammond owns five dogs, four horses, three cats, a duck, and a few chickens and sheep. He'll be spoiled for choice come Christmas dinner.
Date Added 9th Dec 2009

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Since today is Amir Khan's 23rd birthday it seems only fitting to turn the spotlight onto another of Bolton's champions, 1999's inaugural Pie Club winners Greenhalgh's. Pie has moved at such a pace since then that Greenhalgh's have been left out of calculations altogether in recent years, but 2009 sees them re-enter the fray, if only in the interests of symmetry.
 Partying like it's 1999  Greenhalgh's Luxury
Partying like it's 1999 Greenhalgh's Luxury
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Greenhalgh's Luxury 8th Dec 2009 £1.79 6
Container Style
A cheeky double decker effort with three pies sitting prim and proper on the bottom while the other three run riot chucking soggy paper at passers-by up top. The box is golden and the crumbshot pie shimmers accordingly.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Flat as a fluke and completely bereft on top save for a generous sprinkling of sugar. Looks distinctly homemade with rudimentary cogging and a clumsy 'inny' lid. It's no pin-up, that's for sure. 12
Pastry Marks out of 25
A diet consisting solely of pastry and mincemeat prepares a man for any number of trials and tribulations, from premature myocardial infarction to the somewhat more serious issue of elasticated pants. It didn't prepare me for pepper, though. White pepper, to be exact. The pleasing shortness of the pastry didn't really seem to matter after that hammer blow. Bonkers, unexpected and completely without precedent. 10
Filling Marks out of 25
Just about breaking the uncommonly close bond between base and lid is a narrow sliver of dry paste, where apple thrives and vine fruits are bewildered by their unfamiliar surroundings. There's such an insistent sweetness and vicious citrus smack that all I can think about is Fizz Bombs. 9
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
This pie hasn't so much stood still since the heady days of 1999 as taken several steps backwards while its market rivals trample it ruthlessly into the ground. Sadly, the 'Best Before' label would have been infinitely more accurate without a date. 9
Second Opinion - John Lau, Bury Marks out of 25
You could tell this was going to be a sweet pie from the masses of sugar on top. It didn't have the traditional 'deep filled' look as it was both shallow and wide. The pastry was very dry, brittle and crumbly so it was quite easy to lose half of it. You could smell the sweet filling once out of its box. Small dark and slightly moist pieces of fruit filled the pie, though there were still a few gaps despite the shallowness. Anything but traditional in both looks and packaging. 15
Total Marks 55
Any Other Business A Greenhalgh's victory isn't the only occurrence to have eluded since 1999. There hasn't been a date in which every digit is an odd one since then, either. It's a toss-up which happens first, to be honest, but there won't be another date like that until November 11th 3111.
Date Added 8th Dec 2009

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Regular visitors may recall we were having a spot of bother getting hold of Sainsbury's prestige offering a couple of weeks ago, though their horror shows in previous years meant we were hardly losing sleep over the crisis. Then we heard on the grapevine that a slating at the hands of Which? last year had prompted a much-needed overhaul and our curiosity was piqued. Here then, after the kind of high and low hunting of which Morten Harket would be proud, are the 'new and improved' Sainsbury's Taste the Difference.
 Getting wetter all the time  Sainsbury's TTD
Getting wetter all the time Sainsbury's TTD
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference 4th Dec 2009 £1.49 6
Container Style
A deep burgundy box with a orange ribbon and a crumb shot tinted with Irn-Bru, presumably in a subtle nod to the lads at Walkers Shortbread who have been good enough to lend a hand trying to drag these pies out of the mire.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Broad and sturdy with a twinkling star and greased-up, golden flanks. Some filling has escaped between lid and base and caramelised around the cogging, and the clumsy hole in the middle suggests Walkers may have tried to claim this pie for Scotland before someone at Sainsbury's took exception and tore their flag down. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Smells like butterscotch but unpleasantly so. The biscuity lid is exactly what you would expect given the involvement of Scotland's premier biscuiteers, but the creamy aftertaste gets sickly quickly and the supporting walls play it fast and loose with their job description. 14
Filling Marks out of 25
Not nearly as dry as the fig roll nightmare of previous years but lacking in moisture nonetheless. The usual suspects are present and correct but a shortage of festive goo leaves them lacking focus. Ginger puts in a rare, lingering appearance and brandy manages to pervade without getting anything especially wet. 16
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Hugely improved on previous years but still some way to go to justify the 'perfect pie' claim on the side of the box. Could be a contender by 2012 if they listen to us instead of Which? 15
Second Opinion - Matthew Strong, Newton-le-Willows Marks out of 25
The pie arrived with a slightly greasy sheen which I can only assume was due to the butter content. The pastry was nicely crisp and easily prised from the tray. The box it must be noted had full height divided walls, an engineering masterpiece of pie security. The box side made mention of Sainsburys receiving the assistance of Walker Shortbread and maybe we have a touch of girders in their construction. The pastry was well structured, the arched dome bridging the cavity where in years prior to the credit crunch an excess of fruit would have burst. The first bite was strange to point. A cheesy buttery aroma was replaced with an amazingly bland taste with arrows of sweetness from the promise within. Then to the mince that had echoes of Christmas pudding and a zestiness that exceeded the splash of brandy. Drawing to a close the pie left me feeling as if I had recently used a lip balm. Im not sure about taste the difference. Maybe smell the difference would be better. A gold star goes to the person that suggested a gentle cheese scone fragrance would perfect the festive cheer. A well engineered pie, a nice try but not one Id buy. So much effort, so misspent. 9
Total Marks 70
Any Other Business The Observer Food Monthly tested mince pies this weekend and concluded that Lyons and Tesco Deep Filled were the best.

I'll be buying the News of the World from hereon in.
Date Added 7th Dec 2009

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I appreciate two Tesco reviews in four days make for a rubbish plot device but I figured I'd be better just getting them out the road. Their monopolising ways were threatening to extend to my cupboard space, see.
 4p goes a long way  Tesco Deep Filled
4p goes a long way Tesco Deep Filled
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Tesco Deep Filled 2nd Dec 2009 £1.19 6
Container Style
Much the same as last year save for a couple of minor cosmetic alterations. The inexplicable 'stitched on' label remains, while the open pie in the foreground appears to have borrowed the contents of his three crumbshot colleagues in order to make the most of his photo opportunity.
Appearance Marks out of 25
The ever-earlier Christmas rush must have caught the Tesco bakery unawares and forced them to run with their hastily cobbled together prototype. A massive star sits on top of a higgledy-piggledy, homemade-looking, liver-spotted mess of a pie. 14
Pastry Marks out of 25
Midway through the first bite my mouth hands full responsibility for respiration to my nose and my lungs are placed on red alert. Dusty, thick and stifling with a slight hint of nastiness in the aftertaste. The boys in the lab need to try much harder. 13
Filling Marks out of 25
A dull brown slurry, entirely unpunctuated save for a lump of peel here and there. Ironically, given the colour scheme, it's very orangey. So is Jordan, though, and she makes me feel queasy, too. 13
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Those innards might look like Dagobah but this is no training ground for those who aspire to bring balance to the force. Not afraid? You will be. You will be. 13
Second Opinion - Chris Tighe, Oldham Marks out of 25
Distinctly average, middle-of-the-road, 50% - coincidently matching the title of deep filled', which was also 50% spot on. It was deep! The appearance was good, had individuality that gave the feel of being home/hand made by someone with some skill at least for the decoration of the festive star on top. The look was the most exciting the pie got, especially as my selected one had a bubble in the lid, painting pictures of gallons of sticky sweet minceness trying to get out. Unfortunately this turned out to be nothing more than an air-bubble. Pastry, not particularly tasty, stayed together ok and had decent texture. Filling flavour was neither overwhelming nor weak. I finished it thinking it was OK, would have it again but would more likely choose another option if there was one on offer. 13
Total Marks 66
Any Other Business Mormons aside, how many customers do you think weigh up the four pence difference in price before opting for these bad boys over the blinged-up boozerama of Tesco Finest?
Date Added 5th Dec 2009

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Today sees Netto throw their viking helmet into the ring after receiving rave reviews in the Which? trials of 2008. Pie Club obviously represents a marked step up in class but the Netto PR team were bullish enough to pop some unsolicited freebies in the post and dare us to disagree. So...
 Fight or kebab? Fight or kebab?  Netto Deep Filled Luxury Brandy
Fight or kebab? Fight or kebab? Netto Deep Filled Luxury Brandy
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Netto Deep Filled Luxury Brandy 2nd Dec 2009 £1.29 6
Container Style
Looks like an early-80s hi-fi manual, while the identical top and bottom do nothing to aid the consumer in keeping their pies right side up. Judging by the collection plate in the crumbshot, the congregation of this church has fallen on particularly hard times this Christmas.
Appearance Marks out of 25
A tidy, golden fluted little number with a haphazardly-sugared three-berry holly motif and a base moist enough to have Father Jack Hackett salivating at 100 paces. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Soft and light but oozing so much alcohol it leaves a ring on the table. The liquor is itching to get out, like Obi Wan hell bent on revenge after Maul has suckered Qui Gon in Phantom. 14
Filling Marks out of 25
The explosion of colour on the box fails to extend to real life. There are vine fruits in here and my teeth and palate are sufficiently in tune to detect candied peel and some manner of nut, but everything is so brown it's virtually impossible to see what's what. Mind you, after the turps kick in a microsecond into the chew it's difficult to see anything at all. 12
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
A little taste of Christmas. Specifically the one when Grandad caught me nicking port out of the cupboard and locked me in the back shed until I'd done a thorough job cleaning his paintbrushes. 13
Second Opinion - PC of Pie Club (ret'd) Marks out of 25
If you make it through Netto's masterclass in lowering expectations - the 1988 school project style box with a 'tealights and anaemia' themed crumbshot, you will be rewarded with a glimpse of rugged pastry charm.
This happy period of gazing you'll come to remember fondly, as the first bite opens the double-doors to a supermarket of cloy. A hoped trolley-dash through the many aisles of festive produce takes forever, as the chew is thwarted by a lack of liquidity. Moving from the nuts (nibbed) to the brandy (2%) requires the patience of a Saint (Nick) as the way is cluttered by a thousand elderly apple paste couples all looking for the glace cherries. Sadly, we'll never know if they found them.
16
Total Marks 71
Any Other Business Netto have been blowing their own trumpet about their 'Christmas dinner for 20' deal - I'd suggest folk could make further savings by doing away with the wine and picking up an extra box of pies instead.
Date Added 4th Dec 2009

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Waitrose has seen an 17.6% sales rise approaching Christmas and is happy to place mince pies in the vanguard of this timely revival. Sales of our favourite festive snack are apparently up 32% on last year, though it's unclear which of the Waitrose range is chiefly responsible for the upturn in fortune. This is their red boxer, the simply named shortcrust mince pie.
 Waitrose Shortcrust  More comebacks than Frank
Waitrose Shortcrust More comebacks than Frank
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Waitrose Shortcrust 3rd Dec 2009 £1.25 6
Container Style
Christ, it's back again. This box has had a longer run that The Mousetrap.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Small and sticky with amateur fluting, like an excitable Young Musician of the Year hopeful. The pastry appears to be struggling to contain seepage from within, and if the original Star of Bethlehem had been as vague as the one that adorns this pie the wise men would have given it up as a bad job and gone for a pint in Jericho. Red plastic inner, bagged. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Pleasingly short with no dust storm or chemical warfare to contend with and, though the threat of cloy looms large throughout, it never quite manifests. A decent red box surround. 17
Filling Marks out of 25
Vine fruits hold their own through sheer size and weight of number, but orange peel and cinnamon-led spice barely get a look-in as an apricot ooze imposes itself on proceedings. Sweet, but not nearly as winceworthy as its All-Butter cousin. 17
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Does the simple stuff well. Fine for office colleagues, the bin men or minor family members, but probably not up to impressing prospective in-laws, Gudni or members of the Royal Family. 17
Second Opinion - Dave Kinsey, Wigan Marks out of 25
Basic, full, pale pastry lid with casually pinched edging, no sugar coating but an egg-washed Bethlehem star in the centre. Removal from the foil cup exposed a solid pie base with a little filling penetration. The domed lid promised a full pie but sadly the first bite revealed a void reminiscent of the Peak Cavern entrance in Derbyshire. The filling had a jelly consistency and had soaked into the pastry but added just fat and no flavour. The fruit was chewy but bland in appearance and taste, lacking spice and devoid of spirit. Not a bad looker, but disappointing content and finish. 12
Total Marks 80
Any Other Business Everyone is entitled to their (second) opinion but I can't help feel that inexperience has taken a hand on occasion this season. A score of 12 seems particularly harsh on today's hopeful, while conversely, a score of 20 must have been beyond even Mr Kipling's wildest dreams.
Date Added 3rd Dec 2009

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Despite daddying it over all bar Wal-Mart in the global market place, Tesco have found themselves languishing behind the likes of Holly Lane and Somerfield in the rather more cutthroat world of festive baking. There's a buzz about the blue and white this year, though, and a year is a long time in Pie. David of London, your wait is over. These are Tesco Finest.
 It's what's inside that counts...  Tesco Finest Deep Filled
It's what's inside that counts... Tesco Finest Deep Filled
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Tesco Finest Deep Filled 1st Dec 2009 £1.23 6
Container Style
Much the same as last year save for a change of location for that all-important GDA information. The crumb shot suggests pies aren't cut out for cheerleading, the apex of the pyramid crashing to a sticky end as her colleagues look on in abject horror. Black plastic inner, bagged.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Neat and tidy with a sizeable overhang for hors d'ouvres and four air holes travelling in single file to hide their numbers. They've not been shy with the sugar, and the light bruising around the base promises a rich bounty within. 19
Pastry Marks out of 25
Offers little festive cheer despite smelling like grandad's booze cabinet. Not crisp enough to be considered short and not nearly fluffy enough to hit the high notes at the melt-in-the-mouth end of the pastry scale. Bendy and clagging aren't adjectives applied to champion pies. 14
Filling Marks out of 25
Still no sign of the mystical glace cherry, but Tesco have thrown just about everything else at providing a long and varied chew. Vine fruits slob about alongside hefty peel chunks and hearty hunks of nut as a bittersweet orange goo struggles jamfully to hold it all together. The spicing is low key and they've been a bit skinny with the Courvoisier, so you don't get to bask in festive warmth for quite as long as you'd like once it's all over, and there could be a bit more of it, but this is good stuff nonetheless. 20
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Yet another pie let down by shoddy pastry work. Like serving a 1949 Petrus in a lipstick-smeared "World's Best Lover" mug. 18
Second Opinion - Allbright, BW Marks out of 25
The appearance of the Finest of Tesco's mince pies is agreeable enough. The bumpy but thick disc lid proffers a subtle design and has nice detail at the edges. And it tastes how it looks - simple, and unfettered by sugar or butter. Or anything else really. The contents are quite tasty, if a tad sparing with chunks of zest and plump vine fruit action going on. The merest hint of booze is not distracting. At all. The pie leaves a sweet tangy aftertaste but would have benefited from the presence of the almonds which it boasted but which I failed to detect. The nuttiness would have balanced out the fruity sweetness. I suppose I feel about this pie the way I felt when the Bishops Waltham Christmas lights went up. 'Oh that's nice. Thank god they're not those dreary blue bulbs from last year'. 17
Total Marks 88
Any Other Business The box carries the warning 'not suitable for young children who can choke on nuts', which strikes me as an unnecessarily narrow demographic. I think everyone should take care really.
Date Added 2nd Dec 2009

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The sharper eyed among you may notice a bit of a mix-up on the photo front. Unfortunately, yesterday's Co-op All Butter review offered a sneak preview of today's entrant, Prince Charles' very own Duchy Originals. Moves are afoot to avoid a major diplomatic incident but, in the meantime, here's that photo again.
 Not bonny, Prince Charlie.  Duchy Originals Organic
Not bonny, Prince Charlie. Duchy Originals Organic
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Duchy Originals Organic 30th Nov 2009 £3.13 4
Container Style
Cream in colour, with black and purple bands running vertically and horizontally respectfully. The minimalist viewing panel shows two pies jostling for position and there's a rather quaint sketch of an Olde Worlde lady decorating her tree. Pretty gay, all told.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Positively ceramic and ever so slightly anaemic with air holes unnecessarily mobbed up in a formation that begs you to make a gaping grin with your inaugural bite. I resist. There's a time and a place for frivolity and this is neither. 13
Pastry Marks out of 25
A 'sighter' nibble immediately makes it clear that the jaw equivalent of a Freddie Flintoff run-up is going to be required. Christ, it's like chewing a bathroom tile. Tastes okay, mind. Short and buttery with a slight infusion of booze. 13
Filling Marks out of 25
A dry, faceless paste. An educated guess based on the colours present suggest there were sultanas and currants here once but they've long since given up any other distinguishing characteristics. Festive spice is kept to a minimum and the cognac promise appears to have been little more than a sales ploy. There's apple in here but I'm losing the will to live eating this. 11
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
If they weren't so much more expensive than peanuts they'd be ideal for pub landlords who wish engender customer thirst this Christmas. Around 1.98's worth ended up in the bin without so much as a second thought. For staunch royalists only. 10
Second Opinion - Brighty, Hants Marks out of 25
To my mind, the mere mention of the word 'organic' in reference to the preparation and production of food immediately raises expectation, so when I saw the Duchy had bestowed this status (and price tag) on his annual mincemeat treat my hopes were at their highest! Thus it was a sense of trepidation and quivering excitement that heralded my first communion with this pie. As I held the thing aloft in my hand, one of an elite four-pie squad, it seemed more comparable to a 4x4 off-roader. The pastry was thick and lacklustre and the first mouthful indicated it was going to take some masticating to get beyond the outer walls. When I finally penetrated the inner chamber, optimistic it had been worth the effort, my disappointment was amplified as a sickly splodge of indiscernible pulp met my tongue. Like the cognac the pie may once have contained at some stage of its wholesome 'organic' engendering, my spirits too were squashed. It's a good job some of what can only be a considerable profit from this pie goes to charity because it's the only aspect of it that will make the buyer feel good. I am so appalled I don't even want to mention that the pastry actually tasted okay because the filling all but killed it. 13
Total Marks 60
Any Other Business This mob were Pie-Off material 12 months ago. Reading back through last season's review I can only think they were entirely different pies.
Date Added 1st Dec 2009

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One of Pie Club's lesser lights today, despite its somewhat questionable "luxury" status. For those with an interest in carbon footprints, the Co-op get their sultanas from Turkey and knock up their pies in the UK or Poland. They don't seem entirely sure whether their butter comes from the UK or Ireland. Anyway, this is the one they put it all in.
 McFadden Not Included  Co-op Luxury All Butter
McFadden Not Included Co-op Luxury All Butter
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Co-op Luxury All Butter 28th Nov 2009 £1.59 6
Container Style
Black box with three-pie visor across the bottom and overly descriptive pie detail in top left corner. The crumb shot in the top right shows a squad of pies manfully trying to save Christmas after a power cut forces dinner by candlelight and without clean crockery.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Carries a strikingly elaborate holly motif and an encouragingly pronounced dome, but close scrutiny suggests this is little more than a souped up version of the Co-op's 'red box' pie. Like putting go-faster stripes and a spoiler on a D reg Austin Maestro, then. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Exactly like I imagine Kerry Katona - smells of buttery baked goods and booze but tastes like damp old cardboard. With sugar on top. 11
Filling Marks out of 25
Brandy floods through plump currants and sultanas like the Derwent through Cockermouth streets and houses, while flotsam and jetsam takes the form of plentiful candied peel and almond. Like Donovan and the Nolans, drafted in to save face in the wake of the Katona disaster. 17
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
No matter how sweet and wholesome Jase and Coleen are, you'll always have the plastic scouser etched on your memory. 14
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Bishop's Waltham Marks out of 25
The Co-op Luxury All Butter makes an appealing enough entrance. With a shimmer of sugar and a bulbous holly-busting rooftop, theres almost room for Dasher and Vixen to step atop this pie. The filling is fruity with visible almond pieces, and the tang of zesty citrus nicely offsets the sweeter tones of sultana and apple. The filling is all very fine and dandy and certainly less offensive than some of its supposedly superior competitors efforts. If you are looking for steady pie for your festive pleasures then this is a solid, if humdrum, applicant. If this pie were to make a more serious commitment to palatable merriment it would do well to chuck in more brandy and spice. But then that would probably mean chucking a few more pence on the price! 16
Total Marks 74
Any Other Business I know, I know, that's Iceland, not the Co-op. I had to take the theme to its conclusion once I'd started, though.

Sorry.
Date Added 30th Nov 2009

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Luxury completes M & S's three-strong string for 2009 so we're going to spend the rest of the group stages seeing if anyone can catch them. Obviously.
 Huh?  M & S Luxury
Huh? M & S Luxury
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
M & S Luxury 15th Nov 2009 £2.29 6
Container Style
A stark depiction of the loneliness of the stand-up pie, quite literally falling apart on stage as five others gleefully heckle from the audience. All around, silver abounds, as if M & S have already bestowed 'runner-up' status on Luxury at their own in-store Pie Offs.
Appearance Marks out of 25
What the? Marks have pimped their pies across the board this year but they've gone too far with the Luxury model. Shunning the conventional 'adornment by artistic addition of pastry', M & S have taken a 'less is more' attitude, removing a star of pastry from the lid to offer a glimpse into the inner sanctum. I can only think this will have a detrimental effect on already controversial 'best before' dates. The light dusting of sugar and rudimentary forked edges do nothing to absorb the shock. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Just about firm enough to the bite but neither short nor sweet, as if these pies were put out on Christmas Eve but left untouched until Boxing Day. The 'All Butter' claim seems a bit far-fetched, too, though there is a faint whiff of Country Life. I wonder what they did with all those stars. 16
Filling Marks out of 25
As ever with Magic and Sparkle, the main event is hard to fault. Brandy and port keep it down to a whisper but still make themselves heard over the general hubbub. The fruits, with sultanas particularly prominent this year, are fat and juicy, the candied peel is plentiful, and the apple and cinnamon jam that surrounds them, penetrates them and binds them together is a real force. A bit of glace cherry would be nice but that stuff was like rocking horse manure even before the credit crunch bit. 21
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Much like the end of the advert when DCI Hunt gruffly heralds Noemie Lenoir in her pants. The pastry isn't particularly appealing but the filling makes the wait a worthwhile one. 19
Second Opinion - Brighty, Hants Marks out of 25
The wonky lid may lack the finesse one might expect of a 'luxury' pie but its not without a certain charm. The star-shaped window offers a visually effective alternative to star motifs and the like, and provides a sneak preview of the real stars of the show - as long as you're quick and they haven't all dried up! Fortunately I gobbled mine up quicker than you can say 'six geese a-laying' and found the still-moist innards to be juicy and satisfying. Like your favourite Christmas panto, all the key players are here: Fruity, Zesty and Spicy all play their parts with aplomb, while Port and Brandy put in enough of a cameo to leave the audience Sleepy and Happy. The pastry is unspectacular but this pie is certainly enjoyable and, whilst not worthy of a standing ovation, it may still demand an encore. 19
Total Marks 92
Any Other Business Ten pies down and the M & S triumvirate have already formed an orderly queue at the head of affairs. Things are starting to take on a familiar look, aren't they?
Date Added 27th Nov 2009

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It's been a bit of a palaver but, after aborted purchase attempts up and down the country, today sees the seasonal reappearance of one J Sainsbury. An apparent surplus of mini mince pies, stollen and something called ecclefechan tart (not to mention the unexpected sighting of a seasoned England international) almost scuppered JS's challenge altogether until Winchester came through where Hedge End and Bolton had failed. This is their red box offering for 2009. Meanwhile, we're keeping everything crossed that Taste the Difference stocks remain depleted.
 Sainsbury's Deep  Same old, same old...
Sainsbury's Deep Same old, same old...
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Sainsbury's Deep 20th Nov 2009 £1 6
Container Style
Here comes the new box, same as the old box

Same design three years running? If Sainsbury's can't be bothered then I can't either. See PC's reviews of 2007 and 2008 for details. Black plastic inner, unbagged.
Appearance Marks out of 25
These pies look durable. Like earthenware. The lid looks like it'll take a chew, the holly motif seems more elaborate than in previous years, and there's been a halfway decent stab at some fairly elaborate coggery. Nice colour, with a light dusting of sugar. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Gets off to a bad start when the lid is all but lost during the extraction process, and struggles to make up the lost ground from thereon in. With a hint of residual sweetness and some buttery undertones it could taste a good deal worse. Unfortunately, it's thicker than a whale omelette, which makes it heavy going to say the least. 14
Filling Marks out of 25
Pie fans prone to getting on their high horse about the correct usage of the word 'deep' around this time of year will find nothing to rankle here. Everything a Strictly... judge looks for in the early rounds - simple but well executed with just enough pizzazz to keep Bruno happy. Big raisins and juicy sultanas are abundant and a healthy serving of apple offers a slightly sour counter to the sweet citrus of the candied peel. Spicing is quite light, all told, but cinnamon sticks its head round the door to say hello and ends up staying for a brew and a natter. 18
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
More chance of mid-table obscurity than a repeat of 2007's high watermark. The filling deserves so much better, too, but the sheer volume of pastry boggles both mind and palate. A bit like one of those fancypants Fr desserts if you were to eat the ramekin as well. 16
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Bishop's Waltham Marks out of 25
Decorate the pastry with a sprig of holly and no-one will care about how it tastes might have been the thinking behind the exterior of this little festive foodstuff. With its jolly motif, light golden pastry and gentle sugary frosting, this pie looks a contender on first impression. Breaking off a section of the pastry cliff face to release the shadowy ooze within, the theme continues, sort of. Rich vine fruits dance on the palate with a subtle, mulled spice goodness, but the pastrys failure to deliver on its buttery blonde promise lets the whole pie down. Good for yuletide coffee mornings only. A shame - where it might have warranted the full crescendo, this mince pie can only muster a subdued Fa la la la la. 17
Total Marks 81
Any Other Business Should the notorious Taste the Difference continue to elude, mince pies from the Sainsbury's Basics range are on stand-by. At 59p for six and with a 'best before' date of February 5th, they're certainly the value option. And can they be any worse?
Date Added 25th Nov 2009

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Slightly concerned that my current state of wellbeing might compromise tasting, I searched the internet for reassurance and discovered that the H1N1 virus (swine flu to me and you) looks a lot like a mince pie. Buoyed by such an obvious sign, and with relief (not to mention Nurofen and paracetamol) flooding through me, I crack on with potential 'big hitter' Waitrose All Butter, who went into the Pie Offs of 2007 as slight favourite only to crash out by the narrowest of margins. Will 2009 see them stay the course?
 Take your stinkin paws off me you damn dirty grape  Waitrose All Butter
Take your stinkin paws off me you damn dirty grape Waitrose All Butter
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Waitrose All Butter 24th Nov 2009 £2.19 6
Container Style
Identical to last year's sleek black vessel save for a slight narrowing of the viewing panel and, in a break with Waitrose tradition, the addition of a crumb shot in the top right hand corner. The immediate aftermath of a savage pie cleaving is not for the faint of heart. Black plastic inner, bagged.
Appearance Marks out of 25
No adornment whatsoever on top and nothing much to speak of at the sides. Looks thick but no nonsense. If this pie were a B-movie actor it would almost certainly be Jason Statham, though a pie wouldnt necessarily see this as an insult. 18
Pastry Marks out of 25
Impresses immediately with a firm, biscuity bite and rich buttery notes that stick around for the duration. Thick set but sweet and gentle and not in any danger of outstaying its welcome, even if there is a hint of booze on its breath. 21
Filling Marks out of 25
If currants were monkeys and the other festive staples were men it'd be Planet of the Apes in here. The vine fruits are running the show and nothing else is getting a look-in. There's a couple of plucky candied peel chunks and an intrepid almond shard but their spirit is soon crushed by the dominant species. An all-too-sweet orange tang(o) serves to remind you that you haven't just cracked open a bag of raisins, and there's brandy in here too, but it drifts in and out about as often as the tide at Lytham. 16
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
With pastry that, to my mind, would not be out of place in a Big Four pie, this could have been a contender. Like a Premier League footballer's flash motor, it deserves to carry something with a little bit more about it. 17
Second Opinion - PC of Pie Club (ret'd) Marks out of 25
Careful inspection of this black box would lead a (troubled) man to think it was all change in the world of luxury pies this year. Out goes the long-standing plectrum smuggling crumbshot and in comes a piecrust bereft of holes.
Having been sealed in so airtightly, I find that the petrified inmates have no desire to escape when offered freedom through the murky world of dental/intestinal transit. Overcrowding could be blamed for the impenetrability of the clingy filling with vine fruit seeing a swell in numbers by 3% on the 2008 level. If and when a bite breakthrough is made, and resolve to stay within is broken, the palate does not benefit from the full currant experience. All around, apricot is at play, smearing its festive jam-joy across the very soul of this pie.
While fruity and unquantifiable may pass as interesting in other quarters (see Magners Pear Cider and Gok Wan) I would have liked to hear more from the choked brandy and spice that have already enlivened our senses elsewhere this winter.
17
Total Marks 89
Any Other Business In an attempt to make the Pie Club post season off the back of a wildcat play, Waitrose are knocking out Venison Mince Pies for 3.99 a chuck this Christmas. Don't hold your breath waiting for that review.
Date Added 24th Nov 2009

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The Co-op looks to be triple-handed in this season's competition, with highbrow Fairtrade and 'all-butter' versions on the shelves alongside their annually disappointing red box offering. Perhaps with this perennial underachievement in mind, the Co-op flashed the cash earlier this year to acquire 2007 champions Somerfield, though it remains to be seen if this flexing of financial muscle will be enough to buy them Pie-Off success by proxy in 2009. In the meantime, here's what we thought of their 'deep filled' entrant.
 Abandon hope all ye who enter  Co-op Deep Filled
Abandon hope all ye who enter Co-op Deep Filled
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Co-op Deep Filled 3rd Nov 2009 £1.09 6
Container Style
Similar enough to last year's box to facilitate some post-lunch 'spot the difference' action for kids already bored with their Hannah Montana dance mats. A broader crumbshot is adopted at the expense of 2008's largely redundant Christmas logo, though the cover stars remain coyly intact.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Aesthetics clearly weren't high on the Co-op's list of priorities when they set about balancing the biscuit lid atop badly listing walls. If this pie was bigger it wouldn't look entirely out of place in the favelas, though the neighbours might find the star on the roof a tad ostentatious. 14
Pastry Marks out of 25
Thick enough to house the crown jewels, let alone a few raisins and some orange peel. The spectre of stodge looms large and the walls struggle to support the merest hint of downward pressure. A bit like eating your way out of a swimming pool filled with papier-mache. And not in a good way. 12
Filling Marks out of 25
Plentiful but quite difficult to discern exactly what you're dealing with without sneaking a peek at the box. The constituent fruits have merged into an indistinguishable murk to leave a lone lump of candied peel treading mush as it waits in vain for zest and spice to man the lifeboat. 13
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Like the beginning of Raiders, where Indy finally negotiates safe passage through dangerous terrain and intricate defence, only for the slimy Belloq to shatter his dreams and leave his life in the balance. 12
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Bishop's Waltham Marks out of 25
Clunky and pasty in appearance, this pie does little to titillate the taste buds from the off, with even its starry embellishment lacking festivity. As the pastry collapses to purge forth its mysterious dark puree, there seems to be a complete lack of co-operation between the pastry and the filling, with neither able to either support the other or stand up and be counted to rescue this pie from the realms of the unremarkable. 13
Total Marks 64
Any Other Business The good people of mincepieclub.co.uk described this as "a pie to benchmark all the others to follow", don't you know.
Date Added 23rd Nov 2009

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Last season finally saw this pie rise again after seven years in the shadow of its less illustrious Deep Filled store colleague. Will the bourgeoisie enjoy an extended stay in the upper echelons of pie society, or will it fall once again to a proletariat revolt? Let's find out. Please be upstanding for our 2008 champion, the Marks and Spencer Connoisseur.
 Pork Free Zone  M & S Connoisseur
Pork Free Zone M & S Connoisseur
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
M & S Connoisseur 24th Oct 2009 £2.99 6
Container Style
A variation on last year's theme. The slick Connoisseur logo, gold sides and matt brown leather-look front remain, but the viewing panel now gives sight of all six pies and the newly prominent "best before" details nestle in pink in the corner, rather diminishing the whole effect. Black plastic inner, bagless.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Despite their success of 2008, Magic and Sparkle have refused to rest on their laurels, apparently taking their design cue from the good people of Melton Mowbray to produce a muscular, statuesque, golden god of a pie. 21
Pastry Marks out of 25
Unusually liberal application of egg wash has crisped up this pie markedly so ladies will need to take care to avoid a flaky cleavage. Once the explosive outer crust has been negotiated, however, you'll find plenty of bite, with heady booze aromas permeating through butter which is very much to the fore. 20
Filling Marks out of 25
This is where your money goes. Like a decadent gentlemen's club where big juicy fruits jostle for bar room with nuts and apricot hunks, knocking back generous measures of brandy and port as cinnamon holds court in the corner. Membership might be slightly down on previous years but you'll still be keeping pretty exclusive company. 21
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
M & S have taken a big chance overhauling their 2008 champion but its powers appear to have remained largely undiminished. Hopes must be high for a successful title defence, though memories of 2006's Devon Loch-style capitulation will surely ward off any complacency. 21
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Bishop's Waltham Marks out of 25
Like the Hollywood movies stars of old, the M & S Connoisseur has real presence. From its impressive portly stature and smooth golden suit, like Cary Grant rocking Savile Row (this simple elegant pie has no need for novelty adornment) you know you are in for a sumptuous treat. And the first bite confirms this, as light buttery pastry melts away to succulent fruits drenched in port and brandy. After a couple of these pies you might want to think twice about driving home. This pie will leave you feeling giddy. 22
Total Marks 105
Any Other Business If you liked the look of the Connoisseur but were disappointed to find fruit and liquor beneath its crusty exterior, maybe www.porkpieclub.com can better service your needs. It takes all sorts.
Date Added 21st Nov 2009

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Today sees the focus switch back to Yorkshire as Wm Morrison unveils his red box representative. With a history steeped in eggs and butter you'd expect the Bradfordians would have plenty to offer, but their focus in recent years seems to have been on flagship pie The Best rather than their less flashy deep-filled entrant. Will things be different in 2009?
 No reason to shop at Morrisons  Morrisons Deep Filled
No reason to shop at Morrisons Morrisons Deep Filled
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Morrisons Deep Filled 3rd Oct 2009 £1.09 6
Container Style
The purists will be fuming to see last year's controversial 'slasher flick' box unchanged for the new season. Far from the beaten track, sultana teens cling tightly to each other, hiding inside the carcass of a fallen pie as another scours the forest in search of fresh (mince) meat. Surprisingly, given the theme, the "best before" date on these was a good fortnight before Halloween. Red plastic inner, bagless.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Maybe it's because I'm a year older, but these pies don't seem as tall as they used to. The other character traits remain, however: the wavy lid, the big crinkles around the rim, the ill-conceived holly adornment and the last three sugar crystals in the bag. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Solid appearance is deceiving as pastry turns out to be very soft. Bland, too, unfortunately, with little or no sweetness and a slight undercurrent of cheap margarine. The lid stays just about intact and it does a fair shift housing the filling but that's about the best you can say about it, I'm afraid. 14
Filling Marks out of 25
The inside is an improvement on the out but it's still pretty basic stuff. Vine fruits get plenty of stage time, even if they do turn in a grittier performance than one might have hoped for, but everything else is understated at best. There's a small supporting role for candied peel and the briefest of cameos from bramley apple but the entire show lacks spice from start to finish and there's certainly no clamour for an encore. 15
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Largely inoffensive and just about acceptable for a festive Wednesday morning tea break, but most unlikely to break into the top half this year. A shame, since it probably wouldn't take much more than a heavier hand with the ingredients to elevate this pie's standing among its peers. 15
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Bishop's Waltham Marks out of 25
Getting straight to the crunch, this particular mince pie was about as tempting as Tortoise flavour crisps with Hint of Ginger. Ok Im way off track, but that just goes to show how little this pie managed to fulfil any of my utopian ideals of what the supreme dream mince pie should be. The pastry was dry and bland, and I wouldnt be surprised if the 'best before' date of these pies had been 2008. Although the filling was generous and fruity enough a congregation of sultanas dominating the festive scene was off-putting. This pie is definitely not one for the seductive advertising voice of the M&S lady tantalizing us into buying mouth-watering stuff that will most certainly rot your arteries, but more suited to the, erm, delightful girl-next-door tones of Denise Van Outen. A friendly enough pie for a daytime outing [van-outing?] but dont expect to be dazzled. 16
Total Marks 77
Any Other Business Morrisons warns its customers that these pies were produced in a factory which uses nut ingredients. It's a shame they didn't realise that before they put the lids on.
Date Added 19th Nov 2009

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With teething problems, technological difficulties and fundamental idiocy hopefully now well and truly behind us we'll be looking to crack on with a pie a day from hereon in. Thanks ever so much for bearing with us.

Today sees the seasonal bow of arguably the most consistent pie in training. M & S Deep's career highpoint came with back-to-back successes in 2005 and 2006 (under the old skool Classic guise) and, after Pie Off heartbreak in each of the last two seasons, this hardy perennial returns for another tilt at the title in 2009.
 Legend  M & S Deep Filled
Legend M & S Deep Filled
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
M & S Deep Filled 30th Sep 2009 £1.69 6
Container Style
M & S understandably go with a red theme to showcase their "red box" representative. A big gay pie-on ensues atop a red plate atop a red placemat, while some red cranberries and what appears to be a red apple look on disapprovingly. Roy Drusky's 1972 version of Red Red Wine may or may not be playing in the background. Black plastic inner, bagless.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Sturdy looking, with a well-formed sugary dome punctured by a single air hole. This fellow certainly looks the part, but there's a plucky currant making a break for freedom. Is something amiss within? 19
Pastry Marks out of 25
Much like Chelsea's Didier Drogba - not that short but finishes up on the floor a bit too easily. Once rescued, however, the pastry proves soft and buttery and not at all cloying, though the hefty dome means there's a fairly daunting drop to the filling within. 17
Filling Marks out of 25
Hard to fault unless you find the idea of booze-free festive nibbles totally abhorrent. Currants and sultanas are plentiful, bullied and cajoled in equal measure by the good cop/bad cop combo of cloves and citrus fruits. If there's one minor gripe it's the fruit-to-air ratio, though that's more to do with the prodigious dome than any racial stereotypes that might be aimed at M&S top brass. 20
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
A fair enough start to proceedings for this seasoned warrior, with a pleasant outer casing and strong flavours throughout. That said, you shouldn't need both hands to eat a mince pie. Only time will tell if that slip proves costly in the final reckoning. 19
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Bishop's Waltham Marks out of 25
As a novice to this complex craft of pie-tasting my opinion will be somewhat rudimentary in so far as, to my inexpert taste buds, a pie is a pie is a pie, oh my And so it was the case as I found upon the virgin tasting of this years M&S Classic or deep-filled or whatever its called now. It was nicely proportioned, not too sugary and not offensive in any way, barring a slightly too crumbly encasement. The balance of fruits, although dominated by the omnipresent seasonal clove essence, is by no means disadvantaged by it. The whole pie was a gratifying foray into the world of this culinary festive staple, and although my amateurish taste buds yearned for some sort of dairy accompaniment, I definitely wouldnt lob this out the window in the path of passing reindeer at the office Christmas party this year. 19
Total Marks 94
Any Other Business A score of 94 falls three points short of the 97 that was required to make the Pie-Offs in each of the last two seasons. By coincidence, the average score achieved by M & S Deep over the past three years is - you've guessed it - 97. Spooky.
Date Added 18th Nov 2009

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Though Pie Club is reluctant to pre-judge, it has been evident down the years that Mr Kipling's "exceedingly good" claims do not extend to his festive baking. Still, if Jedward can win over the nation
 Exceedingly merry  Mr Kipling Mince Pies
Exceedingly merry Mr Kipling Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Mr Kipling 11th Nov 2009 £1.79 8
Container Style
Last year's red and gold party box has been amended slightly for 2009, with the secondary pie jettisoned in favour of a Beadlehand clutching a bite-sized approximation of the real thing. The cleaved fellow in the foreground is unmoved by events behind him, carrying on regardless with oozing what appears to be plum chutney. Trepidatiously, the yellow "8 for 6" panel remains. Black plastic inner, bagless.
Appearance Marks out of 25
It's no stunner, that's for certain. It's not the biggest pie you'll ever see, the Christmas tree motif on top takes a while to decipher, and the corrugated cardboard walls don't exactly scream "EAT ME!". Work to do, to say the least. 15
Pastry Marks out of 25
The only sweetness here comes from a generous shower of sugar and, while there is some evidence of butter enrichment, you're left with the same impression you'd have if you were to discard your morning toast and suck the paper bag it came in. 14
Filling Marks out of 25
They've used a big enough spoon but there isn't a great deal to get excited about beyond the usual gathering of ex-grapes and what appears to be a sizeable dollop of marmalade. The sweetness stops just short of stripping enamel on contact but you'd better have the utmost confidence in your fillings before chew embarkation. 13
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Clearly not benefiting from deconstruction, this pie makes more sense when considered as a discrete whole. The dull-as-ditchwater pastry and kali-sweet centre come pretty close to off-setting one another and, while I'll bare my behind if they're really Santa's favourite, they're probably not the worst pies he'll see come Christmas Eve either. 15
Second Opinion - Bernard Joynt, Wigan Marks out of 25
The pie was easy to free from the foil container so no breaking up of the pastry and messy mishandling here. If gastronomic experience begins with looks, then the colour, texture and size make it a pleasure to move on to the tasting. First impression is the sugar rush from the dusted coating on the pie - pleasant enough and just what you would expect from this manufacturer. An initial dryness from the shortcrust pastry is quickly replaced by the moistness of the mince filling and the over-all lightness of this dessert makes for an enjoyable taste experience. 20
Total Marks 77
Any Other Business Manor Bakeries, who handle all Mr Kipling's outsourcing, are also responsible for Lyon's Mince Pies. Reason enough to leave them out of this year's reckoning, I'd say.
Date Added 12th Nov 2009

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Next up (with apologies if you've been waiting with bated breath since Budgens) is an All-Butter affair from Asda's Extra Special range. The Leeds grocers have toned down their trumpeting of the "rich fruit" aspect of their flagship offering this year, perhaps in deference to these times of continuing financial uncertainty.
 Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?  Asda All-Butter Mince Pies
Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper? Asda All-Butter Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Asda All-Butter 9th Nov 2009 £1.68 6
Container Style
Asda have done away with the Ivory and Lace look for this year's box, opting instead for a slew of purple. The viewing pane has survived, though, with three pies pressed desperately up against it hoping Uncle Kenny's second helping of trifle staves off their inevitable Christmas dinner denouement. The crumbshot depicts a thuggish character exiting stage right having administered a brutal and unprovoked pie-on-pie beating. That's the brandy for you, I'm afraid.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Brings to mind a cocksure Masterchef hopeful whose hubris is suddenly shaken by Torode bellowing "PLATE UP NOW!" before he's even got the veg on. The cogging is half-arsed and only gets three quarters of the way round, the structure is dilapidated and the pie looks to have been left in a touch too long, giving it an unappealing, almost wholemeal appearance. Heavy sugaring hints at guilty overcompensation. 15
Pastry Marks out of 25
Very short, bordering on biscuity, and ever so slightly salty. It holds together well enough, though, and the aroma given off suggests there's a boozy do ensuing within. 15
Filling Marks out of 25
Sweet without being sickly, with a fair smattering of juicy vine fruits and candied peel, and notes of apple and (I kid you not) aniseed wafting around amid the light spicing. The brandy warmth kicks in at the end to take the whole experience up a notch. Credit crunch portions unfortunately, but still pretty good. 19
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Like Owen Wilson - not much of a looker and doesn't make a great first impression but it's difficult not to warm a bit to this fella. The outer casing does a job without stealing focus from the innards which, to my mind, have been fine-tuned since last season. Style is sadly lacking, then, but the substance is there or thereabouts. 18
Second Opinion - John Lau, Bury Marks out of 25
Pie looks tempting and is generously covered in sugar which gives it a sweet taste from the start. As you bite in the pastry is firm with a hint of moistness and a nice buttery flavour. The filling iss dark in colour, there's plenty in the pie and it's firm and moist to the bite with plenty of fruit, which makes the pie even sweeter when added to the sugar dusting on the top. Overall too much sugar on the outside, giving you that quick high followed by the slump best for people with a sweet tooth! 16
Total Marks 83
Any Other Business The box suggests an additional 10-12 minutes at Gas Mark 5 if you want them hot, though I'd suggest these pies have already seen more than enough oven time. Besides, heating or augmenting of any kind is frowned upon at this level of pieing.
Date Added 10th Nov 2009

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Welcome back to our world. Pause upon our pages to glean all you will need for mincemeat satisfaction this happy Yule.


To guide you out of the Noughties and into a new decade, fully equipped to pick the correct Christmas snack, we have a new Master Pieman. Having spent years at the coal face of second opinion, JC will be the new voice of Pie Club. I can assure you all that the transition will be seamless, except you may notice a sharp upturn in the quality of writing.


And the Lord said "let there be pie", and lo, there was pie. It's hard to believe there have been 324 days since M & S Connoisseur emerged victorious from the 2008 Pie Offs. Kicking things off for 2009 is a first foray into competitive mincing for franchise grocer Budgens, though I'm reliably informed their wares have previously been showcased under the cunning guise of Londis. A trip to the Budge more often than not leaves you lighter in the wallet than anticipated, so the relatively cheap 1.29 price tag may not bode all that well.
 Now with badger entrails...?  Budgens Mince Pies
Now with badger entrails...? Budgens Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Budgens Mince Pies 3rd Nov 2009 £1.29 6
Container Style
Who? Me? Budgens go for a Christmas do-themed crumb shot, with four pies looking accusingly at a colleague who insists he can hold his ale despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The festive dcor is a blur to him at this juncture. British racing green seems an unusual choice of colour for the box. Black plastic inner, bagged.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Very small and less-than-perfectly formed, with a sallow button lid and a slapdash attempt at cogging. The wavy pattern on the top looks like a seven year old's afterthought and the regimental difference in colour between lid and crust makes me uneasy from the outset. I find myself taking solace in the knowledge it could all be over in a couple of bites. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Initial nibbles at the cogging are inconclusive given the almost complete absence of flavour. Further investigation proves a terrible mistake, however: the lid is barely cooked and the chemical hit that cuts through the negligible dusting of sugar suggests in no uncertain terms that this is going to be a particularly bad trip. 14
Filling Marks out of 25
I've never seen anything like it. Not in a pie, anyway. Maybe lying motionless by the side of the A34 early one Spring morning. Trying manfully to ignore the rouge hue, I press on. I can see raisins and sultanas, I can see nibbed nuts and, by jingo, I can see glace cherries, but I can only taste orange and vinegar. It's not a winning combination. There's the merest hint of spice wafting gently through proceedings but this isn't at all good, I'm afraid. 12
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
If you were looking for positives you might say these pies hold together quite well, but if they taste like they're held together by Bostick then you might also say the point has been somewhat missed. 13
Second Opinion - Chris Tighe, Lancashire Marks out of 25
Has the look of something produced by a school cookery class following a step-by-step guide:- 1) make the base 2) spoon in some filling 3) plonk on lid. This was proven as the pie began to fold, the crust broke, and the lid lifted when it was removed from its foil. The revelation of the loose lid was no improvement - a small, dark, dry looking lump. The first taste was better than expected with the pastry not being as dry as it looked. However, the pastry was as good as it got with the filling being chewy, lumpy, and in some ways luckily minimal. 9
Total Marks 64
Any Other Business Budgens guarantee to replace the product or refund your money if you are unsatisfied, which is good to hear. In this case, might we respectfully suggest you eschew the replacement option in favour of the brass.
Date Added 5th Nov 2009

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