TAKE a meat-and-potato pie. Slap it between two buttered halves of a barm cake (aka bap, teacake, stotty, roll or muffin). Et voilà, you’re about to eat a Wigan kebab.
This defiantly unhealthy carbfest is a popular choice in the bakers’ shops and chippies of the Lancashire rugby league stronghold which sits proudly between Liverpool and Manchester, and has an accent all of its own.
Wigan folk have been known as ‘pie eaters’ for many years. One explanation is that during the General Strike of 1926, the town’s miners were the first to go back to work and therefore had to eat humble pie. Locals say this is rubbish. They just love pies, hence the expression: ‘You’ll never see a pie shop closing down in Wigan.’
Alex Murphy, a former rugby league player and coach, once claimed that Wiganers knew more about pies than rugby. On his return to the town with another team he was duly pelted with pies of all persuasions, including meat, meat-and-potato and steak. The latter made a right mess of his sheepskin coat.
The first time I heard about a Wigan Kebab, from an indigenous colleague on the Daily Mail in Manchester, he claimed it comprised four meat pies on a stick.
However the name has been since assumed by the comestible formerly known as the pie barm.
In a 2017 piece for the Guardian, expatriate Wiganer David Barnett wrote: ‘When you’re from Wigan, you never really stop eating pies. You might be said to be resting, or in remission, or recovering. Eating pies is part of our DNA, our heritage, our birthright. And a pie barm – also fondly known as a Wigan Kebab – is the epitome of our gastronomic culture.
‘The default lunch (and that shows how middle-class I’ve become – in Wigan you have your dinner at noon and your tea at five) is always a pie. If taken at home, on a plate surrounded by a moat of Oxo. I imagine the pie barm was invented to facilitate eating a pie on the hoof. The barm cake – or bap, or roll, depending on where you’re from – not only provides adequate insulation for your hand against the heat of the pie, but serves to soak up any errant gravy or juice – without wasting a drop.
‘Pies are always fully encased in pastry, none of this slop with a crust only on top. They can be meat-and-potato or steak. If you’re vegetarian you can have a chicken pie, I suppose. You’re never more than 100 feet from a pie shop in Wigan. Every December, the World Pie Eating Championships are staged in Harry’s Bar on Wallgate, which has not been without controversy. In 2007 a competitor’s dog ate 20 of the pies the night before the event.
‘Up in the north, we like to identify people by the food they eat. Thus, Liverpudlians are scousers, which is a type of stew. In Wigan’s neighbour, Leigh, people are “lobby gobblers”, because they eat lobbies, which is similar to scouse. God knows what they eat in Wigan’s big rugby league rival St Helens; babies, probably. But Wiganers will always be pie eaters.’
According to the Bolton comedian Dave Spikey, ‘The only reason meat pies have a little hole in the top is so that Wigan people can pick four up at once.’ He also claimed that Wigan has been designated EU Capital of Pies.
In an entertaining clip I found which has since disappeared from YouTube, a lass called Lizzy Lever stipulated that a Wigan Kebab must come from Greenhalgh’s bakers, of which there are eight or nine branches in the town centre. ‘Others prefer Galloway’s, but I’m a Greenhalgh’s girl.’
Despite what Lizzy said, the town’s chippies do a roaring trade in Wigan Kebabs, and here a Scouse visitor samples one at the Trawlerman, along with some of the other delicacies including Smack Barm Pey Wet, (a battered slice of potato in a barm cake with a drizzling of the liquid from the surface of a vat of mushy peas) which he actually prefers to the kebab, and Babby’s Yed (baby’s head), as steak pudding is known. After all of which he declares: ‘I’m officially a Wiganer now.’
Another food blogger claimed to have invented the Christmas Wigan Kebab – a halved brioche surrounding a mince pie (presumably omitting the pey wet).
And finally, here is 24-stone builder Ian Gerrard triumphing at the World Pie Eating Championships to be crowned Lord of the Pies.
Fleet Street Follies
A FORMER Daily Mail colleague who left to join the Telegraph in 1997 recalls: ‘The technology there was dire (a bunch of journos from Nigeria came to inspect the premises and dismissed our system as prehistoric). Anyway one of the problems was that there was a complete divorce between editorial and advertising inputs, so that it was impossible for subs to view the ads on a news page until the paper landed. A proof would only contain the editorial, not the ads.
‘One day, a story arrived about an academic who had written a book denouncing the British bombing of Dresden as a war crime. The Telegraph, then a very military-minded organ, decided this was worth a good show and yours truly was given the page to do. I laid it out with a main news story plus sidebars from experts defending and attacking the British strategy. The whole page was anchored with a 5-column pic of the ashes of what was once the beautiful medieval centre of Dresden. All fine. Until the first edition arrived in the office. Beneath my half-page masterpiece was a half-page ad under the banner “Enjoy a day out with the RAF”.
‘I had to call the advertising manager to get an ad switch for the next edition but of course the first edition was by then on its way throughout Europe.’
Old jokes’ home
I went to buy a camouflage jacket today but I couldn’t find one.
A PS from PG
And as he, too, seemed disinclined for chit-chat, we stood for some moments like a couple of Trappist monks who have run into each other at the dog races.
PG Wodehouse: Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit