Finding Australia’s perfect meat pie
Culinary purist Scott Heiman celebrates the art of meat pie touring.
In the 1980s, trips for my family always started with mum’s pastry-less quiche in the Esky to get us through the first leg of the trip, and so we didn’t have to cook when we first made camp. Living in Coffs Harbour, NSW, at the time, most trips resulted in us going West. This meant that we would be transiting through Ebor (50km the other side of Dorrigo).
Ebor is smack-bang in the middle of a natural haven in between the New England, Chaelundi, Warrabah and Guy Fawkes River national parks. The surrounding terrain offer fantastic trout fishing, offroad tracks for 4WDing, and the fox hunting has always been excellent. For those preferring gentler pursuits, the beautiful waterfalls make it a destination in its own right. Despite these attractions, normally for us, it was principally a fuel stop and rendezvous point to meet up with friends with whom we were planning to tour.
So why didn’t we meet up with our mates instead at a more major regional centre like Armidale which was just 80km down the road? Simple. Ebor was the location of the famous Ebor Pie, which was available at the general store-slash-fuel station. If memory serves me correctly, the owner’s live-in grandmother made the pies on site. And since I took my first bite of Ebor Pie, it set the bar for every subsequent pie that has passed my lips. The flavour sensation was like no other, you could hold onto it with one hand without the pastry splitting and it was made with meat – lots of it!
Pies are an Australian icon – eaten at the cricket and footy, ready as a quick snack in service stations, fresh in bakeries and available in all shapes and sizes at the supermarket. Adding sauce is mandatory for some, but then again if you actually need sauce to make your pie tasty, perhaps you bought the wrong pie. Have you ever found yourself complaining about doughy pastry, pie cases that break apart, too much gravy and too much salt? How about too hot, too cold or worse – microwaved? The truth is not all pies are equal. And regardless of what your best mate says, pies are not a food group and are best savoured for special occasions, so when you partake you want it to be good.
For me, pie testing has become an integral part of road trips. We call it Meat Pie Touring. It engages my inner child and I simply can’t drive past a sign for home-made pies. And it’s great that it’s now become a family tradition with my own wife and five-year-old. I hadn’t realised when we met that, for my wife Kath, meat pie touring was already a well-established family custom and it’s taken very little persuasion for our daughter to join in the tradition.
We now judge towns that we transit through on the quality of their pie and pie menu selection. We are particularly pleased when we find bakeries that are spirited enough to have native game meats on offer such as roo, emu, croc, possum and even buffalo, rabbit and camel (okay the last three aren’t native but they taste good). We have even been known to plan ‘weekenders’ that take us past our favourite pie stops.
Meat Pie Touring holds broad appeal. Whether it’s the whole family with the camper on the back of the HiLux trekking across state boundaries, going solo with a swag or a quick dash to catch up with a mate in the Blue Mountains. And whilst mum’s pastry-less quiche is welcome in my Engel anytime, I will always stop for a home-made country pie from a bakery trying something new in an effort to stand out from the crowds.
PLAN YOUR TRIPS AROUND THESE
Home-made rabbit pie at Snowy Mountains Gourmet Foods in Bredbo, NSW, is an absolute gastronomic pleasure. Kathleen and Michael Bowerman established the bakehouse on the Monaro Highway, so if you’re en route for a snow adventure, to climb Mount Kosciusko, to fish for trout or navigate offroad tracks in the Australian Alps check them out. My personal vote for best pie in Australia!
You can take your pick at Parkers Bakery, VIC, a multiple award winning-bakery in Main Street Rutherglen. Whether you’re venturing out for some cod fishing on the mighty Murray, wine tasting, or on your way to the Alps or the inner West, stop here. There’s everything from the original to the unimaginable – and available frozen for your travels.
Crocodile pie at Blackbutt Bakery, QLD, was named the Gourmet Game Pie Category winner in the Great Aussie Pie Awards in 2013 (www.greataussiepie.com.au). On the D’Aguilar Highway, 100km from the Glass House Mountains you can snap this one up en route to the Gulf and Central Qld.
And those with a sweet tooth will find the best lemon meringue pie to ever pass lips at the Idle in cafe in Nana Glen, close to Wedding Bells, Kangaroo River or Nana Creek state forests.
A FEW FADING LIGHTS…
Trappers Bakery in Braidwood, Wagga and Goulburn. Braidwood Bakery was once a favourite but it’s lost a little something since being annexed by Trappers. Its prices aren’t as competitive as I remember and the crowds can be a bit off putting.
Fredo Pies: Once an icon in Frederickton, NSW, north of Kempsey, Fredo Pies now has venues in Nambucca Heads, Wyong and Coolongolook. Like Trappers, Fredo Pies has not benefited from becoming a franchise. The Frederickton shop can still please, but visit it out of season when the crowds are fewer and the pie choice better.
…OPT FOR A SANGA INSTEAD
The big boys such as Patties and Sargents. They dominate the sector but not the palate. Patties makes Four’N Twenty, Herbert Adams, Patties and Snowy River pies while Scott’s, Big Ben and Sargents pies all fall under the Sargents umbrella. These are the options you choose out of necessity. They’re a bit like the pie-eater’s equivalent to McDonalds.
Check out the full feature in issue #95 December 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.