You cannot get more quintessentially British than pie and mash served with a healthy ladle of liquor. To mark British Pie Week, which runs from the third of March to the ninth, EastLondonLines headed down to East London to visit the home of the humble pie.
The staple dish dates back to the 18th century, when street sellers would sell penny pies filled with eels from the Thames, a cheap meal perfect for poor Victorians.
Nowadays boutique brand Pieminister appears each June at Glastonbury, and even David Beckham has been known to publicly indulge in a pie or two.
However, it’s still family businesses,handed down through. the generations since the Victorian era that are still keeping this British tradition well and truly alive such as F Cooke on Broadway Market.
F Cooke, 9 Broadway Market
Pie and mash is all Bob Cooke has ever known, he was born above the Broadway branch of F Cooke, the family business started by his great grandfather Fred in 1862.
Today the business has two East London stores; one in Hackney and one in Hoxton, both run by Cooke and his brother Joseph. The branch on 9 Broadway Market opened in 1900. Following the onset of the Second World War in 1939, the shop was boarded up for six years and remained intact with its interiors untouched, until it was re-launched by Bob’s mother Mary after the war.
Their best seller is a traditional minced beef pie, founder Fred’s own recipe. However, Cooke says East End diners are dwindling: “All the original East Londoners have moved out to Essex. I’ve moved too, I’m in Brentwood now. No one can afford to live here, just look at the prices of one bed flats.”
Cooke says not all of today’s East Londoners get the appeal of pie and mash: “It is tradition. We used to have live eels in here, but there is no call for it now. Broadway Market attracts 2,000 people every weekend, but they have no interested in pie and mash, they will come in here and take pictures but that is it. I could cut eels heads off out there, but they would not be interested and I would probably get arrested for that!”
The Cooke family name is set to continue for a fifth generation as Bob’s daughter has just opened her own shop in Harold Hill to cater for the East Enders who have escaped to Essex.
S&R Kelly & Sons, 284 Bethnal Green Road
Much like Bob Cooke, Robert Kelly was handed S&R Kelly on 284 Bethnal Green Road by his mother, but it was his nan Matilda who started the family business in 1915.
At the peak of the pie and mash trade, the Kelly family owned six pie shops in the Bethnal Green area, but today 284 is the last one surviving. It was opened by his father Samuel in 1934, and still uses his original it minced beef pie recipe.
Kelly who lost his father at 13, says it is an honour to run the family business: “It is tradition, during the war, pie and mash was a supplement to rationing. It would be nice to see it continue, we still get returning customers who have moved out of London, but unfortunately the pie shops are diminishing due to the culture change in the East End.”
“Trade has dropped dramatically, but I am fortunate, I don’t have to pay rent as my father bought the freehold. It probably wouldn’t be here now if that wasn’t the case. You just have to hold onto any business nowadays, the rents are enormous and the rates are bad enough, but then there is the expense of actually running a shop.”
However undeterred, both of Kelly’s sons have entered the trade and the eldest has even set up shop in Loughton Essex, under the name of T and J Kelly. Robert Kelly says he also has hopes for his nine-year-old grandson who could be the fifth generation to enter the family business if he decides too.
G Kelly, 526 Roman Road
At 16, Sue Vening started as a Saturday girl at her father’s pie and mash shop G Kelly’s, and now manages of the Bow branch (although they trade under the Kelly name, they are not linked to S&R Kelly).
In 1937, George Kelly opened the pie and mash shop in Bow, along with sister branches in Broadway Market and Bethnal Green Road. In the mid 1950‘s however, George’s brother-in-law Bill Kingdon took over the Bow branch, cutting all trade links with the Kelly family.
Kingdon had been instrumental in persuading the Ministry of Food to issue pie and mash as a rationing supplement during the Second World War. When Kingdon died in 1969, it was his widow Bea and daughter Sue who took over.
The traditional, their main pie filled with British beef, has always been sold and remains their best seller. Vening says: “Everything comes in as a raw ingredient, with the meat from Smithfield, we make and we bake it all here. I have tried to stay true to the essence of the pie and mash shop. We do pies other than our traditional such as chicken, meat and ham pies and vegetarian ones also, which are very popular, and I do catering for events. There would be scope to do other things but then you lose you raison d’être, once you start to dilute the essence of the shop it could go down and it would not be as valued.”
Sue has three children but says she is unsure of who will continue the family business: “That is a question mark at the moment. My son is a very hands on, he loves baking and cooking, and is very much into artisan food. He has done a year out of university at Stepney Farm and has got plans but I am not quite sure as to what they are.”