I said, “I come from hog country”, and she was jealous, wishing she could say she was from somewhere like that. I asked her where she was from, and she hesitated scarcely a second before replying, “Butter pie country”.
I’d never heard of butter pies, so I asked her where they were from. The Preston-Blackpool-Wigan area, she said (I simplify). I’ve spent a lot of time around there, but never run across them. Why? They aren’t something baked at home, but bought out of the fridge from the local corner shop. They’re a snack, a local specialty, a place to come from.
After establishing that they had very little in common with that Canadian sweet, butter tart, I saved further knowledge for today. So: they’re the Cornish pasty of Lancashire. They’re purportedly of Catholic origin, made from onions and mashed or sliced potatoes and no meat, and so know alternately as “Catholic” or “Friday pies”. That also makes them a vegetarian option for menus aiming with local Lancashire themes.
They used to be a staple of Preston North End football games, until the baked goods company supplying the stadium had the biscuit. But they’re still made by various very local companies and one can, of course, make it at home. How much are they eaten fresh, how much bought as they “should” be, according to the woman from butter pie country, straight out of the corner store fridge? I don’t know.
The pie’s fame was ensconced – relatively speaking – by a Paul McCartney song, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”: “I had another look and I had a cup of tea and butter pie. (Butter pie?) The butter wouldn’t melt so I put it in the pie”. There’s really no more butter in the pie than any pie one might make with butter as the choice of pastry fat.
Hotpot is the better-known Lancashire dish. A Lancashire Evening Post article last year stirred up some local outrage over “real hotpot” made with lamb from New Zealand. I was charmed to see that one of the commenters replying to the article wrote, “The only true Lancashire dish is The Butter Pie. Oh, and Parched Peas”
© S. Worthen 2009