Friday 18 December 2020

Don't Tell Porkies

Pork Pie is Cockney Rhyming Slang for lie. So to 'tell porkies' is to 'be economical with the truth'. Melton Mowbray Pork Pies have protected status as a food product. The Pork Pie is quintessentially a dish from the Midlands -  at the start of the 19th century it was already a tradition to eat Pork Pie for breakfast on Christmas morning. Birmingham, Nottingham and Leicester all claim to have started this. As the pie was also considered a filling breakfast before a day's hunting, I suspect Leicestershire has the strongest claim [that county was famed for its hunting, and on the map it is even shaped like the head of a fox]

In the early 1820s Henry Walker set up a pork products factory in Leicester. They opened their shop in the city in1824, selling pies, sausages and bacon. The company did well. During WW2 with meat on the ration, they diversified and made potato crisps as well [the Walkers Crisps factory is still in Leicester, but owned by a different company] When I first went to Kirby Muxloe, a man from Walkers Pies came to talk to our women's group. 

He was fascinating - I cannot remember his name, it was something like "Ian Hislop" - but obviously not the IH off the TV. This guy started work as a teenager in the late 1940s along with two other lads. He told us that the factory closed for three days in December- 24th-26th. But on the day before Christmas Eve, the boss came down to where they were working. "I want you three lads here, tomorrow morning, 6am sharp! No arguing, your holiday will start a bit later than the rest of the workers" They were a little put out, surely they deserved a lie in? But suspecting their jobs depended on compliance, they turned up and stood shivering outside the factory gates early on Christmas Eve.

And the boss arrived in his chauffeur driven Bentley. "Get in lads" he said - and they drove [in style] right into the centre of the city, to the Walkers pie shop in Cheapside, adjacent to the Market. The crowds were already queuing round the block to get the Christmas Morning Pie.[b&w photo 1956]

Mr Hislop said the boss turned to the boys and said-"Look at these people - they got up even earlier than you to buy their pies. These are the people we are working to serve, the ordinary folk of our city - you remember that and put your best efforts into every pie you make" And Mr H told us that he had followed that instruction his entire working life, and had been with the company nigh on fifty years.

The Walkers brand was eventually taken over by Samworth Brothers, another Leicester Company. The Xmas Eve queues continued [colour photo 2017]  but they queued the other way round the block - but you can still see the wide tiled pavement and the cobbled street. Sadly the Cheapside shop closed two years ago - although you can still buy the fluted pies at many supermarket deli counters. 

After twenty years living in Leicester,  Pork Pie has become part of our family's Christmas menu too. We will have enjoy one on Boxing Day. The other thing I remember clearly from Mr H''s talk is that he said you can freeze pork pies. The trick is to keep them in the paper wrapper, then wrap that firmly in foil, and finally wrap the whole parcel tightly in cling film. Mine is ready and waiting in the Cornerstones Freezer!

Does your family have a special food item on the Christmas shopping list?


  1. I haven't had any pork pies, but, thank you for the history behind them! I don't think my family has any special food item on our Christmas shopping list, other than the ingredients for Christmas cake and Love cake. :)

  2. I know you have blogged about Love Cake in the past, but I cannot find your post- can you explain it again, please? Thanks Bless

  3. M/M pies are a great favourite of my husband, and I have frozen them with no problems. What a fascinating bit of history.


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