Is it possible to see a country through the prism of a pie? To detect a flavour of the nation in a steak and kidney filling? Obviously, How to Eat – the series that identifies how best to eat our favourite dishes – does not think so. A steak and kidney pie is just a pie. But is it?
Invariably hailed as an English classic, as if our fondness for steak and kidney in rich gravy stops hard at the Welsh or Scottish borders, it is clearly a bakery product with chauvinistic baggage. If that pushy ownership implies an inferiority complex on the part of the English, it is borne out by the insecure language used to celebrate this icon.
England claims the steak and kidney pie, but is simultaneously embarrassed by its lack of continental sophistication – an absence of cream, spice, oil or zest. As such, the country tends to lean into the pie’s lumpen reputation, discussing it in gutsy, jovial terms that take a stubborn pride in its rugged simplicity. It is hymned in big, butch riffs about no-nonsense English cooking; a pie rendered literally and metaphorically bovine.
This all smacks of getting your excuses in early. This is English food. You wouldn’t understand it. No one likes us. We don’t care. And we all know where that mardy mentality gets you.