14th Apr 2021
A Tebay picnic wouldn’t be a Tebay picnic without one of Amanda Wilson’s handmade picnic pies. The co-founder of The Pie Mill tells us why the best things come wrapped in crunchy pastry.
At Tebay Services we pay close attention to our pies. As piemakers ourselves, we understand the skill and care that goes into producing the perfect combination of tasty pastry and generous filling. That’s why in our Farmshop we sell only pies that we’d be proud to call our own.
We’ve worked with Amanda Wilson at The Pie Mill for more than 15 years, ever since our Farmshop buyer Alexander Evans tasted the pies served at her parents’ Lake District pub. Made by Amanda’s late father, self-taught chef Jim Hodge, they were such a popular feature of the menu at The Mill Inn in Mungrisdale that they gave rise to an annual pie festival featuring 20 different varieties of handmade pie.
When Alexander asked Jim if he would consider making pies for the Farmshop at Tebay Services, it gave the family an idea. Jim and Amanda – a former hairdresser who was working with her dad in the kitchen at the pub – started The Pie Mill in 2005 to make and sell their pies to a wider audience.
The Pie Mill now makes more than 40 different types of savoury and fruit pie, plus quiches and pasties, at its small production unit near Threlkeld at the foot of Blencathra. Amanda and her team also produce a range of cold picnic pies exclusively for our Farmshop deli counter using handmade hot-water pastry and locally sourced meat, including beef and lamb from our farm.
“When we buy meat from Tebay we know it’s good quality; we know that when it is cooked it will be tasty and tender,” Amanda says. “We buy all our meat locally. I think it’s important to know where your meat comes from and to support other local businesses.”
She’s proud to work closely with other Cumbrian suppliers on new products exclusive to Tebay Services. Her Beef Growler picnic pie (featuring Tebay farm beef) is one of several varieties featuring Hawkshead Relish products (it is topped with their beetroot & horseradish chutney), and she’s just launched with West Cumbrian preserve maker Wild & Fruitful a fruit pie that will change with the seasons.
Like all her fruit pies, the Wild & Fruitful version will feature The Pie Mill’s distinctive hand crimping – so distinctive that Amanda can tell at first glance which of her colleagues’ thumbs and fingers have been used to seal pastry case and lid. “Lots of people use a fork to crimp, but we think doing it by hand makes it look more homemade,” she says. “Lots of customers tell me they’ll take our pies out of the packaging and pretend they’ve made them themselves.”
Amanda and her Dad spent years perfecting their shortcrust pastry. “It has to stay crunchy but absorb all the flavours of the slow-cooked tasty fillings,” says Amanda, who keeps the simple recipe so secret that she waits six months before sharing it with new recruits. It is made by hand as you would at the kitchen table but on a slightly larger scale: with the help of a hand-operated pastry rolling machine Amanda and her three piemakers Lesley, Nikki and Carla can roll, fill and bake up to 4,000 pies a week in peak season.
Most are destined for Tebay Services, which is Amanda’s biggest outlet and her gateway to national sales. “We have an online shop, and a lot of our sales come from people who’ve tried our pies at Tebay Services,” she says. “They really like the story behind them, the fact that we use meat from Tebay’s own farm.”
Their signature savoury shortcrust pies – freshly baked and perfect for popping into the freezer for standby suppers – are named after Lake District fells, including Blencathra (steak in ale), Bowscale (chicken and mushroom) and Buttermere (roasted vegetable). “My favourite is probably Helvellyn, the steak and Stilton,” Amanda says. “Mainly because I love cheese, and I think it’s a really rich, tasty pie.”
As for her cold picnic pies, she likes to take one to Carrock Fell in the northern Lakes. It’s near the Mill Inn and close to her husband’s family farm, and it reminds Amanda of walking as a child with her much-missed Dad, Jim, who died after contracting Covid-19 during the early days of the pandemic.
She is determined to take The Pie Mill from strength to strength in a way that would make Jim proud. “All our original recipes are Dad’s,” says Amanda, whose close-knit team now includes her Mum, Margaret, helping out with admin and deliveries. “We liked to come up with something new every year, but it’s going to be different launching new products without him.”
Having inherited her Dad’s passion for pastry, she is determined to champion his high standards – including their shared insistence on what makes a proper pie. “A pie should be fully encased in good quality pastry,” she says. “It’s never just a filling with a pastry lid on. That’s not a pie. It’s a casserole.”
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