Who ate all the pies? I'm afraid the answer to the bellowed query from the terraces is me. At least, I have ordered more pies at the Piebald Inn, a pub in the North Yorkshire village of Hunmanby that specialises in this sustaining delicacy, than any other customer since it opened last October. "We've never had anyone who ordered four before," says assistant manager Dan Silver. "Generally speaking, just the one is adequate."
The reason for such excessive ordering is not greed, at least not entirely. A generous sampling is required in order to assess the Piebald's menu, which runs to 40-odd different pies. They range from Native Pony ("classic steak and kidney") via Chestnut Horse (diced venison) to Wonky Donkey (turkey and trimmings). The equine nomenclature is liable to prompt an obvious joke, though this is rapidly scotched by Silver. "It's purely a theme – there's no horse in our pies," he says. "Yes, the choice can be bewildering. I suggest you choose a type of meat and go from there." Even then, with eleven beef, eight pork, six chicken, five game (when in season) and four lamb, not to mention eight vegetarian options, this is no easy task.
When I told a Yorkshire friend about this embarrassment of riches, he exploded, "Forty pies! How ridiculous is that? A pie is a serious business, not a novelty." To protect his blood pressure, I decided not to mention two of the Piebald's more extreme offerings. The Drayhorse consists of a one-kilo steak pie accompanied by one kilo of chips and one kilo of vegetables. "It's been attempted by 277 people and only six have managed it," beams Silver. "When I tried, I ate half of it and was extremely happy with my attempt."
Even more daunting is a phosphoric concoction dubbed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This is a chicken pie seasoned with a variety of chillies, including the Carolina Reaper, reportedly the hottest pepper in the world. (It rates around two million units on the Scoville scale, the measure of spicy heat. Tabasco, in comparison, hovers between 2,500 and 5,000.) "A friend of mine thought he could manage it," recalls Silver. "Well, he did – but unfortunately he didn't manage to hold it down."
The presence of my wife means that I am banned from ordering this spicy treat, even though it would make, as we hacks say, good copy. After a prolonged study of the menu, we go for four favourites of Piebald reg'lars. The resulting logjam on our table causes considerable interest among fellow diners in the mundane dining room (a temporary affair soon to be superseded by an eating area that will boast an equine motif: "Stable doors, horse stalls, that kind of thing..."). It is a lot of food. The term "table-creaker" would not be inappropriate.
Cooked using fresh ingredients in rectangular trays that each contain four servings, the Piebald's constructions come with floor, walls and ceiling as any self-respecting pie should. Each portion measures around 5in x 4in x 1½in and arrives accompanied by potatoes (new, mashed or chipped) and peas (green or mushy).
We start with the Cleveland Bay (£14.95), which contains beef skirt, brisket and oxtail braised with black treacle, bacon, chestnut mushrooms and shallots. Inside a pleasingly crisp crust, the interior proves to be a gleaming, melting, noirish celebration of umami. It is a match for the steak-and-kidney pie that lured Tuppy Glossop from his bed with disastrous consequences in Right Ho, Jeeves: "A masterly pie… [It] seemed to beckon to me."
Our second sampling is the Skyros (£10.95), which contains rabbit and black pudding in a tomato and olive sauce. Though a pie devotee at the bar insists that it is his favourite, it strikes me as being too polite and diffident. The Welsh Cob (£12.95), diced lamb with vegetables in pastry infused with dried mint, prompts a brisk exchange of opinion between reviewer and partner. "It's OK, but I'm not sold on the curious pastry." "Well, you don't like lamb and mint sauce. I love it." We both agree on the Andalusian (£9.50) – roasted onions, aubergine, butternut squash and carrots in homemade passata – which proves to be sweet and satisfying in its buttery crust.
Also very satisfying are the side orders. The chips are dark, crunchy and addictive, while the mushy peas are good enough to explain the appearance of this dish in the British section of 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die by New York food writer Mimi Sheraton. We manage about half of each pie, which earns praise from Silver ("You did better than I expected"), though the take-no-prisoners pud menu (sticky toffee, chocolate sponge, lemon meringue) by this time, holds scant appeal.
65 Sands Lane, Hunmanby, North Yorkshire YO14 0LT (01723 447577). Around £13 per person, before drinks and service
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