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Events | Lore & Legend | Rather Interesting | Cultural Britain

Denby Dale Pie, West Yorkshire

The Denby Dale Pie is not something that readers are being nudged towards trying to cook or source for themselves, which is not the case with the majority of the entries to our Food Legends section. Quite why will be evident from even a cursory skim of the following.
This is a dish with a tradition that can be dated to a precise year, 1788. In that year George III made a recovery from mental illness, and his loyal subject in Denby Dale, near Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire, decided to celebrate. The way they hit on to mark the recovery was by baking a large pie.
Large is of course a comparative term. The 1788 pie was barely enough to take the edge off the appetite compared to pies that followed, the filling being just two sheep and twenty fouls. Baked at the White Hart pub, it was wolfed down by the villagers, conveniently placed to wash it down with some Yorkshire ale.
When Wellington beat Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 it occurred to the villagers that it should be pie making time again, perhaps prompted by one of their number, George Wilby, who fought in the battle. Wilby is said to have cut the pie, thought to have been of a similar size to the previous one, with his sword.
The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 was the cause of the third pie baking, and as was appropriate to an event that meant the stomachs of the poor would be better filled, the pie was planned to be bigger than those which came before: almost eight feet in diameter, it contained five sheep, 21 rabbits, and nearly 90 game birds and chickens, as well as a large quantity of beef. Sadly the stage holding the dish collapsed, and the pie was trampled by a surging crowd.
In 1887, Queen Victoria 's golden jubilee, two pies were baked - the first was found to contain rotten meat when cut into, and was buried with some ceremony in a lime pit. A second was made by the women of the village a week later, and after the mini-riot following the cutting of the rotten one the event was kept quiet.
Unusually the next baking came just nine years later, purportedly to mark the 50th anniversary of the ending of the Corn Laws. It reused the dish from the last one, and contained 300lbs of beef and veal and more than 100lbs of mutton.
The reason for the next baking is one of the most contrived - 10 years after the ending of WWI. A dish 16 feet in diameter was made for it, and the whole thing took 30 hours to cook, with more than 600lbs of beef.
By 1964 the village was eager to have another pie day, and the excuse this time was the fact that four royal births were expected that year. A dish 18 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 18 inches deep was made specially, and three tons of beef used, enough for 30,000 servings (or for seven men from Wigan).
The next pie day was rather inward looking, celebrating 200 years since the first. The dish was the same depth as previously, but measured 20 feet by 7 feet, once again the world's biggest pie.
The last - for now - great pie made in Denby Dale was for the millennium. This time the dish was a staggering 40 feet by 8 feet. The event has become a corporate one, partly out of necessity of course as the cost of the pie has become incredible, Asda providing the 5,000kg of beef, and the filling being flavoured with large quantities of John Smith's bitter, rather a commentary on the changing world - in 1788 the villagers would surely have found a better use for that beer

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