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Living the pie life

5 June 2023

Born into a Canterbury pie dynasty, Wendy Morgan has gone on to have a
delicious career in the food industry. Now enjoying a quieter life in Christchurch with
fellow chef husband Rex Morgan and dog Pepper, she has penned her first cookbook,
Who Made All the Pies?, which nods to her pastry heritage.

Words & photos Wendy Morgan

I was brought up in a pie shop, our family home joined to the shop. My mother was making pies up until two hours before I was born, when she reluctantly put down the tools and headed around to the Lincoln maternity hospital to give birth to me.

My parents started their pie business just a couple of months before finding out my mother was pregnant. They were so busy with the new business, they hadn’t even had time to think of a name for me, so when the nurse suggested I looked like a Wendy they said, “Sure, sounds good to us.”

And there it began. I spent my childhood around the ankles of my parents and their staff as they made pies. Looking back, I developed a natural ability for making pastry at a pretty young age, really by osmosis.

My family’s pie shop, Hillyer’s Bakery, was considered the best in Canterbury at the time, which I know is a big call for me to say, but that’s what people used to tell us, and we believed them.
My mother was credited with taking the flavour spectrum of pies to another level. Not content to just make mince, steak and bacon and egg pies, she started making chicken with mushroom, corn and apricot, and adding mushrooms, tomatoes and cheese to steak pies.

Rumour has it she was the first to make steak and cheese pies. In the season, the steak and oyster pies were bursting open, displaying their briny goodness. Cottage pies had real potato on top and as much cheese as we could get to stay on them. Mum also had a unique way of identifying the individual flavours of the pies by carving initials on the top of them, something that used to amuse the customers. I can still remember all the pie codes and I use them myself.

As kids, my brother and I would rise at 5am and work a couple of hours before we went to school. There was only us and the milkman sharing that time of the morning with the sun coming up around us.
It was always warm and cosy in the bakehouse with the huge brick-bottom B&H ovens that had to be turned on the night before to warm up. (Although they did break down a lot – it was quite normal for our very loyal electrician to be working on them at 6am to get us up and running for the day.)

My family used to take the mickey out of me as I wasn’t a morning person and refused to speak and found everything annoying. Some days I would arrive home from school and I wouldn’t go and say hello to my parents for fear of being lumbered with a job; other days I was only too happy to get amongst it. The warmth, the banter, the smells.

My parents used to wholesale their pies to practically every pub in the villages surrounding Lincoln, all personally delivered by my father. Another one of their wholesale customers was our local school tuckshop, which of course was mortifying for me. Oh, how the other kids used to think they were so funny pretending they had found a mouse in their pie!

When my parents retired, the Hillyer’s Bakery name retired with them, as my brother, Grant, took over the business and re-branded to another name.
I am not a technical or precise cook or baker. While I have admiration for those who are, I make no apologies for the fact that I’m not. I rely on my intuition and I am a big fan of improvising and swapping out ingredients.

Rustic is okay with me, as long as it’s not a complete mess. What I’m not okay with is blandness. Pies are best when they are intensely flavoured. I think it’s okay to describe pies as the ‘beautiful ugly’. Why get upset if they are displaying more contents than you would have necessarily liked? That just means there is probably going to be some tasty caramelisation going on. Embrace the imperfection.

Writing this book has been on my mind for a good part of my life and I feel a bit lucky that my life situation has finally allowed me the time to do it. It has been every bit as enjoyable as I dreamed it would be, so much so that I don’t want to stop – there might have to be a second book.

I know that everyone reading or flicking through the book will have the same question on their minds. Can you use store-bought pastry? Of course you can, I will look the other way. No, seriously, ready-made pastry is a good convenient product and if it means you get to make a pie from my book that you would otherwise be too time-poor to do then I say go for it.

apple and blackberry pie 3

Apple and Blackberry Pie

Swap the blackberries out with any of your favourite berries or even rhubarb. I like to use a couple
of different varieties of apple as they cook down to different textures. Granny Smith will cook down to
a complete purée whereas Braeburn will stay in pieces. Choose apples with a good acidity.

Use a 26cm round pie dish
4 heaped teaspoons raw caster sugar
300g fresh or frozen blackberries
4 large apples, at least 2 Granny Smith,
the other 2 your choice
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 quantity Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (recipe this page)
1 egg
Custard
Whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 190°C fan bake.
Sprinkle 2 teaspoons caster sugar over the blackberries and set aside.
Peel, quarter and core the apples. Slice the apples and layer into the pie dish. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons caster sugar in between the layers. Sift the cornflour over the blackberries and fold through. Tip on top of the apples. The filling should pile a little above the top of the pie dish, as the apple will condense down as it cooks.
On a lightly floured bench, roll the pastry out to 4mm thick. Place the pie dish over the pastry and cut around it, 2.5cm out from the edge of the dish. From the remaining pastry, cut a 1.5cm wide strip of pastry long enough to wrap around the edge of the pie dish — this can be done in several pieces and joined together. Brush the edge of the pie dish with water and place the strips on. Brush the top of the strip with water and then place on the pastry top by rolling it backwards onto your rolling pin and then forwards onto the pie dish. Press the pastry top to the strip of pastry and crimp all the way around. Cut some decorative leaves with any leftover rolled pastry. Whisk egg and egg-wash the top of the pie, place the leaves on and brush with egg. Using the tip of a sharp knife, create eight airholes in a circle around the top. Sprinkle the pie with a little raw caster sugar.
Bake for 30–35 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with custard and whipped cream, or a thick creamy yoghurt.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

300g high-grade white flour
200g cold butter, diced
50g raw caster sugar
Pinch salt
75ml cold water

Place the flour, butter, sugar and salt into a food processor with a blade attachment and process until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add the cold water and blend until the dough just starts to come together.
Remove from the processor and finish mixing by hand. Form into a ball, press down a little, wrap in cling film or baking paper and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes before using.

Bacon and Egg Pies

Classic bacon and egg pies are a must in any pie book. You can eat them warm or cold for breakfast, lunch or picnics — they are always a favourite. I’m a little spoilt as my brother makes amazing tomato relish that I like to put in the bottom of the pies, however this is a good chance for you to use up the little bits of relish or chutney you have rolling around in the back of the fridge. It adds an extra pop of flavour.

Makes 8 pies
Use 8 large muffin tins
1 quantity Rough Puff Pastry (recipe this page)
8 heaped teaspoons tomato relish
8 strips streaky bacon
8 eggs
100g cheddar cheese, grated
1 heaped tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C fan bake. Grease an 8-hole muffin tin.
On a lightly floured bench, roll the pastry out to a 24 x 48cm rectangle. Cut into eight 12 x 12cm squares. Press the pastry squares into the base of the tin.
Place 1 teaspoon of tomato relish in the bottom of each pastry case. Line the strips of streaky bacon around the inside of the pastry cases, then break an egg into each one. Divide the grated cheese over the tops of the pies, followed by the chives and a good grind of black pepper.
Bake for 15–17 minutes, or until the egg is set and pastry is golden.

Rough Puff Pastry

200g high-grade white flour
200g butter, room temperature firm, diced
Pinch salt
100ml cold water

Place the flour, butter and salt into an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and mix until the flour has coated all of the butter cubes and the butter is just starting to break down.
Add the water and mix to a rough dough. Remove the dough from the mixer, form into a ball, flatten a little, wrap in cling film or baking paper and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Roll the dough out to approximately 35 x 15cm, and fold into thirds. Give the pastry a quarter turn on the bench. Roll out to the same size rectangle as before and fold into thirds again.
Wrap in cling film or baking paper again and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes. Repeat this process two more times.

Extracted from Who Made All the Pies? The ultimate collection of pastry treats for every Kiwi household by Wendy Morgan, photography by Wendy Morgan, published by Bateman Books, RRP $38.

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