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What makes the perfect pie? Romford pie maker tells all

11:59 10 March 2014

Ricky Prophet,Terry McDowell, Linda McDowell, Stacy McDowell, Danny Prophet and Lee Kelly outside the family pie and mash shop

Ricky Prophet,Terry McDowell, Linda McDowell, Stacy McDowell, Danny Prophet and Lee Kelly outside the family pie and mash shop

Archant

Since the ancient Egyptians debated how many figs to include in their pies, the battle for perfection has baffled bakers.

Ricky Prophet prepares a plate of pie and mashRicky Prophet prepares a plate of pie and mash

A thousand years later, the Romans were faffing around with honey and goats cheese – still not quite getting it right.

It wasn’t for another 800 years that the face of British cuisine was changed forever when the humble pie hit our shores and became part of what makes up our very identity.

So what makes a perfect pie?

Terry McDowells knows a thing or two about making a good pie.

Pie and mash from the family run shop in RomfordPie and mash from the family run shop in Romford

His parents set up the long-running pie shop McDowells Pie and Mash in Romford Shopping Hall, Market Place.

Now he and his two siblings, together with their children, own or work in pie shops around the borough, bringing pastry perfection to anyone in need of old fashioned comfort food.

Every day he crafts thousands of pies by hand, lovingly cooking the meat and gravy and individually glazing each with a dab of milk.

“Good ingredients are what make a good pie,” the 59-year-old said. “We get meat from a Romford butcher whose stuff is all organic and free range and always add the best ingredients into the mix.

“That’s what makes a good pie, well, that and a bit of care.”

Despite his family having experimented with different flavours – including a brief dalliance with curry pies – it is the standard mince beef offering that keeps people coming back.

“We make our own pastry, which is not difficult for us to get right as we have made so much of it,” he said.

“It’s about mixing the right ingredients with a lot of care and then giving the pastry a bit of a glaze with milk.”

Terry’s nephew Rickey Prophet, 31 works at another McDowells branch, in High Street, Romford.

He got involved in the family business at 18 and said the key to a good pie is to keep it simple and to use a good gravy stock.

“You need quite simple flavours, a bit of salt in the mash and liquor sauce.

“Liquor is a bit divisive but I don’t know why, it’s only a bit of parsley sauce.”

Pie and mash seems to be undergoing a resurgence with Romford TOWIE girl Gemma Collins saying no matter how famous she gets, she always “likes a nice plate of pie and mash”.

Young people returning to their East End roots is something Ricky says he has noticed over recent years.

“It’s an East End thing, eating pie and mash,” he said. “It’s unique to our part of London and makes people feel like proper Londoners.

“You also get West Ham fans and I think it part of the experience of going to see football.”

Terry says the tradition of a proper meat pie is passed down the generations.

“East Enders have moved out to Essex and we get mums and dads introducing their children to it.

“I have some customers I’ve been serving since they were children and now they bring in their own children. It’s really nice.”

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