Pie Barm: an unconventional traditional sandwich from Wigan – England
Wigan, is an English town west of Manchester, well known for its enthusiastic pie-eating. Whether it is covered in pea-wet or served up with chips, Wiganers are renowned for their love of all things pastry-wrapped, and the city also hosting the annual World Pie Eating Championship.
But why has Wigan become so synonymous with pie, and Wigan folk have been called pie-eaters for almost a century?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s because of the sheer volume of pies that are consumed by locals every year. However, they don’t eat more of pie than most other towns, and the reason actually comes from a very different time, and not out of a love of pastry-covered meats, but out of the cruelness of employers and the harshness of life. And much as Wigan enjoys its pies now, for one day in May 1926, pie was the last thing they wanted to be eating!
It all started on 3 May, 1926, when the General Council of the Trade Union Congress called a general strike in support of the nation’s coal miners, to protest against falling wages and worsening work conditions.
For nine days, Britain was brought to a standstill, and workers in key industries, such as railwaymen, dockers, steel workers and transport workers, downed tools and picketed their workplaces to support their mining colleagues.
Despite so much support, the TUC eventually had to give in and tell people to go back to work after the Government stated that they couldn’t force employers to take everyone who had been on strike back.
However, in Wigan, they had already returned to work. The collieries there had decided to take matters into their own hands and were literally starving their miners back down the pit.
With nothing to eat and no money, the workers had no choice but to return to work before the workforces of the surrounding towns.
They had, in essence, been forced to eat “humble pie”.
In any case on current days, in Wigan, the default (and favorite) lunch is always a pie. Small wonder, then, that locals devised myriad ways to eat their pie, including one that requires no cutlery: a meat pie sandwiched between a buttered roll.
The roll in question is known as a “barm cake” – or bap, or roll, depending on where you’re from – which means it was leavened with barm (the foam at the top of any fermented beverage, usually beer). This ingenious manner of pie degustation ensures the fastest consumption of hot, meat-filled pastry, no cutlery needed, because the bun protects hands from getting burnt, and also serves to soak up any errant gravy or juice without wasting a drop. And if pie sauces are absorbed in the barm cake, meaning a no-mess meal on the go.
Really, it’s as easy as pie!
Eh voila…Wiganers also attempted to send a meat-and-potato pie to space in a high-altitude weather balloon in 2016 (it didn’t make it).