Foody Almanac : Are you a pie or pastie person?

Freud divided humanity into oral expressives (Almanackers) and anal retentives (Murdoch readers).  Being Austrian and not Australian, Freud missed the more important distinction.  Do you point at the pie or the pastie when it comes to that hearty snack on the run?

I confess that I am a pastie man.  Look I like the occasional steak and mushroom pie so long as there is lots of dark, juicy gravy.  But give me that steaming pile of (hopefully) well-peppered vegies any day.

I could offer rational explanations like the pie gravy stains on the shirt, or the scalding trickle down the arm when trying to drive with pie in hand (automatics only please).  And we all need more of our 5+2 of vegies to reduce our cholesterol, even though distressingly the vegie mix now seems to come from a large can labelled “Vegetable Mixture (product of China)”.

But Freud was right about human motivations.  Our inner drives come from childhood and sex not rational adult deliberation.

For me the pastie will always be Thebarton Oval in the looming winter dark.  Trudging away from the scene of the crime (another brave West Torrens Eagles 6 goal loss) with my Nan and Pop.  Outside the southern gates was a mysterious array of blackened metal trays covered in hessian bags.  The bags were quickly pulled back to reveal neat rows of golden pasties that warmed the hand as well as the heart of the despondent supporter.

The quick exchange of one shilling and sixpence and the hessian blanket was just as quickly replaced to keep the contents warm.  I marvelled at how hot they were given that it must be at least an hour since they last saw an oven.  Carried, not driven, past the narrow-gutted workers cottages that surrounded my elysian field.  Maybe the vendor had personal experience from Depression years of the insulating capacity of hessian bags?

“They need to be ready by 4 today love,” the vendor, cocking his ear to the radio, would urge his wife sweating over the wood stove.  “The Eagles are 5 goals down at half time.  They’ll be leaving early in the last quarter today.”  We never did.  Always staying for the medleys to clap off Bobby Gibson who toiled manfully in the back pocket, while flashy wingmen squandered his hard won rebounds.

I looked at the hessian bags and wondered about their hygiene and previous contents.  They weren’t the light hessian of a sugar bag.  That wasn’t thick enough to keep a cat warm.  More like a wheat bag that you bought to feed the chooks their morning grain.

My mum was very hygiene conscious.  “Have you washed your hands Peter?” was the regular question before meals.  “Cleanliness is next to godliness.  Don’t watch you catching anything and you know you have a gentle (read nervous) disposition.”

Mum would never buy me a pastie from under a hessian bag, but grandad always would.  Not only were they hot and full of home cut, boiled and peppered pumpkin, potato and carrot – they were forbidden fruit.

I don’t remember if there were similar hessian vendors at the other boyhood temples like Richmond and Prospect Ovals that dotted the Adelaide suburbs.  I have a vague memory of searching (pointlessly) for the last 50 cents in my pocket outside Victoria Park and Morphettville racecourses after the last in the mid 70’s, as the demon punt slowly displaced my boyhood footy idols.  By then I was conditioned for disappointment.  Beaten favourites were as reliable (time honoured?) as 10 goal floggings by Jack Oatey’s Sturt or Fos Williams’ Maggies.

Fragile memory suggests that the racecourse vendor used the same hessian bag insulation method, but the pasties were no longer golden and fresh baked.   They were pale (like ravaged punters) and had a stale crust (ditto) that suggested they were day-old seconds from Balfours commercial bakery.

No matter, by now I was melancholically drawn to the flame of punt or pastie whenever either was available.

When I was 10, dad was transferred to a country branch of the bank he worked in all his life as he progressed up the managerial tree.  Local country footy and the sweaty, penetrene redolent air of real changing sheds replaced the dreamy gaze from the terraces (we called them ‘mounds’) of the SANFL.

Our school had a hedge where most have a fence.  There was a climbing rockery next to the hedge, made by a considerate parent (the doctor perhaps) concreting rocks together, so you could see over the hedge from the top.  Morning recess saw the rush to the exits and the race to the top of the rockery pile so you could see the passing parade and disperse any attempted interlopers with a well-aimed Bata Scout.  Mostly bruises, but the occasional broken arm gave the doctor a good return on his investment.

I fantasise that every Occupational Health and Safety lecture in the SA Education Department still begins with a grainy black and white slide of the Yorketown climbing rockery circa 1967.

At morning recess we waited for Mr Haines the jeweller to glide by in his Riley sports car.  It had the sleek lines of an MG, but with the elegance of running boards, in a town dominated by EH’s, Falcons and utes.  The Riley ‘ticked’ as it approached, while other cars grunted and roared.  At 10.30 each morning Mr Haines hung the “back in 15 minutes” sign on his shop door and drove up the hill past the school to share morning tea with Mrs Haines.

“Cripes her scones must be good,” we fantasised.   Our 12 year old brains never considering other possibilities.

At lunch time we raced down the street for our lunch.  The main choices were Braund’s bakery or Woods’ deli.  Fish and chips took too long to cook and were beyond the means of our lunch money allocation.  Braunds were a faux Balfours knock off.  Pale with flaky pastry, but the filling was probably a better class than its city cousin.

Mrs Woods pasties were something else again.  Some men spend their life searching for the same careless rapture as their first kiss.  I search for the same feel and flavour of the WWW pastie (‘www’ meant Wally Woods Wife long before she was immortalised in software code by some engineer who doubtless had tasted her offerings in his youth – ‘world wide web’ hah).

Mrs Woods pasties were tall mounds of flavour, crimped at the top to seal the pastry, not the flattened heaps of commercial bakers.  They were in the style of Cornish pasties, but what set them apart was the pastry.  It was a firm, doughy shortcrust pastry (I now suspect utilising my basic Master Chef education) baked gleaming golden from a hand-brushed egg wash.  No pastry has ever got within 6 goals of the www mix, despite a lifetime’s searching.

The vegies inside were hand cut, cubed and par-boiled each morning.  Peas shelled not defrosted.  Random scatterings of mince and onion to remind you that it was a meat AND veg pastie, not one of these pale canned veg city imitations.

But the magic ingredient was the pepper.  Liberal sprinkles of Saxa pepper poured (ground pepper was an 80’s affectation) on the filling just before crimping and baking.

Heaven.  Bliss.

Some boys (christ knows what girls did or ate – they did not enter my universe until late high school) committed the sacrilege of injecting sauce into a www pastie.  There is another OH&S triumph of the modern world.  The 20 cents Masterfoods sachet (bloody yanks would commercialise water if they could – what they have?) replacing the “fair suck of the sauce bottle” that was the freely shared birthright of every Australian in my youth.  Perhaps we should blame Kevin Rudd for delivering the coup de grace with his mangled metaphors.  If anyone was a fair suck it was him.

Anyway back at the Test – I always thought that tomato sauce was like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa.  If it needed sauce for flavour you shouldn’t be eating it in the first place.

Shortcrust (not Puff) the Magic Pastry

A pastie lives forever, but not so little boys

Painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys

One grey night it happened, Mrs Woods came no more

And Shortcrust, that mighty pastry, he ceased his fearless roar

My love affair with the pastie (I prefer it to pasty or pastey) was cemented in late adolescence when I returned to Adelaide to work and study (part-time while drinking full-time).  A late night visit to the fleshpots of Hindley Street to see the legendary Big Pretzel disport her ample wares.

Don Dunstan had started to liberalise our social attitudes, but it was still a place where white gloved protestant ladies dominated the conversation.  Blokes drank and quietly understood when police drowned pooftas in the River Torrens (even if those victions were university professors – or perhaps particularly because they were – can’t let those dirty bastards near our kids – give us another beer).

The Vice Squad was ever vigilant on many fronts (pun intended) and the Hindley Street “strip” clubs would today struggle with truth in advertising laws.  The forbidden nipple was cleverly camouflaged beneath a glitzy golden stick-on tassel called a (wait for it) pastey.

How did she get one to go clock-wise while the other went anti-clockwise?   Did the normal laws of gravity not apply to Big Pretzel on more than one front (must stop punning)?

I had now found an elusive morsel even more tasty and desirable than a www.

Life is an endless searching, as TS Eliot reminds us:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Mothers, childhood, sex and forbidden fruit.  Freud knew a lot about people for an Austrian, even if he knew bugger all about pies, pasties and Australians.

Which one are you?  Pie or pastie?






  1. Peter Schumacher says

    Peter, I love the way that you have given meat to the subject. For me it was much simpler, in my last year at high school, every Monday my mother would give me two shillings I think that it was to purchase two PASTIES (not pies, very second rate cousins in my view) and bugger the culinary incorrectness of it all, they HAD to be supplemented with Australia’s national drink, tomato sauce. Oh joy, oh rapture! Sometimes I would finish off this eating fest with a lamington. (Guess what, my stupid spell checker is arcing up on “lamington” . Very average performance. could be considered almost to be “Un-Australian”)

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    PB, we’ve touched on the pie-men before ( )

    You’ve caused me to recollect my recollections. I’m now thinking that there was finely ground mince in those pasties. My glorious gourmet g-spot, the gums behind my top teeth, remembers the texture of that filling when savouring that first bite.

    I’m also thinking (imagining?) that each SANFL ground had its own local supplier of pies and pasties. Adelaide Oval was either Gibbs or Balfours (nothing special there), but Norwood (Cowleys?), Glenelg (Orange Spot or Duffy’s?) were a bit more exotic than Elizabeth Oval’s selection.

    And I’m pretty sure the it was the Thebby guy that also did Globe Derby (I was too young for Wayville).

    As for Big Pretzel, the only time ever saw her in the flesh was at Adelaide Airport, but her career was sagging by then. I think that they sent her and Ann Wills to Vietnam. That would’ve made a better movie than The Sapphires.

  3. As a vegetarian i can give the pies the flick. However my challenge is to find a race track(s), sporting grounds selling vegie pasties. Any pointers?

    Maybe i can pack some cold pasties in our bag as we go into the track/ground.


  4. Swish, certainly the same bloke did Morphettville (at the tram stop) and, with a new batch of pies, Globe Derby.

  5. Pie man here PB. The Rutherglen pie shop (north east Victoria) could be the best in the world.

  6. Emma Westwood says

    PB, I’m a pie girl myself. And I’ve been known to get more than a little excited when those wee party pies come out at parties, although I always scald my tongue. I do like the phrase ‘head/face like a half-eaten pastie.’

  7. I didn’t know anyone ate pasties.

    Love the story, PB.

  8. Very much a pastie man here. It was certainly Cowley’s out the front at the Parade, Swish, but I do have memories of pastie people more of the sort described above at the Woods St exit. The last time I went to Angle Park (would be almost 20 years ago now) there was such a vendor on the way out – small, golden and pleasantly warm (pasties weren’t bad either…).

    And as for the Big Pretzel, she is a regular guest on Peter Goers’ ABC local radio show of an evening – there’s an interesting combination for you!

  9. Pies. Represent!

    For some reason, Bakery Pies (and Pasties) leave their mass-produced relatives well and truly in the shade, even though the recipes vary from postcode to postcode.

    There was nothing like that hot pie after Satdee morning footy was done, you’d had your shower and had bummed a lift to the closest station to get to that day’s VFL footy action.

    No love for the sausage roll PB?

  10. My will to eventually turn full vego is stymied about once a fortnight by a Café Alcaston beef pie (2 Collins St).

    Is a pumpkin/veg pie still a pie or a confused pastie?

  11. Thanks folks. Good to see a thriving discussion. Wonder what our culinary preferences say about each of us?
    Stone Cold – thanks for raising the vexed issue of the sausage roll. I thought about weaving it into the story but it was a confused enough narrative as it was.
    To me the sausasge roll has always been the Bob Cunis of lunch snacks. Three quarters the price and three quarters the quantity of a pie or pastie; so it was a false economy as I always needed 2 to fill the same gap.
    Also neither one thing or the other when it came to the filling – not real meat like a good pie; and not real nutrition and flavour like the good pastie.
    My attitude to the sausage roll is only in extremis when driving and they have run out of pasties.
    I had a teenage flirtation with chiko rolls and fried dim sims but the girl on the motor bike never turned up so I went back to pasties.
    Steamed prawn dumplings, chilli squid tentacles and dim sum is my favourite cuisine these days – might be the subject of another piece some day.
    JD – your Pumpkin & Veg pie is a genetic deformity of the pastie family. They originated in Tasmania I understand.
    My sense from the comments is that the pastie is still a favourite among the Over 40’s but the pie marketers have won the hearts and minds of the younger generations.
    Mrs Woods would be turning in her grave.
    Big Pretzel is still alive so cannot turn in her grave for that other physical reasons.

  12. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Mrs Patricia May KENNEDY OAM (2013)

    For service to veterans and their families, particularly as an entertainer.

    Founder/Organiser/Host, Vietnam Veterans’ Day Concert, Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day Committee, Torrens Parade Ground, Adelaide, since 1999; Committee Member, since 1999.

    Performer/Entertainer, Australian Forces Overseas Fund Concert, Vietnam, 1966 and in 1968 for 3 months; performed under the stage name ‘Big Pretzel’.

    Has performed at numerous memorial concerts for Vietnam Veterans around Australia.

    Awards/recognition include:
    Inducted into 9 RAR Family, 9th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Association of South Australia, 2003.
    Take that Prince Philip.

    (no mention of her baked savoury goods preference)

  13. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Definitely a pie man and remember each suburban ground fondly and the hessian bag pie and the early edition of the news a ritual on the way out , thanks PB

  14. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great work PB,

    Pies and Jung for me. Pasties and Freud too phallic for my liking.

  15. Super piece.

    Comments very entertaining.

    Looking forward to the sausage roll piece, and the potato cake piece.

    Pasties were nowhere near as popular in Queensland where the pie was king and the sausage roll was prince – especially the top cut off and the mushy pieces slopped in (see Loose Men Everywhere).

    However, my father, being from the Riverina, was a pastie man.

    As someone who would eat the crutch out of a low-flying duck, I concede to having a deep appreciation of both.

    However I would mention the pasties at Fechner’s Apex Bakery in Tanunda (which I have written about for a forthcoming journal) as a joy of contemporary Australian life. They have history in them. Indeed ‘time-honoured’ is not a substantial enough descriptor. The veges are cut and par-boiled that night, and they are cooked, a tray at a time, as demand requires. To be in that wood-fired nineteenth century oven-room when the trays are pulled out is something else.

  16. Growing up in Warrnambool the split was between Chittix (square and less gravy) or Clarks (round and lots of gravy) pies. Can’t remember pasties being a part of the equation – perhaps it is an age group thing. I was always a Clarks man.

    For sausage rolls, my fondest memories are of late night in Manuka wondering across to the bakery at 2 am for a post drink snack. Nothing better.

    Thanks for the recollections PB. Comfort foods from childhood are a big part of our collective cultures. With my kids growing up in Sinngapore, I wonder what it is the will be reminiscing about later in life.

  17. I would like to correct that it is “Chitticks” and “Clarke’s” – see here in point # 2

  18. the pasties from the bakery at Quorn are bloody good.

  19. JH – the popularity of pasties in Qld is directly correlated to their standard – they are terrible. The veg in the meat and veg pasty consists of about 4, decade old peas. They make a Balfours pasty look divine.

    My fave pasty was the home made variety, pasty slice as my dear mother christened it. A delicacy hours in the making, commencing with my brothers and self entrusted with the mincing of the veggies with the old style hand cranked mincer. Said mincer looked liked it had been in the trenches of both Gallipoli and the Crimea, but it did a first rate job. After mincing the veg it was handed over to dear old mum to weave her magic. And weave she did – coming home from a SANFL game after freezing ones proverbials off (another 20 goal flogging or the “honourable 6 goal loss” at Woody Oval), one was met with the wonderful aromas of a perfect pasty slice – an olfactory orgy of smells, including the Saxa pepper, all the veggies, a smidge of minced left over lamb roast, and if we were lucky, some complimentary vegetable soup. The only downside was the corner bits which contained 2 sides of the crusty edge pastry – one side was plenty, and the entire thing topped off with tomato sauce, not Heinz or any other mass produced product, but Grandmas home made recipe made from Grandpa’s home grown product the previous summer.

    Even after the kids had moved out, the Saturday Night Pasty Slice tradition remained. If I were playing an away game in the western burbs – say at Rivvies, Rosewater, Henley, West Croydon, Greek etc, I’d delay my appearance at the Queens Head for a detour to The parents abode and a slice or two of the best. And it was a rare occasion that a sister or brother wasn’t doing the very same.

  20. PB- great memoir and question.

    I vote pasty, but more specifically the Cornish pasty. The ribbing across the back is a selling point. I believe the Cornish miners baked these on their pasty as a handle. They’d hold the pasty there and throw it away to avoid poisoning themselves, or something like this. As a former Yorke Peninsula boy, you probably know this.

    I note with interest your preference for “pastie.” On our recent trip to England we made a point of returning to a favourite haunt, The West Cornwell Pasty Company. Still a treat. Worth the fiver for a big one. And, of course, no sauce. Ever.

  21. bernard whimpress says

    I too prefer pasty with a ‘y’. As an Adelaidean I wonder if anyone ever poured pea soup on one and if so what did they call it? Sorry, now there’s a good business idea gone to waste.

  22. Luke Reynolds says

    Pies for me. Both the Black & White striped variety as well as the pastry covered version. A Hulm’s (Colac Bakery) Curry Pie is divine.

  23. Pasties definitely. From my fey Scottish grannie’s taste bud teasers to the Kilmore bakery’s complete lunch on the way to St Leonards for the annual two week holiday, by way of the delicious concoction from a Kyabram café (with a little extra seasoning from the beautiful daughter who treated me with scorn at school as well), I have hardly had a bad one. Except, as someone has mentioned, in Queensland. At present my addiction is adequately catered for at the bakery in the Glengarry shopping centre in Duncraig.

  24. snowy from lonny says

    Pasties for me.But i do have a memory of buying a pie in a big old QLD pub in Taroom,the barmaid asked me would i like sauce on my pie,and i said yes please,she then proceeded to squirt worcestershire sauce all over the pie.What the???

  25. First: Sausage roll
    Second: Pies … But not of the mass produced variety
    Third, with very deep reservations: Pies, of the mass produced variety
    Fourth: Daylight
    Fifth: More daylight
    Sixth: A bottomless well
    Seventh: Pastie

    Have never had a Chicko roll but I imagine it’s whatll be served op in hell

  26. Yeah no either.

    I made two good decisions as a young person…

    1. Never to smoke anything.
    2. Never to eat a Chiko roll.

  27. Les

    I was about to open an evil Chiko Roll Smoking Den.

    I’ll take you off the mailing list.

  28. Pie man.
    Recall Thebbie as a kid, standing down the back of the grandstand, and having a pie and getting the late edition of The News – the joy of seeing you made the best players ( and getting your name IN THE PAPER) after another Westfields U9/10 etc game. The pies always being cold at Richmond, and selling out before 1/2 time of the Seconds at the Bay. Can’t remember having pies after the games at Doggie Park, but always seem to have a sugar donut from the caravan next to the old licences club. Swish?
    Had moved on to hot chips by time I lived in Melbourne, as they stayed warmer for longer, and were less damaged by the continuous rain.

  29. And BTW – best pies in the is State come form the Kapunda Bakery.

  30. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Rabs, Yep half time line up at the van for a bag of donuts was a treat. None of that jam filled rubbish, it was all dough, sugar, cinnamon, hole.

    Or we would buy them from Elizabeth Vale legend, Gerald Thompson (now) OAM as he hawked them around the ground with his rallying call of ‘hot fresh donuts, delicious toffeeee apppllles’

    Wasn’t aware that Westfields ever had any best players.

  31. bulldogboy says

    Pastie… pastie…pastie! I first crossed paths with her on a Monday during my Prep year and that my friends was the beginning of a 13 year Monday school ritual. Despite the putdowns of schoolmates, i stayed resolute. Agreed, i may have strayed over the years but there were extenuating circumstances; such as at half time at docklands when confronted with the pie warmer absolutely chockers with pies and not one luscious pastie. What this country needs is boat loads of immigrants from the spiritual home of us lovers of the pastie… Cornwall.
    N.b. best pasties are from Hall street bakery, Newport.

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