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Jake Green’s Pie & Mash Shops

December 23, 2018
by the gentle author

It was my great privilege to write the forward to Jake Green‘s book of his photographs of East End PIE & MASH shops. It gave Jake an excuse to make a pilgrimage to every one and it would have been an insult to civility not to sample the fare in each shop. How many of these have you visited?

FOR THE LOVE OF PIE & MASH

In the depths of winter when I feel worn out, when I grow skinny and my clothes hang loose, when I am beaten and bowed, grey-faced and sneezing, coughing and shivering, I seek refuge in pie and mash shops. These cherished institutions have a special place in my affections because they are distinctive to East London and inextricably bound up with the cultural and historical identity of this place.They are destinations where people enjoy pilgrimages to seek sustenance for body and soul, by paying homage to the spirit of the old East End incarnated in these tiled, steamy temples dedicated to the worship of hot pies. Let me admit, it is a creed I can subscribe to wholeheartedly.

At the head of the lunch queue in G Kelly in Bethnal Green, I once met Julia Richards who bragged “I’m going to be ninety-eight” with a winsome grin, the picture of exuberance and vitality as she carried off her plate of pie and mash hungrily to her favourite corner table, pursued by her sprightly seventy-year-old daughter Patricia. Both women were superlative living exemplars for the sustaining qualities of traditional East End meat pies. “I’ve been coming here over fifty years,” revealed Patricia proudly. “I’ve been coming here since before it opened!” teased Julia, her eyes shining with excitement as she cut into her steaming meat pie.“They used to have live eels outside in a bucket,” she continued, enraptured by memory, “And you could pick which one you wanted to eat.” I left them absorbed in their pies, the very epitome of human contentment, beneath a hand-lettered advertising placard, proclaiming “Kelly for Jelly.”

When I am in London Fields, I like to enjoy a quiet cup of tea after lunch with Robert Cooke  – “Cooke by name cook by nature” – whose great-grandfather Robert Cooke opened a Pie & Mash Shop at the corner of Brick Lane and Sclater Street in 1862. “My father taught me how to make pies and his father taught him. We haven’t changed the ingredients and they are made fresh every day,” explained Robert plainly, a fourth generation piemaker sitting proudly in his immaculately preserved cafe, that offers the rare chance to savour the food of more than century ago. “My grandfather Robert opened this shop in 1900, then he left to open another in the Kingsland Road, Dalston in 1910 and Aunty May ran this one until 1940, when they shut it after a doodlebug hit the canal bridge,” he recounted. “My mother Mary came over from Ireland in 1934 and worked with my grandfather in Dalston, alongside my father Robert and Uncle Fred. And after they got married in 1947, my grandfather said to my parents, ‘Here’s the keys, open it up,’ and they returned here to Broadway Market, where I was born in 1948.”

It was a tale as satisfying in its completeness as eating a pie, emphasising how this particular cuisine and these glorious shops are interwoven with the family histories of those who have run them and eaten at them for generations. Yet beyond the rich poetry of its cultural origin, this is good-value wholesome food for everyone, freshly cooked without additives, and meat pies, vegetable pies, fruit pies and jellied eels comprise a menu to suit all tastes.

East Enders love their Pie & Mash, because by enjoying this glorious meal they can participate in the endless banquet which has been going on for generations, longer than anyone can remember, and which includes all their family, relatives and loved ones, both living and departed. The world has changed and the East End has transformed, but the Pie & Mash shops are still here and the feast goes on.

Photographs copyright © Jake Green

Click here to buy a copy of PIE & MASH direct from Jake Green

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So Long, Nathan’s Pie & Eels

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Greene permalink
    December 23, 2018

    Do tell, gentle author, what “mash” is. Mushy peas, mashed potatoes, or something entirely different? I thought I had a pretty good understanding of British food (from a longtime friendship with expatriate Brits) and from travel in England and Australia, but I’ve never understood what mash is!

  2. December 23, 2018

    I don’t think I was ever allowed to eat in a pie and mash shop when I was small, but I remember standing in front of the window of a shop on Well Street, Hackney, watching a huge tub of writhing eels, which was strangely fascinating and frightening at the same time. Good luck with the book! Valerie

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    December 23, 2018

    My Local one, L Manze’s in High Street Walthamstow ( Listed, of course ) is there … good.

  4. pauline taylor permalink
    December 23, 2018

    I am sure that you will find this hard to believe but I, as the granddaughter of a true cockney, have no idea what pie and mash is, I gather that the pie is a hot meat pie but what sort of meat, is it beef, lamb or pork and is the mash mashed potato? Do tell please.

    I assume that Sweeney Todd did not have a pie and mash shop? Sorry couldn’t resist that.

  5. Paul Loften permalink
    December 23, 2018

    The dark side of pie and mash is to see the butcher knife slash and the poor eel thrash. I remember the one at Dalston Junction and had an occasional one but left it at that .

  6. Ria permalink
    December 23, 2018

    Manze’s pies are sold at the Preston Brewery Tap in Preston, Brighton advertised as sent down from London.

  7. Maureen McGowan permalink
    December 23, 2018

    As a youngster growing up in Bethnal Green I can also remember the live eels. In answer to a couple of the questions: the meat in the pie used to be mutton and the crust was made up of a suet base and hot water pastry top, although this may have changed since the 1950′s! The meat may now be minced beef. The mash is ordinary mash but is always served with a green liquor (gravy). This used to be similar to parsley sauce but was made with the juice from the cooked eels and had quite a distinctive flavour. It was always eaten with a dash or three of vinegar. It sounds a pretty awful combination but was delicious….or maybe it’s just us cockney’s became used to the flavour! I haven’t lived in London for well over 50 years but still miss pie and mash.

  8. Ian Silverton permalink
    December 23, 2018

    Two of my former Pie and Mash shops featured here today,when we lived and worked in the East End, Cookes Broadway, and Robins Wanstead High Street, always enjoyed our visits, Broadway lost me when it was inpossible to find a car parking spot, and Robins, when it got burned out, twice, although it re opened, was never the same, but still they carried on regardless, can’t keep cockneys down,tough old race, now sadly dying out.

  9. Ian Silverton permalink
    December 23, 2018

    Also as a child,colllected live eels in a sack, from a stall in Bethnal Green Road, and bought them home to the pub, and was shown how to kill them, chop up, and cook them, we also did that with live lobsters in a boiling pot, not forgetting skinning rabbits, all in a small boys Education, in the 1950s, eat to survive was the motto.

  10. Georgina Briody permalink
    December 23, 2018

    Lovely memories of long ago. I was never allowed to eat pie and mash in the shop but took it home with the liquor in a carton or jug. I have been known to order pie and mash with stewed eels on top!!

    Bert’s has long gone in the Old Kent Road but I hope the one remains in Tower Bridge Road.

  11. David Hucker permalink
    December 27, 2018

    The 3rd Pic which is Cockneys is Portobello Road.

  12. stephen Jackson permalink
    January 2, 2019

    I believe Cooke’s in Broadway market is shutting down in march 2019, apparently their kids don’t want to take it over, and the market is now full of tourists and hipster types who don’t know what pie and mash is. Surely someone could have took it over and marketed it as authentic Victorian fast food, can’t help feel someone has missed a trick here !

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