The winter warmers that fuelled our workers

THIS week the recipe I have chosen from my book Dewsbury in Food and Photos is for meat and potato pie, a popular winter dish and one which my mother cooked often in our old fashioned coal oven.

Friday, 30th November 2012, 10:49 am

She cooked it in a massive enamel dish which was nearly as big as the one we did our washing up in, and to stop the pie crust from collapsing, she’d put an upturned cup inside to support the pastry.

Recipes like these were the kind women with big families used to make because they were very filling and also simple to make and cooked in one dish to save washing up.

Dewsbury people were renowned for being great meat eaters and there was a butcher’s shop on nearly every street corner. They had six in Batley Carr.

There was little talk in those days about healthy eating because food was just food to us, something to be eaten and enjoyed. We certainly never thought it might kill us!

I cannot remember people worrying about eating too much meat or finishing a meal off with rich desserts like jam roly poly covered in thick creamy custard.

We loved our food and looked forward to every meal, which was nearly always home-cooked, and we always sat down at the table to eat it.

But I must admit we found ways to work it all off without having to go to a gym because we had to walk everywhere and there were no labour-saving devices to help us.

I remember some years ago interviewing a local butcher, Alec Fozard, and listening to his views on what you should and shouldn’t eat.

He used to have a shop in Halifax Road, Staincliffe, and when I interviewed him he had just celebrated his hundredth birthday and was the picture of health.

He was still living on his own and cooking his own meals, and to celebrate his hundredth birthday had just made a special centenary stand-pie. Oh, and by the way, he had also just baked 20 Christmas cakes for family and friends!

Alec had always been a great meat eater and enjoyed full English breakfasts, fish and chips, Sunday roasts with Yorkshire puddings and the occasional slice of fat and bread.

Amazingly, his weight remained more or less steady at 10 stone, and he was on no medication whatsoever, his blood pressure was absolutely normal and he hadn’t one health problem.

Although Alec had no secret recipe for a long and healthy life, he did wonder if the fact that he’d had a long and happy marriage and had always been content with his lot had had anything to do with it.

He also said he had never wanted more than he had and was never happier than when he was cooking or baking.

The greatest meat eaters in this country, especially in this area, were the navvies who built our roads and railways.

Here in this district they were given an allowance of 7lbs of meat per day, a staggering amount compared with the amount we eat today.

They used to cook it on their shovels on fires built at the side of the road and it’s no wonder local butchers who supplied them quickly prospered.

In 1882 these butchers formed themselves into the Dewsbury and District Butchers’ Association and later became the National Federation of Meat Traders – the first in the country.

In those days a butcher would buy his beast at Wakefield and walk it back to Dewsbury where he would keep it in a little slaughterhouse at the back of his shop.

He would kill it on the Monday and because there were no refrigerators, he would first get rid of the parts which deteriorated quickest.

Tuesday would be offal day, Wednesday shin beef day, Thursday brisket day, Friday and Saturday best steak and beef days.

If a butcher had any meat left on Saturday afternoon, he would take it down to Dewsbury Market and sell it there. In those days the market stayed open till midnight.

The photograph which accompanied this recipe in my book was taken in Ravensthorpe in the days when Dewsbury Co-op had branches all over the district.

This picture shows the one in Huddersfield Road at the corner of North Road, which was acquired by the Dewsbury Pioneer Industrial Society in 1930.

At that time the Co-op in Dewsbury had more than 21,000 members, which, out of a population of 50,000, proved the majority of families in Dewsbury were members.

Every penny spent at the Co-op entitled the purchaser to a share in the profits which we called the “divi”, short for dividend.

The more a family spent at the Co-op, the more they had to draw when the dividends were declared, which was a great help to families.

Everyone I knew as a child was a member of the Co-op and bought most of their groceries there.

The highest dividend declared was in 1928 when it was 2/9d in the pound, but times change, and by the 1960s the society was struggling and the dividend dropped to an all time low of only three pence in the pound, the lowest in its history.

At that time the Society had 28 grocery branches throughout the district, five butchery branches, two pharmacy branches, one drapery branch.

They also had a fleet of mobile shops which supplied members living in districts where the society had no shops.

Among other services provided by the Society was a cinema (Pioneers), an excellent cafe, electrical, painting, plumbing and joinery departments, and a funeral service.

But, by the 1970s, this once prosperous society closed down after being refused permission to demolish its headquarters in Northgate and build a new supermarket.

The building was listed and is now protected from ever being demolished. It is currently undergoing repairs and refurbishment.

IF you feel like making a Meat and Potato Pie like our mothers used to make, here is the recipe:

2lb best stewing steak,chopped into pieces,

1 pint rich beef stock,

1lb potatoes, partly boiled,


8oz shortcrust pastry.

Cook the chopped meat in the stock beforehand, either in the oven or on top. Add the seasoning and cook slowly for at least two hours.

Peel, wash and cut potatoes into two inch pieces and place in boiling salted water and only partly boil. Don’t let them get soft.

Transfer cooked meat into a deep pie dish, and add the par boiled potatoes. Cover with the gravy from the meat and fill almost to the rim.

Roll out pastry but not too thinly and place over the meat and potatoes. Make sure you seal the edges well and make a hole in the centre to allow steam to escape. Brush with beaten egg.

Cook for about 30 to 40 minutes at Gas 6, making sure the pastry doesn’t get over browned, and serve with buttered cabbage, carrots and rich gravy.

It is wise to make some extra gravy because the pastry and potatoes often soak up a lot of the gravy, and there’s nothing worse than dried up meat and potato pie.

The best meat and potato pie I have tasted, apart from my mother’s, is the one served in Bailey’s Cafe in Dewsbury. It is delicious and there’s no fat or gristle on the meat.

They also serve it, would you believe, with a Yorkshire pudding as well, and all this, with cabbage and carrots, for less than a fiver.

If you think this is a bit of a free advert for Bailey’s, well it is meant to be, and I don’t apologise for that, because if we don’t support Dewsbury institutions like these, we might lose them like we did the Co-op.

MANY people are tracing their family tree these days and it is surprising how many of their ancestors can be traced back to Dewsbury.

A lady from Cleveland has rung to ask if anyone has information about the Thornhill Iron and Steel Company which was situated in Thornhill Lees on the site later taken over by Austin’s steelworks. Please ring Mrs Eastern on 01642 484999 whose ancestor Frederick Wheeler either worked for the company or owned it.