Lots of things differentiate North from South. The way we say ‘bath’ or ‘grass’. A propensity for baker’s baps. The ability to buy a house without entering into a Faustian pact with the bank. Owning a minimum of two cagoules. I could go on.
When it comes to food, there’s a myriad of differences, too. Yes, chippies are to be found on most corners, THANK GOD. Black pudding appears on many pub and restaurant menus. Portions are sizeable and, if they’re not, there’ll be hell to pay.
When I lived in London, I tested this culinary North/South divide with a straw poll of the newspaper office I worked in. I’d been across to a new Morrisons store for a butty (that word being a whole different kettle of fish). It was Autumn and, to my mind at least, the store stocked pretty normal Bonfire fare. So, who knew what parkin was? Not one person, not a soul. I have a theory that’s why Morrisons has never been able to break proper ground in the capital. The Wapping outlet is now a Waitrose.
The same North/South lack of knowledge applies to cheese and onion plate pie. Try telling a Southerner you’re yearning for a slice of said plate pie and they’ll look at you like you’re a lunatic. But my god, what manna to the Northern populace is this delicacy. For the uninitiated, I’ll explain. Plate pie does what it says on the tin. Or on the plate. It’s a pie on a plate. The pastry tends to be fairly thin and delicate – it’s all about the filling. A traditional Northern pub dish, it’s common to get a slice accompanied by chips and beans (the adventurous opt for mushy peas). Done right, the filling oozes out onto the plate and is all the better for it. Yes, I’m aware that many establishments cook the pie earlier in the day and then microwave individual slices. But my god, it tastes bloody good either way.
A comprehensive survey of cheese and onion plate pies in North West hostelries by, er, me (I am ALL about the journalism) has elicited mixed results. My extensive research has revealed that many cheese and onion pies include potatoes but I have no truck with that. The entire point of a cheese and onion plate pie is the filling. You want the bugger to spread out, mark its territory, challenge those baked beans for room on the dish. Potatoes take up vital space where cheese and onions should be.
Of the many, many cheese and onion plate pies tasted by yours truly, I’d recommend The Whitchaff in Rawtenstall. Said pie is famous in these here parts and rightly so. Then there’s the café at Summerseat Garden Centre north of Bury. Man, they know their plate pies. And, although it’s not strictly a plate pie, the cheese and onion offering at Rochdale’s 18th century Owd Betts (possibly the best pub in the world ever), so named on the menu as ‘Owd Betts Famous Cheese & Onion Pie’, is moreishly moreish.
It’s actually pretty easy to bake one of these bad boys. The key is to slice the onions into long strips and then boil the bejaysus out of them. Frozen Jus-Rol pastry is fine, and the more cheese the better. If you want the perfect product, check out Mrs Nugent’s Cheese and Onion Plate Pie recipe below. It’s a flippin’ corker.
Mrs Nugent’s Cheese and Onion Plate Pie
600g cheddar cheese – grated
4 medium to large onions
Jus Rol shortcrust pastry (or homemade)
Slice onions and bring to the boil in a little water or stock ( I use veggie stock). When transparent, drain, keeping any liquid.
Mix cheese into the pan of HOT onions. If dry, add some of the liquid.
Roll out two rounds of pastry to fit plate. Line plate (enamel plates are good as the heat penetrates more easily) with a round of pastry. Spoon the cheese and onion mixture over the pastry. Brush edges of pastry before adding the top layer.
Crimp edges together with fingers or fork, or end of a spoon. Brush pastry top with egg yolk or milk. Cut a couple vents in pastry cover.
Bake at 180C/gas mark 4 until golden brown (approximately 25-30 minutes).