Bill and Irene Mead were a happy couple. Bill had served in the Second World War, was captured by the Nazis, and released with a row of bright medals on his chest. As a returning hero, it was his honour to be the judge of his mother’s local W.I. pie baking competition, where he met the plump and pretty Irene. It was her pie which stood out, heads and shoulders above the rest. The perfectly, nut-brown pastry had just a hint of flakiness, with a rich and juicy filling, he couldn’t help but drip gravy all over his suit. In Bill’s eyes, there was no competition for either Irene’s pies or for Irene herself – one as scrumptious as the other, and he was greedy for them both.
Irene would return home from the weekly grocery shop, laden with bulging bags of food. Plenty of flour, butter, onions and carrots to make the pies, but for the meat she’d make a separate trip, and store it in bulk in unmarked containers in the freezer. One meaty batch would last for months of pies. So many times Irene was asked, ‘this is such delicious meat. Where do you get it from?’ But Irene would never tell; all she’d say was that it cost her an arm and a leg.
It became a tradition that Bill would judge the yearly pie competition, and he himself was often judged for seeming to favour his own wife. Even he found the deliciousness of the pies a surprise, because apart from those, she couldn’t cook a thing. Her fish was dry and bony, and the butcher’s joint she’d roast on a Sunday was as tough as old boots, not to mention that her soggy ved, and her solid Victoria sponge would always sink in the middle. At home they existed mainly on burnt toast slathered in butter and shop bought strawberry jam.
In the spirit of fairness, in 1962, the W.I. tried another judge, a Mr. Braithwaite, a no nonsense and moral sort of character who was also the Town Mayor. Hopes were high that year that a new champion would be awarded the first prize rosette, but when Mr. Braithwaite tasted Irene’s pie, he literally swooned, and everyone could see that there was no doubt about it, her pie was indeed the tastiest. The next year, Bill was reinstated as chief judge.
Every year the competition grew fiercer; surely someone else could make a more delicious pie? Perhaps more exotic and experimental ingredients were the key? It began with Mrs. White swapping chanterelles for buttons in her chicken and mushroom pie. Then Miss.Thomkins turned out a beef pie, but not laced with stout as is the norm, but with a home brewed ginger ale. As far as Bill was concerned, that was a step too far, and Miss.Thomkins came last that year. Mrs. Hughes on the other hand produced a delicious, smoked pork pie, served with a tangy apple cider chutney. It was indeed a wonderful winning combination and in the interest of fairness, a smug Mrs. Hughes was at long last the first prize-winner, and not the Pie Queen, Irene Mead.
The W.I. was a-twitter the following year about Irene’s newly found competition in Mrs. Hughes, and jokes were rife that Bill’s life must have been hell for the last twelve months. This year’s pie entries were a tightly held secret. Even the ladies went outside of their usual shopping haunts, in order to keep secret the ingredients of their pies, searching far and wide for just the right things. Irene came home late one night, after dark, dragging behind her a large batch of fresh meat to make an even better, even tastier pie. The meat was rich and red, veined and marbled with thick, white fat. One eyeball, exactly the same steely-grey as Mrs. Hughes’, rolled from one of the bags, and was promptly gobbled up by the Mead’s greedy golden Labrador, Glen.
The day of the competition, the church hall was emanating smells and flavours that reached out throughout the village. Warm and buttery pastry, containing all varieties of meat, fish, game and vegetables, each one tastier than the next, and each could easily have been the winner at a lesser competition. Everyone presumed that Mrs. Hughes’ non-appearance, and subsequent disappearance was to do with her pride, and she couldn’t possibly improve on last year’s perfect pork pie. But when Irene was yet again awarded the rosette, it was only she, and Glen the Labrador, that knew anything different.