December 22, 2017 Whatever you eat this holiday season, it won’t be anything like this. Something True returns for the holidays with the story of a monstrous pie, cooked by an English village in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation. It was the largest pie ever made. Larger than reason. Larger than dreams. Large enough to hide a secret.
Read a full transcript of this episode on the Something True website.
Follow Something true on Twitter @atruepodcast. (Or just follow Duncan and Alex.)
Music on this week’s episode:
Stephan Siebert – when*
Lee Maddeford – Embellir (with Les Gauchers Quintet)
Jason Shaw – HOEDOWN*
Chris Zabriskie – Prelude No. 15*
Silence is Sexy – Holiday (instrumental)*
*modified for the podcast.
For the more fortunate amongst us, the holidays are an opportunity to come together and enjoy great food. Holiday hams, grains of the world, the list goes on.
But there is one holiday treat that nobody will enjoy this year. Because it is buried, far, far beneath the earth. And those who dug its grave dug deep. Deep enough, they prayed, that its secrets would stay down there, and that no man would ever be able to make it again.
You’re listening to Something True – stories from the footnotes of history. Written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Ashby. This week, a special, holiday episode: The Resurrection of the Flesh.
When Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Prince Albert died, the monarch of Great Britain and Ireland essentially retired from public life. Her mourning lasted decades. The palace staff yearned to lift her spirits, and after 26 years, they finally succeeded. In 1887, they threw the Queen a Golden Jubilee; a 50th anniversary celebration of her coronation, where she was honoured at Buckingham Palace by royalty and entertainers from around the globe—and a cowboy!
News that the Queen was finally getting out of the house spread throughout the Kingdom. And the small but very enthused Yorkshire village of Denby Dale decided to celebrate the Queen and the Golden Jubilee in their own way. They would bake her a pie – but not just any pie. It would be the largest pie anyone had ever seen – whether in Victoria’s kingdom, or in the kingdom of God.
Denby Dale had made three big pies before. The first, in 1788, was also baked for a suffering monarch. King George the Third, stricken with a relapse of his mental illness, had been ordered by his doctors to go and take the waters at Cheltenham Spa. The villagers and business leaders of Denby Dale felt compelled to demonstrate solidarity with their King. They cooked a large pie and then ate it.
“This pie is quite good,” they said. “Do you think the King would like it? Should we send him a piece?”
Nearly a hundred years later, the people of Denby Dale thought to repeat this triumph, and pay tribute to Queen Victoria with a monstrous novelty pie that she would never see or eat, or possibly even hear about. This one would be the biggest ever made. Surely Her Majesty deserved nothing less?
The pie – which had no formal name, so let’s call it “The Big Mistake” – measured eight feet in diameter, and was two feet deep. It required the construction of both a special oven, and iron pie tin, large enough to cook and contain the beast.
And into the Big Mistake marched a Noah’s Abattoir of wildlife: More than 1500 pounds of beef, 180 pounds of lamb, 250 pounds of pork, 40 pigeons, 64 rabbits, 2 wild ducks, 21 civilised ducks, not to mention, half a polar bear’s weight in potatoes.
On and on it went.
The recipe also called for nine horses – but not to go into the pie. No. Nine horses to transport the pie, which weighed one-and-a-quarter tons, to Denby Dale’s Norman Park, where it would be publicly unveiled and consumed. The plan was that on the Golden Jubilee, the pie would be carved up and pieces given out. First dibs would go to children and the elderly, the most vulnerable in our society. Next up were the ticketholders, and then to the general public.
The day of the Golden Jubilee arrived. Around noon, the horses pulled the great pie, studded out with decorative flowers, to the park. A procession of 700 schoolchildren and a brass band followed in its wake. At the park, a hungry crowd awaited. Presiding over that crowd was a jolly master of ceremonies, with a comically oversized knife and fork. His task was to preen over the pie for about ninety minutes, charge people sixpence for a peek, and then order his team of slicers to start carving up the big bastard.
But people didn’t just want A PEEK. They were a big crowd, and they wanted a big pie. There were thousands waiting for a slice, having shown up from all over the county and beyond. The barriers erected around the quaint village marquee strained under their size and fury. A thin police presence held back the tide, but barely.
By 3:30, the ordained time of the slicing, the throbbing horde was crotch-deep in saliva.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” shouted the master of ceremonies, holding his knife aloft, “It’s very…pice to see you all here today!! Now, I’m sure you all have a copy of the programme, and as per the running order of the day, the first slices shall go to our village elderly and then to our…”
“NNNOOOOOO,” cried the crowd as one. They had waited too long! Surging forward, they barrelled past the police, over the fences, and surrounded the pie.
“Steady on, now, ” the pie carvers cautioned. “Wait your turn.”
But they would not! “GIVE US A BIT OF PIE, THEN” they screamed, hands making mad grasps for the pastry. “GET YOUR PIE OUT FOR THE LADS!”
The carvers stuck to the plan, cutting slices of the pie, and putting them on little plates. “Now, these plates are for the elderly,” they told the mob. “Do pass them along to your nearest senior, if you would.”
But, the crowd began grabbing wildly at every piece of pie in the air.
“PHWOARR! LET’S HAVE A BIT O’ CRUST, EH?”
“No, please friends, do not submit to anarchy! Is this not still England?!”
Finally, the chanting crowd broke through all resistance, and seized upon the pie, ripping it apart with their hands and teeth. The carvers, the elderly, the schoolchildren, the band – they all fled the scene, abandoning the prize pie to a grisly lad-death. The mob descended upon the pie, stabbing it with their pocket knives and scooping the mush directly into their mouths.
But, pretty quickly, they discovered that the pie didn’t taste all that great. Everyone had been so distracted by the chaos that they were only now noticing the rancid stench wafting through the village. Inside, the pie smelled dreadful. It was, quite literally, rotten.
You see, nobody had ever made a pie this large before. Denby Dale had hired an out-of-town professional to do it. The task was unprecedented so he’d been forced to improvise, and realised too late that his chosen method had resulted in a product that was not, technically, 100% food. He had cooked the meat in batches – filling a bit of the iron pie tin, cooking some more, and layering that on top. It was a long process. And in the damp, dark crevasses of the pie, the cooked meat changed. The deepest layers took on strange colours and smells, prising open a crack through which new life could enter. Long, sleek bacteria sprouted from the ruined pork, and, in ecstasy at their meaty bounty, pressed and stroked their fertile bodies against the fuzzy green beef.
This was now dawning on the poisoned mob. “WE’VE GOT A BAD PIE IN OUR MOUTH!” they sang.
And as they cut further into the meat, they found something even more disturbing. Bones! And then… an entire fox! And then… buckets! Bowls! Dishware, all in the pie!
The organizers of the event looked around in confusion. Where was the man who made this pie? Surely, he could explain this mess? But he could not – because as it turned out, he had skipped town the night before.
Having discovered his error, the baker figured it would be foolish to sink any more money into an irreversibly spoiled pie. So, rather than pay out of his own pocket for new ingredients, he simply thought, ‘Fuck it.’ The only responsible thing to do was to fill the pie up with whatever household items were lying around, put it in the oven for ten hours, and leave the village under the cover of darkness.
The result proved too vile even for the ravenous mob. Spitting out curdled chunks of cold beef and china, they moved on; roving in search of other treats.
And then, the pie was all alone, its elephantine carcass gutted and rotting on the village green, decaying in the afternoon sun.
Happy anniversary, your majesty. Sorry about your dead husband.
The nine horses were summoned once again: this time, to deliver the pie not to hungry tummies, but into a grave. A giant grave, for a giant pie. It was dumped in the ground, and buried in quick lime.
It was truly a bleak day for Denby Dale. A profound, collective embarrassment. Community spirit had never been worse. But one week later, a village leader had a flash of inspiration. The perfect thing to cheer everybody up.
They would make a giant pie!
53 years later, the Nazis bombed the United Kingdom. The Blitz, and the Battle of Britain, lasted months – and the war was far from over – but the United Kingdom stood defiant, and resolved, against the evil of the Third Reich. Virtually everything was given over to the war effort: not just men and women, but food, petrol, paper…
And an extravagantly large iron pie tin from the village of Denby Dale, which was exhumed and brought to the scrapyard, to be re-forged into ammunition.
“God’s not done with you yet,” they whispered to the great pie tin as it went into the fire. “You’re going to kill Adolf Hitler.”
That was Something True, a podcast on the Idle Thumbs network, written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Ashby. Music credits can be found in the description and on our website at somethingtrue.net where you can also get a full transcript of this story. Follow us on twitter @atruepodcast, and join us again for a brand new series in 2018.