Of Pie, Paterson, and Pints

In 2006, memories of “Taylor’s mutton pies” in Paterson, NJ were recorded in a Roadfood forum discussion. The city’s Taylor Bakery had long closed by then, as the principal sold the pie recipe in 1990 to another bakery, Ashton.

Ashton continued making mutton pies but the business ceased a few years later due to a fire.

Taylor-Ashton’s mutton pie was not a one-off. Other bakeries in Paterson and various northern NJ towns made mutton pie and other Britannic foods. The demand in part came from cultural centres called “Scotch lodges”. There was also extensive home baking of the specialty.

Contributors to Roadfood gave tips to find similar pies in the area. Even in 2018 you can find them, say at Stewart’s Scottish Market in Kearney, NJ. The store was originally called Stewart’s Market. Likely its British character was simply taken for granted earlier. Kearney is only 13 miles south of Paterson.

The images below are from the Stewart Scottish Market website.

A contributor to Roadfood wrote:

My grandfather loved Taylor’s meat pies. A couple of years ago we found the closest thing to them in Kearny, NJ. There are a couple of places, one is Stewart’s of Kearny, and they have a website http://www.stewartsofkearny.com/ where you can order on line, however, I suggest taking the ride to Kearny.

Another stated:

I have lived in and around Paterson all my life and grew up on Taylor’s mutton pies. My great grandfather had a blacksmith shop at the bottom of the Great Falls, and his grandfather moved there when “God save the King” was still the national anthem. By the 40’s Taylor’s pies were everywhere, deli’s, roadhouses (ginmills or bars), the corner store and not only in Paterson but all the surrounding towns. I grew up on all types of British foods, Oxtail soup, kippers and eggs, fish + chips, etc. but Mutton pies were my favorite. We would cut them down the middle so that the meat was facing up and watch them rock back and forth taken from a very hot oven, I can still smell them.

A fifth-generation American, probably in his or her 60s or 70s, grew up on a classic English diet…

Mutton pie was and is a regional taste in the north of the state. The food arbiters intone that modern popular taste is anchored in packaged foods, ice cream, soft drinks, extra-light beer, and food-chain fare. Yet some old-time regional tastes endure and are appreciated. And one thing mutton isn’t is tasteless.

Still, mutton pie in America? True, Owensboro, KY mutton is a regional specialty but the Kentuckians douse it in spicy BBQ sauce. In New Jersey, the vigorous mutton was eaten pretty much unadorned except for the flaky pastry enveloping it.

Why hasn’t the New York Times gone after this one? I don’t know, it seems infatuated with world cuisines from Afghanistan to Zanzibar. Admiring profiles of local, American specialties are harder to spot, based on our canvass of its food pages.*

So I was thinking of mutton pie in Paterson. And then I remembered my essays on India Pale Ale and English-style brewing in that very city circa 1916. It all connected.

A pot of ale and mutton pie sound like fast friends, and they were in the U.K. in the 1800s. They still are, although lamb and mutton are often replaced by game, poultry, or another meat. I saw many variations – even vegan – at a pie counter at the Great British Beer Festival in London last month.

But ale and porter, even before Prohibition, were not all that common in America. German-style lager had conquered most areas, including New York and environs. Of course, some ale breweries, mostly established in the 1800s, continued until Prohibition (1920).

But why ale in Paterson? It was a busy place then due to its textile, firearm, and other industries but hardly an international centre like Manhattan. It was not a haunt for British business, arts, or diplomatic figures.

You can know the answer, or a good part of it, by reading this 1904 article, “Like a Corner of Old England”, published in the New York Sun. There was a substantial English colony in various districts around Paterson, it arrived mid-1800s to produce silk and other textiles, initially by hand-loom. Later the weavers worked in textile factories powered by the high falls on the Passaic river.

These districts retained their English character for many decades. Do they still today? Readers familiar with the area can tell me.

What better core of loyal followers for the pale ale of Indian romance than this group of English and Scottish settlers and descendants?

The 1904 story mentions many English foods brought by the incomers. Some are recited in the Roadfood discussion – 100 years later – not excluding mutton pies. The article also muses on the English-style pubs that naturally implanted in the area.

The journalist writes that the bucolic English atmosphere evoked by the pubs is something you “wouldn’t dream of finding within 100 miles of the uproar of New York”. Yet to his surprise it existed in Paterson and other British enclaves in New Jersey.

The writer was too savvy not too know the similar origins of many old-stock Americans. But he explains that English influences had waned since the first settlers arrived. Hence the unusual foreign character displayed by Paterson’s more recent Weavertown and similar pockets.

The pubs, too, must have stood out from the American saloon. Saloons were rarely praised publicly then, even in cosmopolitan New York.

Consider this image of pre-Prohibition ale drinking in New Jersey (source noted below).

The locale was Harrison, east of Manhattan again and another town in upstate New Jersey. You can see the big glasses used to hold a darkish beer, probably Ballantine India Pale Ale, whose advertisement is tacked on the wall.

It’s a safe assumption that cataracts of ale and porter similar to the drinks above helped mutton pie galore slide down in Paterson.

Mutton pie and British-style IPA – that was America, one culinary corner of it, then. But the pies survive in northern New Jersey, and the IPA is back although probably not tasting like it did in 1916 due to the modern hops.

There must be a craft beer scene in or around Paterson today. Its movers and shakers should give the local bakers a call who still make the old foods and do a pre-Prohibition picnic or supper. The beers are back to pair with them, more or less. And the old foods never went away.

Note re images: The first two images are from the website of Stewart’s Scottish Market in Keaney, NJ, as linked in the text. The third is from the historical website www.nj.com, from the New Jersey Historical Society. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*I find the foreign or unfamiliar alluring too, but long-established local tradition, terroir if you will, can reveal mystery and interest no less real.




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