In 2006, memories of Taylor’s mutton pies in Paterson, New Jersey were recorded in a Roadfood forum discussion. Taylor Bakery had long closed by then, as the owner sold the pie recipe in 1990 to another baker, Ashton. Ashton continued making the pies but ceased some years later due to a fire. Even after these iconic bakers disappeared, many raised in the area still remembered these pies, with fondness and longing.
The Taylor-Ashton mutton pie was not a one-off. Bakeries in Paterson and elsewhere in northern New Jersey made the same dish, and other British-style foods. Cultural centres known as Scotch lodges in part drove the demand. There was also extensive home baking of the pies.
Contributors to Roadfood gave tips how to find similar pies in 2006. Even in 2018 you can find them, say, at Stewart’s Scottish Market in Kearney. Kearney is only 13 miles south of Paterson. The store was originally called Stewart’s Market, at a time when in all likelihood its British character was taken for granted.
The images below were sourced from the Stewart Scottish Market website.
A contributor to Roadfood stated:
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.
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.
And so a fifth-generation American, likely in his or her 60s or 70s, grew up in America on a classic English diet…
Mutton pie was and is a regional taste in the area. Despite the advances of world cuisines (also green eating and other trends) in our diet, it’s often said that popular taste is anchored in relatively bland packaged foods, ice cream, soft drinks, light beer, and chain restaurant fare. Yet, long-established regional dishes endure, and are still appreciated. And one thing mutton pie doesn’t lack is character!
Still, mutton pie in America? Owensboro in Kentucky vaunts its mutton barbeque, but the sauce helps to mask the muttony taste. In New Jersey, vigorous mutton was eaten pretty much as is, just enveloped in a flaky pastry.
Pondering mutton pie in Paterson, I recalled my writing on Paterson’s former tradition of English-style brewing, up to about WW I. And everything connected.
A glass of ale and mutton pie sound like fast friends, don’t they? They were in Britain in the 1800s. Pie and beer are still an item there, except sheep meat is usually replaced by game, poultry, or other meat. I saw many variations, even vegan, at the savoury pie counter at Great British Beer Festival in London last month.
Even before WW I German-style lager had conquered most regions in America, including New York and environs. But ale and porter held on in parts of the U.S. until Prohibition in 1920.
But why Paterson? It was a bustling place then due to textile, firearm, and other industries but hardly an international centre, like Manhattan, that might attract interest in exotic beers.
The answer, or a good part of it, emerges from a 1904 article, “Like a Corner of Old England”, in the New York Sun. It explains there was substantial English settlement in various districts around Paterson starting in the mid-1800s, when expertise was needed to make silk and other textiles. Initially the weavers worked hand-looms but later worked in industrial plants that used power generated by the high falls on the Passaic river.
These districts retained a British character for many decades, and the influence was still alive in 1904 and noticed by the Sun.
What better core of support for Britannic pale ale, and dark porter, than this group of settlers? And clearly they passed the taste to their progeny, at least for a time.
The 1904 account mentions English foods brought by the incomers. A number were recited in the Roadfood discussion, including mutton pie – 100 years later.
The Sun also mused on the English-type pubs that naturally took root in the area. The journalist wrote that the bucolic English atmosphere was 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 of New Jersey. The writer was too savvy not to know that many old-stock Americans had similar British roots. But they had been in America so long, he said, that the influence had waned. By contrast, the British character of Paterson and other British pockets was still evident.
Especially in the lead-up to Prohibition, to admire the atmosphere of a drinking place in America, as the Sun did, was rare in print. It showed how the pubs of New Jersey’s British pockets differed from the pattern of the American saloon.
The image below gives us an idea of ale-drinking in Anglophile New Jersey before WW I.
The locale was Harrison, NJ, another town upstate east of Manhattan. The beer in the large, pint-type glasses may have been Ballantine India Pale Ale, whose ad is on the wall.
Cataracts of ale and porter similar to the beer shown surely helped the mutton pies slide down. Until craft brewing brought IPA back, that style of beer went out of fashion in New Jersey once Prohibition ended in 1933.
But the mutton pie survived, and still does in some sections of New Jersey. If you can find it, the beer is there again to make the twain of yore.*
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.
*Well, more or less. The hop varieties used in American IPA today mostly didn’t exist circa 1900. But that’s another story!