East of the M60 is now 667 posts old, therefore as a consequence our previous post was the six hundred and sixty-sixth post (a.k.a The Number of the Beast).

Thanks to the joys of Whit Friday, The Neighbour of the Beast (O.K., I know some pedant may say 668 is the Neighbour of the Beast given the odd/even nature of our streets) will be allocated the ‘…From Hell’ type post originally diagrammed for 666.

And if we really want to be truly pedantic, we could claim this post to be Post 666 as the first post was a common and garden ‘Hello, I’m Stuart Vallantine, and I’m the genius behind East of the M60‘. So to speak, ‘to Hell with it…’

Sit back, relax, pour yourself a glass of water and add two Alka Seltzer (highly unrecommended on species of the avian kind).

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1. Tinned Beef Burgers

Don’t get me wrong. I actually like tinned beef burgers, irrespective of the meat content. It goes well with a blob of Smash mash and half a tin of Batchelors’ peas. They have the consistency of rubber, the nutritional value of a gnat and are readily available at your nearest B&M Bargains. Go for the ones with gravy instead of tomato sauce (the latter option is wrong, big style). Most importantly, go for Westlers’ rather than the Ye Olde Oak ones. They are also quite nice on oven bottom muffins with a bit of gravy.

However, they can never compete with a decent beef burger from your local butchers. With good chips. Or, there’s always the local takeaway.

2. Tinned Meat Puddings

Cheap, cheerful, available at B&M Bargains, Morrisons and any other superstore chain, is Urmston’s indelible mark on the convenience food map. I am referring to the institution which is the tinned meat pudding. For over 100 years, Simpsons have made a variety of ready meals and their most famous example is the Goblin Meat Pudding. There are two flavours: Meat and Gravy, and Steak and Kidney. They are a boon for singletons with a microwave or saucepan. The Steak and Kidney one is the better of the two.

To be honest, I would need two puddings to fill me up with, but the lure of Hollands’ or Greenhalgh’s efforts are also too good to miss. However, I do like Simpsons Ready Meals’ tinned curries, especially their fiery Chicken Jalfrezi (I could scoff one right now with a boil in the bag rice).

3. Boil in the Bag Rice

Thank heavens for boil-in-the-bag rice, a cheaper alternative to the nearest Indian takeaway or a favoured real ale joint with special offers on curry each Thursday. The amount of chilli-con-carne or curry consumed at Chez Vall would have been considerably less without Messrs Ben’s and Morrison’s intervention.

Even so, it can never surpass proper brown rice or pilau rice. But the aforementioned rice types, from a dry bag, take x amount of time to prepare. Plus the wastage. And the takeaway or The Ash Tree might do a better job.

4. Vesta Meals

It’s Saturday, you’re back from the football, knackered after trying to dodge the ICF or its contemporaries, and you’ve made it thanks to your skilled approach at catching a 221 outside Piccadilly Gardens. Then you find the Obligatory Post-Match Potato Pie and Football Pink strategy has failed. Luckily, there’s a Vesta Curry in the cupboard. 25 minutes later, 3-2-1 in the background, you are tucking in to their beef curry.

30 years on from this imagined scenario, you can still get Vesta curries. In the 1970s and 1980s, they were many a person’s introduction to curries, and a treat. Today, you can get Chow Mein and Paella as well as Beef Curry. Plus, they still take 20 – 25 minutes to do.

They are not the easiest things to find in your nearest superstore or hypermarket, but they are usually next to the Pot Noodles (I know for sure that’s true of Morrisons or B&M Bargains). As our curry tastes have advanced, they are now a curio of late 1970s convenience foods, and overlooked in favour of the superior refrigerated – and microwaveable – examples. You can also get them in Poundland too.

5. Baked Beans and Sausage

Baked Beans on Toast: best enjoyed with a Warburtons Toastie Loaf. Beans: HP or Heinz, no ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’. Unless that ‘but’ involves a penchant for mechanically reformed sausages, with beans of course. They have the same texture as the aforementioned tinned burgers, but boy oh boy, do they taste like sausage and have a slight porky seasoning to them. Well, sausage if mechanically reformed and autotuned like your self-respecting reality TV show pop group.

The King of the Tinned Sausage and Beans Brigade? HP or Crosse and Blackwell in my book. Add another point for the jumbo sausage version. However, my favourite own-brand variety was the long-gone Somerfield Basics – or the Morrisons’ Bettabuy one, with the slightly bigger tins. For 39p (but that was 2000). However, I also have fond-ish memories of Chef’s Baked Beans and Sausage: it reminds me of the canteen of Audenshaw Clinic on Guide Lane. That and the smell of NHS issue disinfectant, a weird combination.

6. Tinned Pies

Oh, how revolutionary, a pie in a tin, but the rather soggy pastry of a tinned pie goes well with mash and gravy. Yet, the soggy pastry is part of its appeal.

But, the pastry of a tinned pie doesn’t have to be soggy. Staying in self-catering digs in Blackpool, whilst on holiday, Team Vall came back from a nearby Spar shop with a tinned pie, and put it under the grill. Of a Baby Belling cooker. And the pastry… was… crispy. Which shows how a bit of imagination could be applied to a tinned pie.

Though tasty, they would never replace a Hollands pie or locally baked one of some description. Besides Fray Bentos, other makes like Prince’s have jumped on the tinned pie bandwagon. The pioneer has now got various types of their Steak Pie with ‘Classic’, ‘Boozy’ and ‘Tender’ varieties. Plus there’s the ‘Smooth’ Chicken and Mushroom pie and the ‘Gentle’ Minced Beef and Onion, and there’s more (any more chunnering on, I’ll sound like the Planet Hollywood themed ‘Aspel and Company’ episode).

7. Toast Toppers

Throughout my childhood I have seen in food terms, the loss of Cadburys’ Skippy bars, Chicken Risotto sauce mixes, Crosse and Blackwell’s cuboid packet soups and… Chicken Curry Toast Toppers. The Chicken Curry flavoured Toast Topper left our shelves in the mid-2000s and was, by far, their finest flavour. Their Zinedine Zidane, Robin van Persie, Ronaldo and Brendan Burke of the sandwich filling world. Like Sir Alf Ramsey’s substitution of Bobby Charlton against West Germany (World Cup 1970), a Convenience Food Judgment Fail.

Heinz’s Toast Toppers come in the same small tins as their baby food. Apart from a few bits of chicken or ham, they have a similar consistency too. Toast Toppers are still available today, in Chicken and Mushroom, Ham and Cheese, plus Bacon and Mushroom. For the uninitiated, one places the contents of their Toast Topper tin over a suitable slice of bread or three, then places them under a grill. They make for a good supper, particularly the Ham and Cheese one.

But I still miss their Chicken Curry one (bring it back – maybe do a new Chicken Balti one if you must).

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Convenience Food Guilty Pleasures? Tell Me More!

Feel free to add to the list or elaborate on our magnificent seven members of the processed food groups. Did you enjoy any of the above whilst at university, or after a few scoops? Is your idea of a good quick tea a tin of curry and boil-in-the-bag rice? Comment away.

S.V., 27 May 2013.

One thought on “The Tinned Pie’s The Limit: Convenience Food Guilty Pleasures: Feast of the M60

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