Ask Fred

Q. With the recent trend for butchers to make their own pies to sell, who is better at making pies, a butcher or a baker? DT

The best pie-makers are usually people who have had training in butchery and pastry-making. Both aspects, the casing and the filling, require expert handling.

In the case of butchers, the pastry-making sometimes plays second fiddle. Alan Stuart, founder of the World Scotch Pie Championship, says the pastry or case is just as important as the filling. The first thing you taste when eating any savoury is pastry. If that is a disappointment, you are struggling to recover. Bland, under-baked, under-seasoned pastry sometimes too thick, sometimes too thin is a real turn-off, so buy the best that you can afford or learn how to make it from scratch. Next, make sure you understand how to handle pastry. Use your suppliers' demonstrators whenever available and make sure that your staff are trained. Do not be tempted to rework in too many of the trimmings to your fresh pastry after all, you wouldn't put scrap or trim in your premium sausages.

I am interested in a shop for sale in central London, but am worried about making small deliveries in the area in my van, due to the congestion charge. Is there any way I can get out of paying the charge? GH

If you drive a petrol or diesel van in the congestion charging zone, you will be liable to pay £8 a day unless you live in the zone, in which case you will get a 90% discount from the charge. There is also the possibility the charge will rise next year.

You do not say in which part of London the shop is located. If it is in the Kensington and Chelsea area, west of Park Lane, there has just been a consultation on whether the charge should be removed from that area which, if it happens, is likely to come in effect after 24 December. The best way to avoid the charge is to change your van for a vehicle that qualifies for a 100% discount. This could be an electric, hybrid, alternative fuel or LPG-converted vehicle. There are several cars on the market that fit this bill, including the Volvo V70 and some of the large Ford vehicles. Promised next year and a better bet is the Renault Kangoo ZE (zero emission) electric van, which is said to have a range of 100 miles. The electric version of the Kangoo van will feature the same practical functions as the traditionally-engined vehicle, with a carrying capacity ranging from 3m3 to 3.5m3 and a payload of up to 650kg.

The cost of all new alternative fuel vehicles is high at present, but some can occasionally be found second-hand in classified ads in the main car trade magazines and websites. CitroŽn launched the Berlingo Electrique van as long ago as 1998 and, although it went out of production in 2005, there are still good examples around for under £7,000. Joe Burge, who has two for sale at Drivelectric, said most were originally sold to local authorities. They are charged overnight via the normal mains and will cover about 45 miles on a single charge, so would only be suitable for short journeys. You would have to use a portable chiller/coolbox, not powered by the van itself, as that would quickly drain power.

You mention making small deliveries. If by this you mean carrier bag-sized deliveries over a small area of, say, five miles radius, have you considered employing someone to make the deliveries on a bike? It would be fabulous PR if you had someone dressed in traditional butcher's outfit on an old-fashioned butcher's bike with the name of your business painted on it. It would certainly go down well in the more trendy areas of London. Finding such a bike might prove more difficult than an alternative fuel van, though. A cycle trailer could be an option. You could also consider an electric scooter.

What should I do when I get the name of a company wrong in a published article? FA'C

Correct it as soon as possible. In an article about the development of mould on hanging carcases in last month's Ask Fred, I incorrectly spelt the name of Coolsaver that supplies moisture filters to prevent the problem. Log on to to see the range of filters the firm supplies.


Fred A'Court was editor of Meat Trades Journal for more than 15 years. During that time he saw the industry go through a great deal, giving him valuable insight into what makes the sector tick. Here he offers the opportunity for butchers and retail operators to get practical answers to the kind of issues they are facing every day. If you have a trade question that you would like to have answered, and no-one else can help, write to 'Ask Fred' at Meat Trades Journal, William Reed Business Media Ltd, Broadfield Park, Crawley, RH11 9RT or email

Please note that questions which appear in this section are entirely at the discretion of the Editor, and that no correspondance will be entered into.

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