Scotland's Larder: Meet David Seez the Pieman of Penicuik

In the second in our new series where we talk to a local food hero about pies, family and how good Scotland's natural larder actually is.

Published 28th Jul 2020
Updated 18 th Sep 2023

Scotsman food and drink are keen to find out more about the humble pie from David Seez or the Peni pie pedlar as he is known on twitter.

The multi-award-winning Pieman tells us that it was, "greed that drove me to start the business. I couldn't find a good pie in Penicuik"

What's in the pie?

He laughs when asked; "there is not a lot to it, but it is more important what you leave out. I don't bulk it out with rubbish and keep them as natural and as unmolested as I can.

Big companies use every trick in the book to maximize their profit. In the past herbs and spices were used to hide stuff not always just to flavour stuff."

His secret is no preservatives, just decent quality meat and fillings. His mince pies only contain mince salt and pepper and burnt sugar colouring, and the only thickener he uses is a roux made with butter and flour, while his steak pies contain nothing but beef and gravy.

"Good food isn't cheap, and cheap food isn't good. If it tastes nice, why muck about with it." David said.

His most popular pie was his steak pie but it has recently been overtaken by his Steak and haggis offering which David says  is, "awful tasty."

He also makes; chicken with potato peas and carrots, chicken curry and macaroni and cheese, which comes with a hint of warming mustard.

The pie cases are made from cold water pastry and are the only premade part of his pies, but he explains, "the suppliers make them exactly the same way I would and they crucially have the massive molds and expensive machines."

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David comes from a long line of butchers and he explains, "the haggis I use in the pies comes from a recipe handed down from my grandfather, Christian Federick Seez, who was a butcher at William Orr's on George Street in Edinburgh in the 1920-30's."

Orr's were the meat and game supplier for the Royal family and other big estates and were one of the first tenants on George street. The building is long gone but it would now be where the Roxburghe hotel is.

Christian was born in Germany and he ended up butchering in London and Kirkcaldy before working at Orr's.

The family legend says that he taught Charlie McSween of the haggis making dynasty how to make haggis. David adds I even "have a copy of the company poem that sing his sausage-making praises."

When Christian's first wife died leaving him with two children to raise alone, he returned to Germany and ended up marrying his wife's sister.

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After they came back to Scotland the couple had three more children and all five went on to become butchers as adults.

David said, "seemingly Sunday breakfast fry ups were a bit of a nightmare as they each insisted on eating their own homemade sausages. Mayhem!"

Archive images from top left clockwise: Sunday school outing of the German church in Edinburgh, Staff at William Orr's of Edinburgh (Frederick fifth person in from left); Orr's staff newspaper, Frederick seated on left in the striped shirt during the war on the Isle of Man, poem. Pictures: Seez family archive

Butcher, baker a candlestick maker.

David said, "I left school at 15 and became an apprentice butcher with my father.

Working with dad felt very awkward at first. Challenging with long hours but you get to see different aspects of how they behave. The effort he put in, growing up he was always sleeping, that was because he was exhausted."

At 15 I don’t even think I liked him. It was a wake-up call as to how strong a person he was and how weak in body I was, butchery is very physically demanding.

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I was struggling to stack up bags of salt, lift half a pig, lift huge bowls of all sorts, dad made it look easy. He had been doing it all his life, he was a strong man and he had the knack. He knew it all inside out."

After working with his dad for a couple of years, David moved from the factory to the butchery supplies shop where he was the main spice blender, making seasonings for many Edinburgh butchers.

He said, " I ended up doing it because I was interested and no one else could do it and I helped design a few recipes."

David said, "I had better chats with my dad because I had shared precious time with him and I knew more than other members of the family, how hard he worked.

Why he fell asleep at family gatherings. Now he is but a memory I can say that I loved him and cherish the time we had as colleagues."

David's Mum, Helen, his sister Christine and his father.

David tells us that although he's not been a candle maker yet, he has always worked in the food and wine-related industries.

He owned his own catering equipment company, Prochef supplying and fitting, everything from spoons to walk-in fridges.

Then he became an agent for wine glass company Schott Zwiesel, and along the way has met some interesting chefs including; Martin Wishart at The Balmoral, Tony Borthwick at The Plumed Horse, Bruce Rennie who is now at The Shore in Penzance, and Richard Dalgleish from Gleneagles.

David said, "I like asking people questions and you learn, I'm interested in what they have done where they have worked. I'd interrogate them, persuade them to tell you a recipe, or to explain a technique."

However, he knows his limits, "I'm a cook, not a chef. I don't want to chop a finger off, it's dangerous. I'm no good at plating up, now that's an art form.

Ten years ago David opened an off-license in Penicuik and he explains that it is "hard being a one-man-band, with competition from large supermarkets that make it so difficult for independents to make a living.

It was getting a bit much, a real struggle, so I decided to concentrate on the pies and I now I make around 7 tonnes of pies a year. "

He is not one to be starstruck but he does have a few celebrity fans, including Radio Forth's Boogie and Arlene and Drew Pritchard of Salvage Hunter fame, who popped in for a pie when he was filming nearby.

Open all hours

Running a successful food business is all about knowing your market.  The shop is open Monday to Friday 11 till 2pm catering mainly for workies or white van men, and after about 1 pm trade starts to fade away.

David tells us that there are refined artisan pie-makers out there,  but "I have to be realistically priced, I don't want to price myself out of the market. I've got to make a crust.

He also explains the hardest part of running your own business, is managing your time, "I'm always trying to be in the right place it is pressurized at some points."

The shop doesn't open at weekends, mainly to maintain work-life balance David said, "I guess I'm being selfish."

However, the real reason is that archery is a family passion, and having weekends free means they are available for competitions.

David is indoor Scottish barebow champion, whilst his wife Carol Anne Seez is world-class archer and an international GB champion, and their two boys were also involved in the sport.

During lockdown the pie shop was closed for four weeks and David faced an apprehensive time reopening.

David explained, "I wasn't sure how busy I would be, whether I should make a half or full batch and was very surprised when we sold out within hours. People were so glad to see us open again."

So what's the big target?

David honestly admits, "Surviving. Covid has taught us we don't know what is around the corner. We haven't even begun to financially feel the pinch of the huge knock-on effect of what's been done by the government.

We will all pay for it, globally and nationally. There will be redundancies and retail is going to suffer and people will tighten their belts, however, I'm optimistic we will be alright. Food is one of the necessities of life."

David has also become involved in making ready meals for Food Facts Friends a local charitable initiative and he supplies around 40 meals on Friday's for delivery to those in need.

"The food I make for them is simple good honest food, it is the same food I put on my table and give to friends, the same standard," he said.

He explains that you'd be surprised who ends up needing help, "all it can take is a mental health issue, death in the family problem with drink or drugs and your life can be turned upside down.

Everyone has a right to have food in every walk of life.  It is unjust that people need handouts for food in 2020, which is nuts. I've also helped run cookery classes for their clients, they often don't know how to boil an egg."

David said, "the response to our meals has been good, so you never know I might branch out into ready meals.

It is not just food, because I make with a bit of love, pinch of passion."


High St, Penicuik EH26 8HS

Catriona is a freelance writer based in the Scottish Borders, and a nominee for Food and Drink writer at this year's Scottish Press Awards.
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