A “pasty” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as – “Originally a pie of seasoned meat esp. venison, enclosed in a pastry crust and cooked without a dish. In later use: a small pastry case folded to enclose a savoury filling, similar to a turnover” and mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diary. He obviously wasn’t too impressed by his pasty as he described it as: “The venison pasty was palpable beef, which was not handsome!”
But a CORNISH pasty – a Cornish pasty is a very different proposition. A Cornish pasty is the proud possessor of Protected European Status – a distinction it shares with Champagne, Melton Mowbray Pies, Stilton and many other distinctive, high quality products. So what makes a Cornish Pasty superior to other lesser pasties and how did it get to be so firmly associated with the County of Cornwall?
Early days of the Cornish Pasty
As we’ve seen, the original “pasty” was filled with venison and, in olden times, venison was not the food of the common man (except for poachers, of course!). But, in the 17th and 18th century the pasty became the food of the miners and farmworkers of Cornwall when their wives filled the humble pastry case with cheaper ingredients to provide an all-in-one meal.
The Cornish pasty had many advantages. If your pasty was hot in the morning the pastry case would keep it at least warm for 8 hours. The “crimp” or crust served as a means to hold it with dirty hands. That was useful for a farm labourer but the miners found it even more useful as arsenic is often found in the tin ore. When the tin started to run out, arsenic was mined in huge quantities along the Tamar Valley, and keeping arsenic from your hands and out of your food was a definite benefit.
The Cornish Pasty in Modern day times
The rules governing the filling for the modern Cornish pasty, as laid down in the Geographical Indicator – which is the appellation protecting the Cornish pasty – says that to be a genuine Cornish Pasty the pasty must contain a minimum of 12.5% meat and the ONLY ingredients shall be:
- Roughly diced or minced beef
- Sliced or diced potato
- Swede (turnip)
- Seasoning to taste (mainly salt & pepper)
The pastry can be shortcrust, rough puff or puff, but it has to be able to withstand baking and handling without breaking. Pasties went down the mines, across the fields and out to sea, so they had to be up to the job. It can be glazed with egg, or milk, or both, to give the finished pasty its wonderful golden colour.
Legend has it that a proper Cornish Pasty could be dropped down a mineshaft without breaking. A side crimp is the mark of a Cornish Pasty. No miner’s wife would ever send her husband to work with a pasty crimped at the top. She didn’t want her man dying of arsenic poisoning, did she?
Of course, for the average Cornish mining family, meat was in short supply so their pasties would have had a lot more swede and potato and a lot less beef than the modern incarnation. But no self-respecting miner’s wife would have despoiled her pasty with carrots – her husband’s fellow miners would have thought he was married to a very poor cook.
So the Cornish Pasty is today a recognised and protected culinary treasure – I like to think Samuel Pepys would have found today’s Cornish Pasty “an’ some!” (a Cornish word for “absolutely wonderful!”)
No pasty can be called “Cornish ” unless it is made in the County with ingredients sourced in Cornwall, but you don’t have to come from Cornwall to fully appreciate them.
Contact Lee Harvey Computing in Pasty Country
Lee Harvey Computing is based in the heart of “Pasty Country” in St Austell and, just like the Cornish Pasty, quality is always guaranteed. His mobile service comes to you speedily but, while you’re waiting you could be eating a…