Cornish Pasty Week: everything you wanted to know about the protected pastry
A brief sojourn through the history of this protected pastry.
The Cornish Pasty. A staple of miners and now holiday makers in the south west of the UK, as well as the snack of choice for many a motorist from a service station, despite their tendency to generate greasy fingermarks and small piles of crumbs in the crevices of upholstery. But where and when do they come from? And what makes a cornish pasty, a Cornish Pasty.
Traditionally associated with the English county of Cornwall, the word "pasty" comes from the French where it meant a "pie, filled with venison, salmon or other meat, vegetables or cheese, baked without a dish". French mentions of pasties date back to around 1300 in a few cookbooks.
When was it first talked about?
References to pasties here in the UK crop up around the reign of Henry III (1207–1272). The reference comes from a charter at the time when the town of Norwich "every year one hundred herrings, baked in twenty four pasties, which the sheriffs are to deliver to the lord of the manor of East Carlton who is then to convey them to the King." Around the same time the pasties filled with a hundred herrings were being delivered to the lord of the manor, the monks of St Albans Abbey were "feasting on pasties of flesh-meat" as written by 13th century chronicler Matthew Paris. References to these pastry parcels continue on through history but dwindled outside Devon and Cornwall around the mid 17th century.
One cornish pasty, split in twixt for you delectation.
It was around this time that the food's place in society shifted from being a food of the wealthy packed with fine meats to being a popular dish with the working folk, especially in Cornwall with tin miners where its unique shape meant it was easy to carry and the tough pastry would protect the finer innards of the dish from the working conditions in the mine. The dense pastry would keep the meaty potato blend warm for hours, and reportedly could be easily heated over a candle on a shovel. According to the earliest known Cornish recipe book, published in 1929 the "true Cornish way" to eat a pastry was from end to end, including the pastry, as they were typically wrapped in a muslin or cloth bag to keep the pastry palatable and clean.
The naming of the pasty as the Cornish Pasty came about circa 1862 when one pasty was taken by Henry H Vivian, the First Baron of Swansea, back to his house for his cook to deconstruct and recreate. Things didn't really change much from there on for this staple of snacks until the 20th of July 2011.
Protect the pasty!
It was on this fateful day that the Cornish Pasty was awarded Protected Geographical Indication. It had taken 9 years of campaigning by the about 50 pasty makers in the Cornish Pasty Association. According to this status, a Pasty must be "shaped like a D, and crimped on one side not on the top. It's ingredients should include beef, swede, potato and onion with a light seasoning of salt and pepper and a chunky texture. The pastry should be golden and retain its shape when cooked and cooled." The rules on the matter state that while a the Pastry doesn't have to be cooked in Cornwall, it must be prepared in the county. Members of the CPA (the Cornish Pasty Association) made around 87 million of the pastries in 2008 which raked in a whopping £60 million, or 6% of the food economy of Cornwall.
Anyone else hungry for a Cornish Pasty now? Or is that just me?
Say no to carrots!
There exists several variations of the Cornish pasty, but one important rule is to not add carrot. Apparently that is frowned upon. And quite literally the list of variations is massive. More importantly to me is the Bedfordshire Clanger. Heralding from my home county, it is a long, tubular version of the Cornish Pasty and is divided into two sections by a lump of pastry giving separate compartments for sweet and savoury fillings.
Interestingly it is said that the chant of "oggy oggy oggy, oi oi oi" originates from pasties. When the pasties were made and fresh from the oven, bal maidens (female workers at the mines) would shout down to the men in the pit "oggy oggy oggy" and the men would respond with "oi oi oi".
So there you have it, a potted history of the Cornish Pasty. What do you think about this classic Cornish creation? What variations have you tried? Have you made some of your own? If I have time this week perhaps you'll see me trying to whip one up!