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Food And Drink : Cornish Classic Recipes : Cornish Pasty

Cornish Pasty

Our county is well known for being foodie heaven, with an impressive collection of artisan producers and top restaurants taking influence from all over the world. But what of our historical dishes which have all but died out? You may not initially think of Cornwall as the epicentre of cultural cuisine, but we have many foods as iconic to us as seagulls and St Piran. 

 

Cornish Pasty Cornish Pasty - Picture 1 Cornish Pasty - Picture 2

I love food, I love Cornwall, and I love a challenge. So here it is, armed with the classic ‘Favourite recipes from Cornwall’, I’m going to re-create a classic recipe every month, finding out its history along the way.
So, first up, it is one of Cornwall’s most iconic symbols, famed the world over as our most famous export, the Cornish pasty. Still very much part of our identity, I’ve grown up with them, starting with my Gran’s homemade delicacies, and now with a list of my favourite crimpers across the county.

Without doubt the earliest convenience food, the tradition was once to combine savoury and sweet, giving a full meal, complete with a thick crust to hold whilst devouring it. It didn’t start in Cornwall though; it was first mentioned in the 13th Century, when it was originally the favoured fodder of the royals and upper classes. The pasty later became the miner’s food of choice, cheap, easy to take to work, and perfect for keeping their strength up on their lunch break, (‘Croust’ in Cornish.)
The basic requirements were that it be shaped to fit in a miners pocket and strong enough to survive a drop down the mine shaft from the wives above ground. The disposable handle served to reduce the chance of poisoning, and there should be space in the corner for the miner’s initials.

There are many different versions, and short of adding peas and carrots, anything goes: fish, rabbit, venison, (cream was another addition which raises eyebrows, something favoured in Devon apparently). If you are using beef the meat should be chuck or skirt, always diced rather than minced, and always cooked from raw. The vegetables traditionally should be sliced rather than cubed, and the result glazed with milk or beaten egg. The question of crimping seems to be the trickiest question to answer, should it be on top or to the side?
1929 saw the WI endorse the side crimp approach, backed up by photos discovered of 19th century farmers. It seems to be down to personal preference, and I have to say I’m a fan of the top crimp, just the way my Gran used to make.

Cornwall is filled with folklore, and even the humble pasty can’t escape its superstitions. Cautious fisherman would never dream of taking a pasty on board their boat, for fear of bad luck. Corners of the crust would be left for the mine goblins or ‘Bucca’s’, in exchange for their help in spotting danger. Even the devil is said to be afraid of them! Legend has it that the Satanic One won’t set foot across the Tamar for fear of ending up as a housewife’s next filling!

As always the proof is in the eating, so it’s on to the cooking. Now I’m a big believer that, unless you possess the gift, life is too short to make pastry. Sadly, I do not possess the talent, but luckily my local butcher’s wife, Sue, does and enables pastry-phobes like me to have all the benefits of the real deal, without the struggle. Some would call it cheating; I call it appropriate acquisition of resources.

The filling is made up of Cornish rump skirt of beef from my fantastic local butcher, Richard Ellery, and vegetables straight from my weekly organic box. Following my new rules, the sliced vegetables lay across the centre of the pastry circle, topped with the diced meat, a touch of seasoning and a few dots of butter. The crimping has never been my strong point and (I’m told is a fine art to perfect with professional bakers able to construct and crimp a pasty a minute), but even for me it does improve with practise!  

A quick brush of beaten egg to give it glaze and colour, and it’s in the oven for 40 minutes.  

The result is as golden as the sun, and tasty to boot. I’m no stranger to the Pasty, but if it had been the first time one had ever passed my lips, I’d make sure it wasn’t the last. The chef in me constantly wants to experiment with fresh herbs, flavoured pastry and the like, but the Cornish girl in me knows it’s not the place for individuality. It has been this way since the 13th century for a reason, so why change it? The Cornish Pasty Association are currently waiting for the European commission to grant PGI (Protected Geographical Indicator) status, meaning only Pasties made in the county to a traditional recipe can be called ‘Cornish Pasties’, preventing any impostors or foreign counterparts who seem keen to jump on our bandwagon. With 3 million produced each week in Cornwall, it’s big business, and a huge chunk of our heritage.

Recipe  (to make 4 medium sized)

1 ½ lb Shortcrust Pastry
¾ lb Chuck or Skirt Beef- Diced
4 smallish potatoes- Sliced
1 swede- Sliced
1 onion- Sliced
Butter
Seasoning
Beaten egg to glaze

Method

1.     Preheat oven to 180c
2.     Roll out your pastry on a floured surface, and use a plate to obtain the correct size circle you require
3.     Across the middle of the circle, lay your mixed vegetables, then add beef to the top. Season and dot with a little butter.
4.     Brush egg around the circle. Bring the sides together in the centre, and crimp a crust with your fingers to seal the pastry across the middle.
5.     Brush with beaten egg and cut a small slit in the top to allow air to escape.
6.     Place on a baking tray and bake for approx 40 minutes until golden.