Listening to a chance remark from an American friend of mine regarding different meanings for 'English' words on our side of the Atlantic compared with 'English' meanings for the same words on the other side I decided to write about the English, Cornish Pasty.
Nobody knows for certain the true origins of the pasty, although it can be traced at least as far back as the middle ages. There are supposed to be quotes from as far back as the 13th Century, during the reign of Henry III although it is believed that Henry VIII's Queen, Jane Seymour, enjoyed a tasty pasty on several occasions.
The Cornish Pasty or Tiddy Oggie as it is less commonly known locally in Cornwall whence the more traditional version originated, was one of the first complete meals for workers. Being one of the original take away foods this was a staple food for miners. The reason the filling was contained in a pastry case with a thick crust along one side was to hold on to, especially as their hands were dirty or tainted with tin, copper or iron! Often this was discarded or fed to "The Cornish Knockers" (ghosts of dead colleagues said to haunt the mines). The Knockers were the mischievous 'little people' of the mines, who were believed by the miners to cause all manner of misfortune, unless they were placated with a small amount of food, after which they could prove to be a source of good luck!
Tradition used to dictate that it was unlucky for fishermen to take the pasty to sea. To this day the more superstitious among Cornish fishermen still refuse to take a pasty on board their boat when they set out to sea, in the belief that it will bring them bad luck.
The traditional Cornish pasty is made by placing the filling on a flat pastry shape, usually a circle, and folding it to wrap the filling, crimping the edge to form a seal. The result is a raised semicircular package. The pasty is filled with diced beef, sliced potato, swede and onion. Cornish housewives also marked their husband's initials on the left-hand side of the pastry casing so that their husbands could eat some of the pasty for breakfast and then recognise their own for lunch. Another traditional form of the pasty included a sweet filling, of jam or fruit, in one half and a savoury filling in the other, making it a full meal in one.
With the decline of the mining industry in Cornwall many Cornishmen were forced to emigrate, as far afield as the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. taking the pasty recipe with them.
As an aside ..... when I was a loadmaster in the RAF we used to fly backwards and forwards between UK and the Far East with several stops enroute. It was always a treat to fly with one of my colleagues, a Cornishman, who had been a master baker in his previous life and whenever he did the sector between Gan (Maldives) and Cyprus which was a long night flight he always created the best Tiddy Ogies I have ever tasted! Needless to say, this pasties were only for the crew and not the square bashing passengers and their families.
A typical recipe for two would be:-
- Shortcrust Pastry
- 225 gm plain flour
- 115 gm fat (mixture of lard & butter)
- pinch of salt
- The Filling
- 225 gm steak cut into small cubes
- 2 or 3 large potatoes
- piece of turnip or swede
- onion, peeled and chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1. Sift the flour with the salt, rub in the fat and mix to a pliable consistency with some water, leave to rest for half an hour.
- 2. Roll out half the pastry into a round about 5mm thick (quarter of an inch)
- 3. Peel and slice the potatoes thinly onto the centre of round to form a base for the rest of the filling
- 4. Slice the turnip thinly over the potato, then spread the beef on top.
- 5. Add a little onion, season with salt and pepper
- 6. Dampen the edge of the circle of pastry with water to help seal it, bring together the edges make a parcel with the filling in the centre.
- 7. There should be a neat pastry parcel. If you do get any holes, then patch them with a little extra pastry. You can make the pastry neater by crimping the edges. Fold over the edge to make it slightly thicker, then squeeze tightly every 2 cms to make a neat pattern along the edge.
- 8 Put the pastry on a piece of buttered paper, make a small slit on the top to let the steam brush the top with a little milk, and put it on a greased baking tray.
- 9. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C (gas mark 6) for 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 190C (gas mark 5) and cook for another 30 minutes.