#52Ancestors: Do all Americans “love” Cornish pasties too?


Rest assured this IS an ancestry post, #52ancestors:love, related to my Cornish ancestors! But I begin with a question ….. what is England’s favourite dish or food? Well, depending on how the question is worded, what year the question is asked, and from what regions the answers are drawn, the answers will swing wildly between Chicken Tikka Masaala, Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, and Fish & Chips. These answers represent the multicultural makeup of our society together with the extent to which English people have travelled the globe. However, some of these surveys can be taken with a pinch of salt! Visit any expat area of towns in Spain for example and you will find the Brits overall frequenting the English Pub sticking like glue to a “full English breakfast”. Secondly, spend a little time in the North of England counties of Northumbria, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Lancashire, plus the South West Counties of Devon and Cornwall and you will find; Cumberland Stew, Tatie Pot, Cumberland Sausage, Yorkshire Pudding, Black Pudding, Lancashire Hotpot, Steak & Kidney Pie, Cornish or Devon Cream Tea, and ……. the ubiquitous Cornish Pasty! In fact, stop off at any roadside garage or service station in England for a caffeine fix and every bloke over the age of 5 is probably buying a Cornish Pasty made by Ginsters or the West Cornwall Pasty Company.

Cornish tin miners

Cornish pasties for Cornish tin miners!

My maternal ancestors were all from Cornwall, most were tin miners, and every one of them will have taken a Cornish Pasty down the mine for their “bait or snappin'”, which is lunch to me and you! Easy to make using readily available ingredients, a balance of carbs and protein, half savoury and half sweet/dessert which is probably confusing the modern day pasty munchers.

Here’s some general history:

“Few meals have roots as deep as the Cornish pasty, a hand-held meat-and-vegetable pie developed as a lunch for workers in the ancient English tin mining region of Cornwall. With its characteristic semicircular shape and an insulating crust that does double-duty as a handle, the humble pasty—which, perhaps unfortunately, rhymes with “nasty” rather than “tasty”—today receives special designation, along with Champagne and Parma ham, as a protected regional food by the European Union. (In Michigan, where 19th-century Cornish immigrants brought the pasty into the iron mines of the Upper Peninsula, the pasty has been celebrated with local festivals and statewide proclamations.)

The Cornish pasty descends from a broader family of medieval English meat pies. The earliest literary reference to pasties is likely from Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” Legal records from 13th-century Norwich describe pastry-makers accused of reheating three-day-old pasties for sale as fresh. In London, a 1350 regulation barred cooks—on pain of imprisonment—from charging more than a penny for putting a rabbit in a pasty. These pasties (and the alleged venison pasty 1660s London diarist Samuel Pepys suspected was actually beef) were little more than cuts of meat wrapped in pastry dough. By then the Cornish pasty—made from chipped beef, potatoes, swedes (rutabagas) and onions—had already taken its place in Cornwall’s regional cuisine.

The Cornish pasty was a food for families, fishermen and farmers, but it shone in the closed-in darkness of Cornwall’s mines. Tin had been gathered in Cornwall—first from rivers and then from ever-deeper pits and shafts—since prehistoric times. In ancient Europe, Cornish tin was likely traded via intermediaries with the Phoenicians, who controlled the Mediterranean trade of the metal. Mining continued throughout the Roman and medieval eras and into the early modern period. For Cornish men and boys heading underground, the pasty amounted to a highly efficient food: self-contained, self-insulated and packed with calories. The thick semicircular edge of the crust could be monogrammed with carved-dough initials or toothpick codes to make sure each man and boy took the right pasty as he headed to the mines. The ropelike crust had an additional virtue: miners’ hands were often covered with arsenic-laden dust, so the crust could function as a disposable handle.”

You can read the full article about Cornish miners and their pasties in the US here, History of The Cornish Pasty but suffice to say historically for now ….some of my own ancestors migrated to Wisconsin, not too far away from Michigan mentioned above, in the mid 1800s too. If they followed the traditional method, then the pasty was savoury with meat and vegetables in one half, and in the other half was fruit such as apples and maybe some berries or a little jam. Nowadays however the whole pasty is savoury.

So, do you wanna know how to make a pasty? Here’s the best website, with recipe, of The Cornish Pasty Association.

And here are a few images of a recent batch we made, mother’s recipe, over the weekend!

Cornish pasty dough making

Strong white flour, lard and butter for pasty dough
Chop the vegetables finely for a Cornish pasty

Swede and onions finely chopped

Pasties glazed for baking with an egg/milk mixture

Pasties glazed for baking with an egg/milk mixture

Proper Cornish pasties

Proper job!

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Categories: Ancestry

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21 replies

  1. Cornish miners were plentiful in Colorado at the end of the 19th century. Here is a link to a story. http://www.coloradomagazineonline.com/ColoradoHistory/…/CaribouCornishMiners/Cornis...
    As a docent for the Colorado History Museum we would take children through a mine near Central City and I loved describing the process of hard rock mining especially the ‘double jack’ drilling and the tools used.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wait, is this a food blog?? This ancestry study takes us Everywhere, doesn’t it? Thank-you for teaching me how to pronounce these pies. I have never had one and now I’m prepared to order one up!! .
    Here’s an article about Wisconsin pasties (Mineral Point is in central Wisconsin…it’s cooold up there.:)

    MINERS’ LEGACY LIVES ON AT MINERAL POINT’S CORNISH FEST https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1997-09-26-9709260426-story.html

    (I just pasty’d that in–haha-hope it works.

    By the way, did I miss an explanation of your #52 moniker?

    Like

  3. Fantastic post, and the photos are the perfect touch! My husband loves pastys because he grew up on Minnesota’s Iron Range and his grandfather was an iron ore miner. Guess what they ate? (Even though his grandfather was from Croatia.) The pasty remains a popular delicacy up there to this day, although underground mining ended decades ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Barbara, thank you so much for your interesting and valuable comment. I had to look up Minnesota Iron Range on Google maps and see that the state borders Wisconsin and Michigan, so a real pasty connection there. My pasty eating daughter is visiting Michigan on business in a couple of weeks too! Maybe you can blog something about iron, mining and pasties and we can reblog each other’s posts to see if we get any connections! I’m currently writing about 4 generations of iron people, myself, father, grandfather, great grandfather, before I enter the Cornish world of tin mining. Thanks for following my blog, look forward to reading yours too … 👍🙏🙏

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will have to blog about my husband’s grandpa—it’s quite a story, although fairly typical of the immigrant experience in America in the early twentieth century. And yes, a blog about pasties is in order!
        Glad I found your blog. I too am doing some family genealogy so I’m looking forward to reading your posts regarding your own findings. I do know that I am 38% (according to Ancestry DNA) English, Scottish, and/or Welsh!

        Like

  4. I quite like a Ginsters Cornish Pasty but I doubt there would have been enough sustenance in them to keep a hungry tin miner going all afternoon!

    I also like a full English (but no beans) but never when I am elsewhere in Europe. A simple Pan Con Tomate with a little Iberian Ham will always do nicely for me when in Spain. I have tried to make it fresh at home but the tomatoes are never good enough to achieve the paste.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed this post. My Yorkshire hubby loves a Cornish pasty and we have been lucky to find a fabulous bakery here in Spain that makes proper Cornish pasties. We had no trouble finding them in Canada either, especially on the west coast. He does not, however, enjoy a “full English breakfast” as he finds it way too greasy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The truly world famous Cornish pasty! I don’t like full English breakfasts either and avoid British Quarters in Spain, France, Lanzarote, Majorca etc like the plague! But …. each to his own I suppose, but think what they are missing out on tapas, Iberia ham, oysters, escargots etc etc

      Liked by 1 person

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