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.
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!