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The Cornish Pasty: Part of Cornwall's Cultural Heritage

I proudly have Cornish ancestry and in this article, the glorious Cornish pasty's who, what, when and where are revealed.

The quintessentially Cornish pasty.

The quintessentially Cornish pasty.

A Beloved Cultural Heritage Dish

With several hundred years of Cornish ancestry in my genes, I know how important it is to make a Cornish pasty perfectly. It is the epitome of Cornish-ness, part of the independent and spirited people of Kernow’s (Cornwall’s) culinary heritage. You can’t get more authentic than a Cornish pasty family recipe passed from generation to generation. The recipe is a prized possession and guarded faithfully.

The Cornish pasty has never fallen out of fashion. The first historical reference to them dates back to King Edward III’s reign (1312-1377.) Recipe books started to feature Cornish pasties just before the 15th century began. Both Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare mentioned the humble Cornish pasty in their works.

Cornwall lies to the far south west of England. Inhabitants are proud to call themselves Cornish rather than English.

Cornwall lies to the far south west of England. Inhabitants are proud to call themselves Cornish rather than English.

The Historical Heyday of the Cornish Pasty

The Cornish pasty became hugely popular during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when agriculture and mines flourished in the beautiful county. It was inexpensive but filling and it could be held by grubby-handed labourers and mine workers along its crimped edge so that the contents remained clean and palatable.

The crimped edge was often thrown away but if the pasty was held in muslin or cotton this provided a barrier from dirt and every last crumb was devoured. Very often pasties contained meat and vegetables, a pastry barrier and a dessert. By the Victorian era, polite society was not averse to the pasty.

The Cornish pasty, which so admirably comprises a dinner in itself—meat, potatoes, and other good things well cooked and made up into so portable a form—was a subject of much admiration, and reminded me of the old coaching days, when I secured a pasty at Bodmin in order to take it home to my cook, that it might be dissected and serve as a pattern for Cornish pasties in quite another part of the country.

— from the 1862 volume of the Cambrian Archaeological Association’s journal

Levant Mine in Cornwall.

Levant Mine in Cornwall.

Dinner's Ready, Cornish Style

If you’ve ever heard the cry of “Oggy, Oggy, Oggy, Oi, Oi, Oi” this is something that a true Cornish person learns at an early age, well we did in my family anyway. The word oggy is derived from the dialect word for pasty: hoggan. Folklore has it that the “oggies” were shouted down a mine shaft by the wives and cooks to indicate that a batch of pasties was ready to be eaten. The “oi’s” were the miners’ acknowledging the call.

The biggest mistake that the uninformed Cornish pasty baker makes is to cook the meat and vegetables before adding them as the filling to the circle of pastry. Never cook them beforehand. That’s not the traditional Cornish pasty way.

Follow the Official Cornish Pasty Rules

According to the Cornish Pasty Association based in Truro in Cornwall, approximately 120 million Cornish pasties are produced in Cornwall every year. A genuine Cornish pasty must have:

A minimum of 12.5% meat: Diced or minced beef.

A minimum of 25% vegetables: Potatoes, turnips and onions. The appearance of a carrot in a pasty has always been the mark of an inferior pasty. Yes, there is snobbery in the pasty world.

Seasoning, if you wish.

That’s it, apart from the pastry which can be shortcrust, rough or puff. I prefer shortcrust because it holds the contents well. The pasty is formed into the shape of the letter D and has hand-crimped crimping down one side.

Please suppress your giggles when you learn that a left-hander's crimped pasty has the name of a cock pasty, a right-handed crimper’s is called a hen pasty.

The Cornish pasty: A main course and dessert in one handy parcel.

The Cornish pasty: A main course and dessert in one handy parcel.

Protected Geographical Identification Status

Since 2011 the Cornish pasty has been protected under EU law prior to Brexit and UK law afterwards so that it has Protected Geographical Identification status (PGI.) Any commercial Cornish pasty can only be termed as Cornish if it meets criteria set out by Cornwall Council, for example Cornish pasties must be made in Cornwall and to the west of the River Tamar to qualify, and the packaging must feature the PGI logo. Processes and products continue to be assessed periodically to ensure that standards are maintained.

Saint Piran, The patron saint of Cornwall.

Saint Piran, The patron saint of Cornwall.

The Annual Cornish Pasty Week

As you’ve probably worked out, the Cornish people take their pasties seriously and when Covid permits, a pasty lovers event is held around the time of the patron saint of Cornwall, St. Piran’s, celebration day. Each pasty week culminates in a World Pasty Championship.

Although in 2021 it couldn’t be staged, the plan, fingers crossed, is to start the Cornish Pasty Week on the 27th February 2022 and on St. Piran’s Day, the 5th March, the World Pasty Championship will take place at the iconic Eden Project in St. Austell (I remember when the site was a disused quarry near to my grandparents' house). There are four categories for the championships: Company, Amateur, Professional and Junior for under 15’s.

The popularity of the Cornish pasty ensures that it will be in the culinary and cultural arena for centuries to come.

Sources

© 2021 Joanne Hayle

Comments

Joanne Hayle (author) from Wiltshire, U.K. on September 10, 2021:

Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed it!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 09, 2021:

Well presented. Nice article.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2021:

I love Cornish pasties! Thank you for sharing the interesting information about them.

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