There are few dishes quite so instantly recognisable or as British as the Cornish Pasty – with the week commencing 24th February serving as this year’s Cornish Pasty week!
Pasties have been a part of British culture for centuries, stretching back to being mentioned in ‘The Canterbury Tales’ (written between 1387-1400) – whilst the majority of British pasties were little more that pieces of meat wrapped in pastry dough, the Cornish pasty already had the established recipe of beef, potatoes, swedes and onions and was a staple of the local cuisine.
The reason for its popularity in Cornwall all goes back to the tin mines that dot the Cornish countryside. Mining in Cornwall has been a fixture of the landscape since prehistoric times, with Cornish tin being traded across Europe and the Mediterranean through the Roman conquest, Middle Ages, and into the eighteenth century. For miners, the Cornish was just what they needed to keep the backbreaking work going, as the pasty was self-contained, self-insulated, and packed with the calories. The thick semicircular edge of the crust could sometimes be decorated with carved initials to make sure each man and boy could recognise his pasty; whilst the crust acted as a disposable handle for the pasty, as miners’ hands were often caked in arsenic-laden coal dust.
And the pasty’s popularity doesn’t stop there – in fact it made the trip over to the Atlantic to keep prospectors happy! Experienced miners from Cornwall traveled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1840’s, where significant iron and copper deposits had been discovered – there the Cornish miners helped develop the mines, as well as introduce the Americans to a proper pasty! Although Cornish miner numbers were soon overtaken by the migration of Finnish and Italian miners, the pasty quickly became the traditional miners’ go-to food. The pasty has made such an impression on Michigan that Governor George Romney declared May 24, 1968 to be the first statewide Michigan Pasty Day – always a good excuse to celebrate a proper pasty!
Whilst you can find Cornish pasties the world over with various different fillings, in 2011 the European Union laid down the rules for what constitutes a true Cornish pasty, as part of a drive to protect the Cornish pasty’s provenance. To be classed as a Cornish pasty, therefore, the pasty must have a potato, swede, onion and beef filling, with the filling containing at least 25 percent vegetables and at least 12.5 percent meat. Most importantly, the pasty must be made in Cornwall – so a trip to Cornwall is a must for any pasty perfectionists!
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