Let’s start with the proper definition of a Cornish pasty. First of all, it’s not amisspelling of pastry, though the crust that encases the goodness inside is called pastry. A traditional pasty (pronounced pass-tee) is a mixture of chunky meat and vegetables, wrapped in a hearty pastry case. Here are some hallmarks of a genuine Cornish pasty, according to the Cornish Pasty Association (I kid you not):
A Cornish pasty is made in the shape of a “D”, and the crimping is always along one side, never on top.
The filling must be chunky, the minced or roughly cut chunks of beef (not less than 12.5%) must be raw, and the raw vegetables of choice are swede, potato and onion.
The pasty must be a bit “spicy”, so a light peppery seasoning is a must.
The pastry should be a lovely gold color, savory, and glazed with milk or egg. It should be “robust enough to retain its shape throughout the cooking and cooling process without splitting or cracking.”
A pasty must be baked slowly so that all the flavors from the raw meat and veggies are “maximised.”
Absolutely no additives or flavorings allowed. This is a traditional dish!
Most importantly: a pasty is not a Cornish pasty unless it was made in Cornwall. This dish was given protected status by the EU in 2011, which means that only pasties produced in the county of Cornwall are able to be sold as “Cornish” pasties. To be absolutely honest, it sounds a bit stupid to me. But there are two sides to the issue. Alan Adler, chairman of the CPA, said, “By guaranteeing the quality of the Cornish pasty, we are helping to protect our British food legacy.” He may have a point.
Now a few snippets on the history of the Cornish pasty (by now I imagine you are well aware of my love for history!). There are references to pasties dating back to the 13th century; in those days they were delicacies for noblemen, and since they didn’t have any EU rules to adhere to, cooks stuffed them with everything from venison to eel to dried fruit! Interestingly enough, the pasty was only strictly identified with Cornwall within the past 200 years (according to one historian, the earliest reference to the pasty actually comes from Plymouth). By the 18th century the truly Cornish pasty was settling in, and was actually food for the poorer classes. The most well-known pasty eaters were Cornish miners who held onto the crusty “handle” with their grimy hands, devoured the meaty contents which had been protected by the pastry, then threw away the crimped edge. Clever, eh? Making a genuine Cornish pasty in your own home would be impossible if you don’t live in Cornwall, but as long as you have access to the basic ingredients you can come pretty darn close in your own kitchen. Below you’ll find a video demonstrating the proper pasty preparation techniques, and I have included a recipe from Green Chronicle (written by a real Cornishwoman!). By the way, I want to give a big thank-you to Angela for sending me some resources for this post 🙂
1/2 lb either lard hard margarine or butter or a combination of these
pinch of salt
cold water to mix
Rub the fat into the flour but not too finely. I sometimes cut the fat into small lumps.
Add the salt and then start adding the water gradually until it works together into a ball without being sticky.
Put aside in a cool place.
3/4 lb beef, not stewing beef
raw swede (also known as rutabaga or yellow/swedish turnip – see wikipedia)
salt and pepper
a walnut sized piece of butter
Cut the steak into small pieces but do not mince. Slice potato and swede into thin, small pieces about half an inch across. Chop onion finely.
Dust the work surface with flour. Roll out the pastry to about 1/4 inch thickness. Using a small plate cut out circles.
Moisten the edge with milk or water and support half of the pastry nearest to you over the rolling pin. On the other half, put a small layer of prepared vegetables then a layer of beef. Repeat this once but be careful not to have too much filling which would cause the pastry to burst during the cooking process.
Sprinkle sparingly with salt and pepper, then add a small bit of the butter. Sprinkle a dusting of flour over the filling (this helps to make the gravy).
Fold the other half of pastry which has been resting on the rolling pin over the filling and squeeze the half circle edges firmly together. Starting at the right side whilst supporting the left side with other hand, using first finger and thumb turn the edge over to form a crimp. Repeat this process all along the edge. This will come with practice but you must get a good seal.
Brush pasty with beaten egg wash to help with browning process and put a small one inch cut in the centre of the top to allow steam to escape.
Bake in a hot oven 220 degrees centigrade for about 20 minutes then reduce temperature to 160 degrees centigrade for a further 40 minutes. Smaller pasties need less time. If they are browning too quickly cover loosely with greased paper.
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Written by Abigail Young
I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.