|Place of origin||United Kingdom|
|Region or state||England (Cornwall, Devon)|
|Main ingredients||A pastry case traditionally filled with beef skirt, potato, swede and onion.|
A pasty (//) is a British baked pastry, a traditional variety of which is particularly associated with Cornwall, South West England, but has spread all over the British Isles. It is made by placing an uncooked filling, typically meat and vegetables, on one half of a flat shortcrust pastry circle, folding the pastry in half to wrap the filling in a semicircle and crimping the curved edge to form a seal before baking.
The traditional Cornish pasty, which since 2011 has had Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in Europe, is filled with beef, sliced or diced potato, swede (also known as yellow turnip or rutabaga – referred to in Cornwall and other parts of the West Country as turnip) and onion, seasoned with salt and pepper, and baked. Today, the pasty is the food most associated with Cornwall. It is a traditional dish and accounts for 6% of the Cornish food economy. Pasties with many different fillings are made, and some shops specialise in selling pasties.
The origins of the pasty are unclear, though there are many references to them throughout historical documents and fiction. The pasty is now popular worldwide because of the spread of Cornish miners and sailors from across Cornwall, and variations can be found in Australia, Mexico, the United States, Ulster and elsewhere.
Pasties resemble turnovers from many other cuisines and cultures, including the bridie in Scotland, empanada in Spanish-speaking countries, pirog in Eastern Europe, samsa in Central Asia, curry puff in Southeast Asia, and shaobing in China.
Despite the modern pasty's strong association with Cornwall, its origins are unclear. The English word "pasty" derives from Medieval French (O.Fr. paste from V.Lat pasta) for a pie, filled with venison, salmon or other meat, vegetables or cheese, baked without a dish. Pasties have been mentioned in cookbooks throughout the ages. For example, the earliest version of Le Viandier (Old French) has been dated to around 1300 and contains several pasty recipes. In 1393, Le Menagier de Paris contains recipes for pasté with venison, veal, beef, or mutton.
Other early references to pasties include a 13th-century charter that was granted by King John of England (in 1208) to the town of Great Yarmouth. The town was bound to send to the sheriffs of Norwich every year one hundred herrings, baked in twenty four pasties, which the sheriffs delivered to the lord of the manor of East Carlton who then conveyed them to the king. Around the same time, 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris wrote of the monks of St Albans Abbey "according to their custom, lived upon pasties of flesh-meat". In 1465, 5,500 venison pasties were served at the installation feast of George Neville, archbishop of York and chancellor of England. The earliest reference for a pasty in Devon or Cornwall can be found in Plymouth city records of 1509/10, which describe "Itm for the cooke is labor to make the pasties 10d". They were even eaten by royalty, as a letter from a baker to Henry VIII's third wife Jane Seymour confirms: "...hope this pasty reaches you in better condition than the last one ..." In his diaries written in the mid-17th century, Samuel Pepys makes several references to his consumption of pasties, for instance "dined at Sir W. Pen's ... on a damned venison pasty, that stunk like a devil", but after this period the use of the word outside Devon and Cornwall declined.
In contrast to its earlier place amongst the wealthy, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the pasty became popular with working people in Cornwall, where tin miners and others adopted it because of its unique shape, forming a complete meal that could be carried easily and eaten without cutlery. In a mine, the pasty's dense, folded pastry could stay warm for several hours, and if it did get cold, it could easily be warmed on a shovel over a candle.
Side-crimped pasties gave rise to the suggestion that the miner might have eaten the pasty holding the thick edge of pastry, which was later discarded, thereby ensuring that dirty fingers (possibly including traces of arsenic) did not touch the food or mouth. However, many old photographs show that pasties were wrapped in bags made of paper or muslin and were eaten from end to end; according to the earliest Cornish recipe book, published in 1929, this is "the true Cornish way" to eat a pasty. Another theory suggests that pasties were marked at one end with an initial and then eaten from the other end so that if not finished in one sitting, they could easily be reclaimed by their owners.
The pasty is regarded as the national dish of Cornwall, and an early reference is from a New Zealand newspaper:
In Cornwall, there is a common practice among those cottagers who bake at home of making little pasties for the dinners of those who may be working at a distance in the fields. They will last the whole week, and are made of any kind of meat or fruit, rolled up in a paste made of flour and suet or lard. A couple of ounces of bacon and half a-pound of raw potatoes, both thinly sliced and slightly seasoned, will be found sufficient for the meal. The pasty can be carried in the man's pocket.
The term "Cornish pasty" has been in use since at least the early 1860s:
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.
Cornish pasties are very popular with the working classes in this neighbourhood, and have lately been successfully introduced into some parts of Devonshire. They are made of small pieces of beef, and thin slices of potato, highly peppered, and enclosed in wrappers of paste.
By the late 19th century, national cookery schools began to teach their pupils to create their own version of a "Cornish pasty" that was smaller and was to be eaten as an "economical savoury nibble for polite middle-class Victorians".
On 20 July 2011, after a nine-year campaign by the Cornish Pasty Association (CPA) – the trade organisation of about 50 pasty makers based in Cornwall – the name "Cornish pasty" was awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the European Commission. According to the PGI status, a Cornish pasty should be shaped like a 'D' and crimped on one side, not on the top. Its ingredients should include beef, swede (called turnip in Cornwall), potato and onion, with a light seasoning of salt and pepper, keeping a chunky texture. The pastry should be golden and retain its shape when cooked and cooled. The PGI status also means that Cornish pasties must be prepared in Cornwall. They do not have to be baked in Cornwall, nor do the ingredients have to come from the county, though the CPA notes that there are strong links between pasty production and local suppliers of the ingredients. Packaging for pasties that conform to the requirements includes an authentication stamp, the use of which is policed by the CPA.
Producers outside Cornwall objected to the PGI award, with one saying "[EU bureaucrats could] go to hell", and another that it was "protectionism for some big pasty companies to churn out a pastiche of the real iconic product". Major UK supermarkets Asda and Morrisons both stated they would be affected by the change, as did nationwide bakery chain Greggs, though Greggs was one of seven companies allowed to continue to use the name "Cornish pasty" during a three-year transitional period.
Members of the CPA made about 87 million pasties in 2008, amounting to sales of £60 million (about 6% of the food economy of Cornwall). In 2011, over 1,800 permanent staff were employed by members of the CPA and some 13,000 other jobs benefited from the trade. Surveys by the South West tourism board have shown that one of the top three reasons people visit Cornwall is the food and that the Cornish pasty is the food most associated with Cornwall.
The recipe for a Cornish pasty, as defined by its protected status, includes diced or minced beef, onion, potato and swede in rough chunks along with some "light peppery" seasoning. The cut of beef used is generally skirt steak. Swede is sometimes called turnip in Cornwall, but the recipe requires use of actual swede, not turnip. Pasty ingredients are usually seasoned with salt and pepper, depending on individual taste. The use of carrot in a traditional Cornish pasty is frowned upon, though it does appear regularly in recipes.
The type of pastry used is not defined, as long as it is golden in colour and will not crack during the cooking or cooling, although modern pasties almost always use a shortcrust pastry. There is a humorous belief that the pastry on a good pasty should be strong enough to withstand a drop down a mine shaft, and indeed the barley flour that was usually used does make hard dense pastry.
Although the officially protected Cornish pasty has a specific ingredients list, old Cornish cookery books show that pasties were generally made from whatever food was available. Indeed, the earliest recorded pasty recipes include venison, not beef. "Pasty" has always been a generic name for the shape and can contain a variety of fillings, including stilton, vegetarian and even chicken tikka. Pork and apple pasties are readily available in shops throughout Cornwall and Devon, with the ingredients including an apple flavoured sauce, mixed together throughout the pasty, as well as sweet pasties with ingredients such as apple and fig or chocolate and banana, which are common in some areas of Cornwall.
A part-savoury, part-sweet pasty (similar to the Bedfordshire clanger) was eaten by miners in the 19th century, in the copper mines on Parys Mountain, Anglesey. The technician who did the research and discovered the recipe claimed that the recipe was probably taken to Anglesey by Cornish miners travelling to the area looking for work. No two-course pasties are commercially produced in Cornwall today, but are usually the product of amateur cooks. They are, however, commercially available in the British supermarket chain Morrisons (under the name 'Tin Miner Pasty'). Other traditional fillings have included a wide variety of locally available meats including pork, bacon, egg, rabbit, chicken, mackerel and sweet fillings such as dates, apples, jam and sweetened rice - leading to the oft-quoted joke that 'the Devil hisself was afeared to cross over into Cornwall for fear that ee'd end up in a pasty'.
A pasty is known as a "tiddy oggy" when steak is replaced with an extra potato, "tiddy" meaning potato and "oggy" meaning pasty and was eaten when times were hard and expensive meat could not be afforded. Another traditional meatless recipe is 'herby pie' with parsley, freshly gathered wild green herbs and chives, ramsons or leeks and a spoonful of clotted cream.
Whilst the PGI rules state that a Cornish pasty must be a "D" shape, with crimping along the curve (i.e., side-crimped), crimping is variable within both Devon and Cornwall, with some advocating a side crimp while others maintain that a top crimp is more authentic. Some sources state that the difference between a Devon and Cornish pasty is that a Devon pasty has a top-crimp and is oval in shape, whereas the Cornish pasty is semicircular and side-crimped along the curve. However, pasties with a top crimp have been made in Cornwall for generations, yet those Cornish bakers who favour this method now find that they cannot legally call their pasties "Cornish". Paul Hollywood, writing for BBC Food, stated that a traditional Cornish pasty should have about 20 crimps.
In 2001, a small American grocery and caterer in Gaylord, Michigan, Albie's Food, Inc., was sent a cease and desist letter from another US-based food company, The J.M. Smucker Company, accusing Albie's of violating their intellectual property rights to the "sealed crustless sandwich". Instead of capitulating, Albie's took the case to federal court, noting in their filings a pocket sandwich with crimped edges and no crust was called a "pasty" and had been a popular dish in northern Michigan since the nineteenth century. The Federal Court determined that Albie's Foods did not infringe on J.M. Smucker's intellectual property rights and was allowed to continue.
Migrating Devonian and Cornish miners and their families (colloquially known as Cousin Jacks and Cousin Jennies) helped to spread pasties into the rest of the world during the 19th century. As tin mining in Devon and Cornwall began to decline, miners took their expertise and traditions to new mining regions around the world. As a result, pasties can be found in many regions, including:
When I view my Country o'er:
Of goodly things the plenteous store:
The Sea and Fish that swim therein
And underground the Copper and Tin:
Let all the World say what it can
Still I hold by the Cornishman,
And that one most especially
That first found out the Cornish Pastie.
Pasties have been mentioned in multiple literary works since the 12th century Arthurian romance Erec and Enide, written by Chrétien de Troyes, in which they are eaten by characters from the area now known as Cornwall. There is a mention in Havelok the Dane, another romance written at the end of the thirteenth century; in the 14th century Robin Hood tales; in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales; and in three plays by William Shakespeare.
Pasties appear in many novels, used to draw parallels or represent Cornwall. In American Gods by Neil Gaiman, main character Shadow discovers pasties at Mabel's restaurant in the fictional town of Lakeside. The food is mentioned as being popularised in America by Cornishmen, as a parallel to how gods are "brought over" to America in the rest of the story. Another literature reference takes place in The Cat Who ... series by Lilian Jackson Braun. Pasties are referred to as a cultural part of the north country, and Jim Qwilleran often eats at The Nasty Pasty, a popular restaurant in fictional Moose County, famous for its tradition of being a mining settlement. Reference to pasties is made in Brian Jacques' popular Redwall series of novels, where it is a staple favourite on the menu to the mice and creatures of Redwall Abbey. Pumpkin pasties are among the foods enjoyed by the young wizards of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Pasties also appear in the Poldark series of historical novels of Cornwall, by Winston Graham, as well as the BBC television series adapted from these works.
In the tin mines of Devon and Cornwall, pasties were associated with "knockers", spirits said to create a knocking sound that was either supposed to indicate the location of rich veins of ore, or to warn of an impending tunnel collapse. To encourage the good will of the knockers, miners would leave a small part of the pasty within the mine for them to eat. Sailors and fisherman would likewise discard a crust to appease the spirits of dead mariners, though fishermen believed that it was bad luck to take a pasty aboard ship.
A Cornish proverb, recounted in 1861, emphasised the great variety of ingredients that were used in pasties by saying that the devil would not come into Cornwall for fear of ending up as a filling in one. A West Country schoolboy playground-rhyme current in the 1940s concerning the pasty went:
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, ate a pasty five feet long,
Bit it once, Bit it twice, Oh my Lord, it's full of mice.
In 1959 the English singer-songwriter Cyril Tawney wrote a nostalgic song called "The Oggie Man". The song tells of the pasty-seller with his characteristic vendor's call who was always outside Plymouth's Devonport Naval Dockyard gates late at night when the sailors were returning, and his replacement by hot dog sellers after World War II.
The word "oggy" in the internationally popular chant "Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi Oi" is thought to stem from Cornish dialect "hoggan", deriving from "hogen" the Cornish word for pasty. When the pasties were ready for eating, the bal maidens at the mines would supposedly shout down the shaft "Oggy Oggy Oggy" and the miners would reply "Oi Oi Oi".[dubious ]
As the 'national dish' of Cornwall, several oversized versions of the pasty have been created in the county. For example, a giant pasty is paraded from Polruan to Fowey through the streets during regatta week. Similarly, a giant pasty is paraded around the ground of the Cornish Pirates rugby team on St Piran's Day before it is passed over the goal posts.
In fact so universal are the contents of Cornish pasties, a local proverb states that the devil will not venture into Cornwall, for if the inhabitants caught him, they would be sure to put him into a pie