Celebrating our culinary Cornish connection: The Pasty | TheUnion.com

Celebrating our culinary Cornish connection: The Pasty

St. Piran’s Day, a day when all people become Cornish, was celebrated last week in Grass Valley with the pasty being the comestible of choice. A few comments before we explain the object:

“The pasty is truly a meal fit for King Arthur and those seated around his table.” – Anonymous

“It’s the national dish of Cornwall. They’re served at Camelot, aren’t they?” – Bob Paine

“It’s a walking meat pie!” – Alvin S. Trivelpiece


Generations of sturdy Cornish miners toiled underground in the myriad mines of the Gold Country. Often, you would find fathers and sons working shoulder to shoulder with an occasional grandfather joining the group.

Along with his picturesque speech and customs, the Cornishman brought his favorite foods, especially pies. He ate meat pies of every type and filling imaginable, there were: Squab pies, lamb pies, pig pies, fish pies. There were muggety pies, nattlin pies and likkey pies. The contents of each remains a mystery to me, although I can guess at some.

It has been said that the devil himself would not venture into Cornwall fearing that he might end up in some sort of a pie!

The most famous of all Cornish pies is the pasty, (pronounced “pass-tee” and not to be confused with “paste-es,” those small, flesh-colored patches worn in strategic locations on the human anatomy by certain female entertainers) a meat or vegetarian pie shaped roughly like an apple turnover and eaten as an entree, preferably hot, with or without ketchup and/other condiments. The “walking meat pie” was a gastronomic delight for a Cornish miner and his family.

The contents, usually beef chunks, a bit of parsley, suet and potato cubes, were then surrounded by a not-too-sweet pastry crust and baked. Some chefs, including Murray King, add a bit of turnip.

At noon, with great regularity, the stalwart miner lunched on this, his greatest delicacy and mainstay: The Cornish pasty which he might wash down with tea.

In Cornwall, the pasty was for centuries the chief diet of miners and fishermen. Pasties were made with a wide variety of savory fillings including beef, pork, chicken and a combination of other ingredients to suit individual tastes. Today in the United Kingdom, pasty shops abound.

Before baking, for easy identification and as a deterrent misappropriation, the eater’s initials would be inscribed in one corner of the pie. The miner would start chomping at the end opposite his initials so that if a portion was left over it was identifiable for future personal consumption and safe from pasty rustlers.

Recipes abound for both the crust and the fillings for this magnificent comestible. Space prohibits offering more than one recipe. I am grateful to Mother Chenoweth, Isabelle Polglase, Theresa Trevillyan, Elizabeth Penrose and many other local ladies of Cornish extraction for their kind offer to share treasured family pasty recipes.

Instead, so as not to offend, I have opted for one from Murray King of St. Ives, Cornwall. As was the custom with early day cooks, much in the recipe is left to individual artistic interpretation and imagination, hence: “a small amount … just enough … ,” etc. This sort of instruction lends both authority, authenticity and mystery to the procedure. English word usage is left intact.


Cornish Pasty with beef filling

(Makes one individual serving)

PASTRY: 4 oz plain flour; 2 oz fat (your choice); a pinch of salt. Mix with just enough cold water to make a firm pastry dough.

FILLING: 1 medium potato; 1 medium onion; 1 small turnip; 4 oz either chuck, skirt or round. A sprig or two of parsley, chopped. Salt/pepper to taste. Peel vegs, then cube, slice thin or grate. Cut meat in little pieces or cube, season.

METHOD: Roll pastry into a round. On half, put some potato, then some onion and a little turnip. Put raw meat on top and add seasoning. A few thin slices of potato will save the meat from drying out. Wet edges of pastry and fold over three-quarters of the way, bringing up the other edge to meet it. Crimp these together by pinching with the left hand and folding it over with the right. (If you are left-handed, simply reverse the procedure.) With a fork or spoon handle, scribe the initials of the future consumer.

Now then, you have not only identified the product but have also made a rope-like edge to your pastry. Place the pastry on a greased baking sheet and bake in oven at 425F 7 to 10 minutes. Now lower heat to 325F for at least another 30 minutes.

And there you have it, an authentic Cornish pasty! Note: Other meat, poultry, fish or veggies may be substituted for beef.


Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor/publisher and author of local history publications available at your favorite local bookstore. He is currently lecturing Elderhostel groups on Nevada County gold mines and methods. E.mail him at: bobwyckoff@sbcglobal.net or PO Box 216, Nevada City 95959

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