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Grass Valley’s St. Piran’s Pasty Toss celebrates Cornish heritage

Gage McKinney
Special to The Union

KNOW & GO

WHAT: St. Piran’s Day Celebration

WHEN: 9-10:30 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: Grass Valley City Hall Parking Lot, 125 E. Main St., Grass Valley

INFO: http://www.downtowngrassvalley.com

“When I set out for Lyonnesse / A hundred miles away …”

That’s what British novelist and poet Thomas Hardy wrote when he traveled to Cornwall, calling it “Lyonnesse,” a strange land of mystery and legend.

Every year Grass Valley captures some of the strangeness with its annual St. Piran’s Day pasty tossing contest. The rain or shine event, which celebrates the Cornish immigrants who settled around the gold mines, is fun for adults, children and especially dogs.

The festivities begin in the City Hall parking lot at Main and Auburn streets at 9 a.m. Saturday. The slogan — “Everyone’s Cornish today!”

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“What would bechance at Lyonnesse / While I should sojourn there …”

St. Piran’s Day begins with the bell and call of the town crier and raising of the U.S. and Cornish flags. The Grass Valley Male Voice Choir will lead everyone in the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Trelawny,” the national anthem of Cornwall. Then pasties will fly.

Mayors Lisa Swarthout of Grass Valley and Reinette Senum of Nevada City will vie in the first heat with hopes of capturing the Mayor’s Trophy. Over the years, Grass Valley’s mayors hold a slight edge in the competition.

Other contestants will follow, including the police chiefs of the two towns, representatives of service clubs, librarians form Nevada County Library branches, Cornish descendants and curious on-lookers of all ages.

Winners will receive prizes and every contestant gets a St. Piran’s Day pin. Bring a leashed dog to help clean up the special tossing pastys, made with organic dog food and healthy ingredients.

If you bake, bring a home-baked pasty (the real kind) to the judging table by 9:15 a.m. to enter the pasty bake off. Amateurs and professionals can enter to win prizes for the “Best Overall” and “Best Traditional” pasty.

Coffee and snacks will be available for purchase at a Cornish gift fair, also in the parking lot at South Auburn and Main streets.

St. Piran is to Cornwall what St. Patrick is to Ireland. In history, he brought Christianity to the Celtic land in the 5th century. In legend, he outwitted menacing giants and taught the Cornish to refine tin. The Cornish flag, a white cross on a black field, is called “St. Piran’s flag.”

The Cornish, once the world’s preeminent hard-rock miners, came from their homeland with the know-how to tap Grass Valley’s deep quartz veins filled with gold. The Americans called them “Cousin Jacks,” and Cornish women became “Cousin Jennies.”

“Lyonnesse” is the legendary site of Arthur’s last battle and a land fated to sink into the sea. It’s usually located along the Cornish coast between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly, the southwestern tip of Britain.

“When I came back from Lyonnesse / With magic in my eyes!”

No one can promise you’ll come away from St. Piran’s Day with a “radiance rare and fathomless,” as Hardy says in his poem. But you could give a dog a thrill, make a child’s day and have a story to put a smile on anyone’s face.

St. Piran’s Day sponsors include the Grass Valley Downtown Association; Grass Valley; Grass Valley Male Voice Choir; Grass Valley-Bodmin Sister Cities; Tess’ Kitchen Store and California Cornish Cousins.

Author and historian Gage McKinney volunteers with the Grass Valley Downtown Association. For information on his books, visit http://www.gagemckinney.com.


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