History of The Cornish Pasty
History of World Cuisines
As the name suggests The Cornish Pasty hails from Cornwall, the
southernmost county in England, famous for its clotted and ice cream
and the legend of King Arthur (he of Camelot fame).
Although pasties in general have a long history in British cuisine dating back
to the 13th century, it wasn’t until the expansion of tin and copper mining in
Cornwall in the 18th and 19th centuries that the Cornish Pasty came into
Cornish Pasties were born out of the necessity to feed the miners and other
workers, who needed a nutritious meal to sustain them through their long day of
gruelling work. Pasties were the perfect food. The thick pastry case made them
highly portable as well as acting as an insulator for the hot filling.
Furthermore, the crimped edge also acted as a handle which could be thrown away
– an important aspect as workers’ hands were more than often dirty and, in the
case of tin miners, had traces of arsenic which was frequently present in tin
So popular were these pasties that some mines built huge ovens to keep them hot
until it was time to eat and indeed, miners’ wives often marked their husbands
initials at one end of the pastry to avoid anyone eating the wrong pasty. This
was also useful should the miner wish to save part of his pasty for later, was
possibly a contributing factor in the way pasties were eaten, i.e. from one end
to the other, starting at the un-initialled end.
If there was no oven at the pithead, another method of reheating pasties was to
put them on the blade of a shovel and place it over an open fire.
Over time the Cornish Pasty spread across the country with the suggestion that
Cornish miners introduced the pasty to these places when they left Cornwall in
search of work. They even took their pasty tradition the Americas when the
mining industry was in decline and they found themselves emigrating in search of
a better life.
Even today, there are many arguments as to exactly how a traditional Cornish
pasty is made: from the type of pastry used to the filling to the shape.
Let’s take the shape first of all. If the idea was partly to protect people from
the possible intake of harmful substances, then it would be much easier to eat a
pasty with a side crimp without fear of the filling falling out.
With regards to the pastry, it has to be remembered that the idea was to
transport the pasty from home to the workplace, possibly amongst other
equipment, so the pasty shell must have originally been very sturdy so as not to
crack or leak. Although today many Cornish Pasties are made with puff pastry, it
would be most surprising if working class housewives had the inclination or time
to spend on making anything but the most simple shortcrust pastry, probably
The original Cornish Pasty contained a filling of meat, potatoes, onion and
swede but sometimes were made with a savoury filling at one end and a sweet
filling at the other, in effect providing a two course meal. This may sound
strange, but on hindsight, it was actually not a bad idea for manual workers, as
the sugar content in the sweet part would provide an instant energy boost,
whilst the carbohydrates in the pastry and potatoes would provide a slower
release of energy to keep them going through the afternoon – not that this was
given any consideration at the time.
It is now widely accepted that the meat was chopped into small pieces, that the
vegetables were thinly sliced and that all the ingredients were raw when sealed
in the pastry.
the Good, the Bad and the
The Cornish Pasty industry in the UK is big business with most supermarkets and
grocery stores selling them. Manufacturers have dropped the savoury and sweet
pasty tradition, use either shortcrust or puff pastry and often minced beef.
The addition of carrots is frowned upon by many Cornish Pasty gurus, as is the
addition of too much seasoning, with some ready made varieties on sale being
positively “spicy”, and for those who believe the vegetables should be layered
in the pasty, the now common practice of chopping everything so finely so as to
make the ingredients almost indistinguishable is sacrilege.
In truth, you have to go a long way to purchase a traditional ready made Cornish
Pasty, so if you want to get the true taste and experience, it's best to make
your own. (See below for a traditional recipe).
Miners used to leave a corner of their pasty (preferably the one with their
initials on it) for the 'Knockers' who were mythical 'little people' who dwelled
in the mines and who would cause bad things to happen unless they were appeased
with morsels of food.
Many Cornish fishermen still refuse to take a pasty on board their boat when
embarking on a fishing expedition believing it to be bad luck.
Legend has it that the Devil never crossed the river Tamar into Cornwall on
account of the belief that Cornish women were in the habit of putting everything
into their pasties, so he was not brave enough to risk that fate
for a traditional Cornish Pasty Recipe