5 March: St Piran and the Cornish Pasty

We ’ll cross the Tamar, land to land,
The Severn is no stay,
With ‘one and all,’ and hand in hand,
And who shall bid us nay?

From 'Song of the Western Men' by Robert Stephen Hawker (1803-1875)

It's St Piran's Day and I'm making pasties again as I did last year. However there's an extra reason to celebrate this year because the Cornish Pasty has just been given PGI status. PGI is a European Union system to protect local products, it stands for 'Protected Geographical Indication'. This means that commercially made Cornish Pasties join Gorgonzola, Champagne, the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie and Stilton in having to conform to certain standards. They must also be prepared (although not necessarily baked) in Cornwall to be referred to as Cornish Pasty.

Here's what the CPA (Cornish Pasty Association) has to say:

'A genuine Cornish pasty has a distinctive ‘D’ shape and is crimped on one side, never on top. The texture of the filling is chunky, made up of uncooked minced or roughly cut chunks of beef (not less than 12.5%), swede, potato, onion with a light seasoning. The pastry casing is golden in colour, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and robust enough to retain its shape throughout the cooking and cooling process without splitting or cracking. The pasty is slow-baked and no artificial flavourings or additives must be used. It must also be made in Cornwall.'

I've only got one comment about what the CPA says, and that's about with the crimping. When I was researching pasty making last year, 'crimp on the side' or 'crimp on the top' was a hot topic. I was told that crimping on the side is the West Cornwall way, and living in the far west that's what I did. This implies that crimping on the top is common practice elsewhere in Cornwall...but I'm really not qualified to comment.

What is worth saying is that a Cornish pasty was the food of the working people of Cornwall, when times were hard it may not have had meat in it or the meat might be taken home after the rest was eaten and then baked in another pasty the next day. If there were fish to spare it might contain a fish and quite often it contained offal. Getting PGI status mustn't fool us or let us forget that the standard recipe now isn't necessarily the way it's always been.

It's also World Book Day today and the Morrab Library here in Penzance will be giving away copies of Philip Pullman's 'Northern Lights' to children in the St Piran's Day choir and copies of 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold' to their parents, we'll also be indulging ourselves all day in that other great Cornish institution - the cream tea.

It's Lent next week - bit of a relief really...

Cornish Pasties (makes 5)

Shortcrust pastry – I made this with 4oz butter, 5oz lard and 1lb plain flour (and water and salt)
3/4lb swede
2 medium potatoes
2 onions
1lb beef skirt
Salt and black pepper
Knob butter for each pasty
Egg to seal and glaze

I blitzed the onion in my food processor until it was fingernail sized bits, and then I sliced the swede and the potato very thinly. I put all of these into three separate bowls (I covered the potato with water to stop it going black), and then I chopped the meat into small pieces across the grain (very important) and put it into a fourth bowl. So now I could get a production line going. I rolled out my pastry and cut circles with a small plate. I put a good pile of onion, swede, meat and potato (in that order) onto each pastry circle and seasoned well, then I dropped a knob of butter on the top. Remember the contents will shrink as the pasty cooks, so fill it well.

Then I folded the pastry over from front to back and sealed the edge. I tried to make sure it wouldn’t leak by turning and twisting the seam and this year they were leak free!

Then I brushed the pasties with egg, put them on a baking tray and baked them at 200c for 25 minutes then reduced the heat to 170c for another 40 minutes. I took them across to the Library and we scoffed them for lunch.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
ate a pasty five feet long,
Ate it once, ate it twice,
Oh my Lord, it's full of mice

Cornish children's playground rhyme


Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

delicious!... I love a good old fashion Pasty... I was always told the crimping was a handle created for miners to hold onto as they had dirty hands... the crust was never eaten... was also told (by a cornish man) that the pasty usually had savoury in one half and sweet in the other... it was essentially a packed lunch in one bit of pastry!... lovely post as usual x

Brownieville Girl said...

They look amazing - the pastry is just the prefect colour.

Interesting as always :-}

Liz said...

You're quite right Dom the crimp was a sort of handle to hold the pasty by and sometimes there might have been apple or jam in one end. Someone told me very recently the story about saving the meat until the second day. The pastry is also supposed to be tough enough to be dropped and not break the pasty open - I'm not sure I'd want it that hard!

hopeeternalcookbook said...

I love a good Cornish Pasty! Just recently we have twice eaten some rather good ones bought in branches of a specialist outlet in London and also had some good ones in York a year or so back. Some of these had fillings that were variations on the theme: Lamb & Mint, Chicken Balti ... but you still can't beat the original!
St Piran is new to me though - what a good idea (and way) to celebrate his day.
'Meanderings through my Cookbook'