Origin Alternative name(s) Cornish pasty, pastie, British pasty, oggie, oggy, teddy oggie, tiddy oggin, etc. Place of origin United Kingdom Region or state Unknown, possibly Cornwall or Devon Dish details Course served Main Serving temperature Hot or cold Main ingredient(s) A pastry case with variable fillings, usually beef and vegetables
A pasty ( //; Cornish: Hogen; Pasti), sometimes known as a pastie or British pasty in the United States, is a filled pastry case, associated in particular with Cornwall in Great Britain. It is made by placing the uncooked filling on a flat pastry circle, and folding it to wrap the filling, crimping the edge at the side or top to form a seal. The result is a raised semicircular package.
The traditional Cornish pasty, which has Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in Europe, is filled with beef, sliced or diced potato, swede (also known as a yellow turnip or rutabaga) and onion, seasoned with salt and pepper, and is baked. Today, the pasty is the food most associated with Cornwall regarded as its national dish, and accounts for 6% of the Cornish food economy. Pasties with many different fillings are made; some shops specialise in selling all sorts of 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The origins of the pasty are unclear, though there are many references to them throughout historical documents and fiction.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 world wide due to the spread of Cornish miners, and variations can be found in Australia, the United States, Mexico and southwest Devon.
Despite the modern pasty's strong association with Cornwall, its exact origins are unclear. The term "pasty" is an English word for a pie, of venison or other meat, baked without a dish. Pasties have been mentioned in cookbooks throughout the ages; for example the earliest version of Le Viandier 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 which was granted by Henry III (1207–1272) to the town of Great Yarmouth. The town is bound to send to the sheriffs of Norwich every year one hundred herrings, baked in twenty four pasties, which the sheriffs are to deliver to the lord of the manor of East Carlton who is then to convey 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". A total of 5,500 venison pasties were served at the installation feast of George Neville, archbishop of York and chancellor of England in 1465. They were even eaten by royalty, as a letter from a baker to Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour (1508–1537) 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 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 due to 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 his dirty fingers (possibly including traces of arsenic) did not touch food or his 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 go, they could easily be reclaimed by their owners.
In 2006, a researcher in Devon discovered a recipe for a pasty tucked inside an audit book and dated 1510, calculating the cost of the ingredients. This replaced the previous oldest recipe, dated 1746, held by the Cornwall Records Office in Truro, Cornwall. The dish at the time was cooked with venison, in this case from the Mount Edgcumbe estate, as the pasty was then considered a luxury meal. Alongside the ledger, which included the price of the pasty in Plymouth, Devon in 1509, the discovery sparked a controversy between the neighbouring counties of Devon and Cornwall as to the origin of the dish. However, the term pasty appears in much earlier written records from other parts of the country, as mentioned above.
The pasty is regarded as the national dish of Cornwall. Following a nine year campaign by the Cornish Pasty Association, 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 on 20 July 2011. 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 uncooked 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 Cornish Pasty Association noted that there are strong links between pasty production and local suppliers of the ingredients. Packaging for pasties which conform to the requirements will be stamped with an authentication logo.
Producers outside Cornwall have 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 is one of seven companies allowed to continue to use the name "Cornish Pasty" during a three-year transitional period.
Members of the Cornish Pasty Association (CPA) made about 87 million pasties in 2008, amounting to sales of £60 million (about 6% of the food economy of Cornwall). Over 1,800 permanent staff are employed by members of the CPA and some 13,000 other jobs benefit from the trade. Recent surveys by the South West tourism board show 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.
Recipes and ingredients
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. Due to a local colloquialism, swede can be referred to and advertised as turnip whilst in a pasty, but only swede may appear in a pasty. Pasty ingredients are usually seasoned with salt and pepper, depending on individual taste. The use of carrot in a traditional Cornish pasty is regarded as a "no-no", 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 short crust 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 official 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.
A pasty is known as a "tiddy oggy" when steak is replaced with an extra potato, "tiddy" meaning potato and "oggy" meaning pasty.
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 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".
In other regions
Migrating Cornish miners (colloquially known as Cousin Jacks in the US) helped to spread pasties into the rest of the world during the 19th century. As tin mining in Cornwall began to fail, miners brought their expertise and traditions to new mining regions around the world. As a result, pasties can be found in many regions, including:
- Many parts of Australia, including the Yorke Peninsula, the site of an annual pasty festival since 1973, which claims to be the world's largest. A clarification of the Protected Geographical Status ruling has confirmed that pasties made in Australia are still allowed to be called "Cornish Pasties".
- The Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In some areas, pasties are a significant tourist attraction, including an annual Pasty Fest in Calumet, Michigan in early July. Pasties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have a particularly unusual history, as a small influx of Finnish immigrants followed the Cornish miners in 1864. These Finns (and many other ethnic groups) adopted the pasty for use in the Copper Country copper mines. About 30 years later, a much larger flood of Finnish immigrants found their countrymen baking pasties. The pasty has become strongly associated with Finnish culture in this area, and in the culturally similar Iron Range in northern Minnesota.
- Mineral Point, Wisconsin was the site of the first mineral rush in the USA during the 1830s. After lead was discovered in Mineral Point many of the early miners migrated to this south-western Wisconsin area from Cornwall. Those Cornish miners brought their skills working in the deep underground tin mines of Cornwall. They also brought their recipe and appetite for the pasty. A similar local history about the arrival of the pasty in the area with an influx of Welsh and Cornish miners, and its preservation as a local delicacy, is found in Butte, Montana.
- The Anthracite regions of northeastern Pennsylvania including the cities of Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, and Hazleton had an influx of miners to the area in the 1800's and with them brought the pasty. To this day pastys are still a local favourite.
- The Mexican state of Hidalgo, and the twin silver mining cities of Pachuca and Real del Monte (Mineral del Monte), have notable Cornish influences from the Cornish miners who settled there with pasties being considered typical local cuisine. In Mexican Spanish, they are referred to as pastes.
- They are also popular in South Africa and New Zealand.
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 popularized 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 hares of Redwall Abbey. 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.
Superstitions, rhymes and chants
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:
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".
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.
The world's largest Cornish pasty was made in August 2010, measuring 4.6 metres (15 ft) and weighing 860 kilograms (1,900 lb). It was created by "Proper Cornish" bakers, using 165 kilograms (360 lb) of beef, 180 pounds (82 kg) of swede, 100 pounds (45 kg) of potatoes and 75 pounds (34 kg) of onions. The pasty was estimated to cost £7,000 and contain 1.75 million calories.
- Bridie - Scottish equivalent
- Empanada - similar dish from Iberia and Latin America
- Fleischkuekle - German-Russian meat pie made with flatbread
- Paste - Mexican dish based on Pasty
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- The Cornish Pasty by Stephen Hall, Agre Books, Nettlecombe, UK, 2001 ISBN 0953800040
- The Pasty Book by Hettie Merrick, Tor Mark, Redruth, UK, 1995 ISBN 978-0-85025-347-4
- Pasties by Lindsey Bareham, Mabecron Books, Plymouth, UK, 2008 ISBN 978-0-9532156-6-9
- English Food by Jane Grigson (revised by Sophie Grigson), Penguin Books, London, 1993, ISBN 0-14-027324-7
- The Cornish Pasty Association - the trade association of the Cornish pasty industry
- The Compleat Pastypaedia - a web pasty resource
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