Gool Piran Lowen!
Or if you don’t speak Cornish, Happy St Piran’s Day!
I’ve blogged previously about St Piran’s Day and if you would like to read it about again just click here.
St Piran’s Day is very special in the lives of Cornish Folk, not only does today celebrate one of Cornwall’s adopted Saints, but probably more importantly it signifies the start of the Pasty Hunting Season! The previous season having closed at midnight on the 4th of March.
So what is a pasty, the legendary foodstuff of Cornish people since time immemorial?
Some say that they were most frequently found around the tin mines for which the County is famous.
Others swear that the natural habitat of the true Cornish Pasty is near the old fishing ports and harbours that provide haven around Cornwall’s rugged coast from the wild Atlantic.
There are also those who claim that the finest Cornish Pasty is native to the wild uplands of Bodmin Moor, where the steep slopes give them stamina and the wild heather adds depth to their flavour!
Mindful that the Pasty Hunting Season was to end at midnight last night and not start again until the first minute of today, myself and a group of friends, who unlike me are true Cornishmen, set out yesterday to bag ourselves a few fresh pasties.
It was a hard day, the true Cornish Pasty is an elusive creature and only found west of the River Tamar in the Duchy of Cornwall. Those that know where to find the finest Pasty are often hesitant to divulge their knowledge and when asked will often just say “tiz best to find your own.” It is also a curious thing though how Cornish Folk can never really agree just what makes the best Pasty. Some like the flavour to be mild, others like a hint of pepper, whilst the arguments about whether it should be very juicy or more dry can often lead to insults being traded over a pint of cider! Don’t even mention how the crust should be after cooking. . . !
As to how to capture the elusive creature, well I won’t go into the sordid details, but lets just say that the more humane the despatch the better the flavour on the plate!
Here then is the evidence that yesterday’s hunt was completely successful and no I’m not telling you where we (shot) caught this one, as you can see though it looks like someone had two goes at it, judging by the wounds.
So there is our freshly cooked Cornish Pasty lying on the flag Of St Piran and the story above is of course, nonsense, but not so the humble, nay great, Cornish Pasty!
The traditional Cornish Pasty is a baked pastry which since 2011 has enjoyed Protected Geographical Indication status within the European Union. A real Cornish Pasty must only contain beef (normally skirt steak) sliced or diced potato, swede (which confusingly in Cornwall is called turnip, often pronounced “turmut”!) and onion, oh yes and salt and pepper. The filling is encased within pastry, folded over the filling then hand crimped along one edge forming a “D” shape. The crimp must not under any circumstances be along the top in a Cornish Pasty! The pasty should turn golden when baked and retain its distinctive shape hot or cold.
Where exactly the humble pasty first originated is open to much speculation, although its links with Cornwall are strong there is evidence that it may, just may, have first been baked in France, but we’ll leave that to history!
In Cornwall the pasty is associated with the strenuous lives of miners and fisherfolk, jobs that needed substantial food to keep you going. Tradition also tells us that a part sweet, part savoury pasty was often the norm in days gone by, the theory being that a meal of main course and sweet were contained in opposite ends of the one pastry case, very clever!
In the metal mines of Cornwall and Devon the miners were noted to eat their pasty whilst holding the crimped edge, which was then discarded, so to minimise the amount of poisonous minerals that would be ingested. Legend has it that the discarded pieces of crust were left for the “Knockers,” small spirit folk that created a tapping sound to warn of dangers such as an impending tunnel collapse.
Today the simple Cornish Pasty is big business. Locally often called an “Oggy” the simple pasty is looked on as Cornwall’s “National” dish and accounts for over 6% of the Cornish food economy. Pasty bakers in Cornwall do either very well or die. It’s no use making an O.K. pasty round these parts, there are plenty of shops selling absolutely fantastic ones and everyone has their favourite. I once had an office where in the radius of a ten minute walk there were five different shops each selling their own ‘made on the premises’ pasty; each one was subtly different, yet each one was equally superb!
My all time favourite? Well, I’m not going to name names, but it’s right at the other end of the county, 65 miles away on the quay in Hayle and it’s worth the ride down there any time!
Guess what I’m having for lunch today? Yes, you’ve got it, that wild Cornish Pasty that we caught last night!
Here’s to St Piran, who probably never ate one, and here’s to Cornwall and the Cornish Pasty!
“Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi Oi!”
Catch you all soon. 🙂
PS Yes I know there are also Pasties made all over the world nowadays and if you check it out, it was often Cornish miners who first imported them!