Cornish pasties are no one’s patsies
If I was a Cornish nationalist I’d be out there waving St Piran’s flag, singing verses from Trelawny ( … a good sword and a trusty hand, a faithful heart and true, King James’s men shall understand, what Cornish lads can do … ). I’m not. But I am Cornish, so it’s good to know that my native county finally has the monopoly on the denomination of our regional dish. For nine years the Cornish Pasty Association has fought for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. Now, hurrah, only pasties made in Cornwall can claim a Cornish identity.
Under EU law, PGI foods must be “produced or processed or prepared within the geographical area”. So no more copy-cat Cornish pasties made in, I don’t know, London, or Leeds, or even Le Havre. No more nonsense at the British Pie Awards, either (there was a bit of an outcry from the Cornish camp, when Chunk, a pie-maker from Devon, won first prize in the Cornish pasty category in 2009). And the directive doesn’t stop at the pasty’s origins. Like Swaledale cheese, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies or Arbroath smokies (all British foods with PGI status) there are certain qualities, traditions, to uphold.
So what you’re looking for is this: under new protected status, a genuine Cornish pasty must be made in Cornwall. It must have a distinctive “D” shape, crimped on one side (never on top); the filling should be “chunky” (minced or roughly cut chunks of beef – representing no less than 12.5% of the content); add potato, swede (in Cornwall, some of us call it turnip), onion and a light seasoning, packed into a pastry case (“golden in colour, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and robust enough to retain its shape”) and slowly baked.
Purists might say that the meat should be beef skirt (not steak), and the pastry should be short-crust. I’m pretty sure that 19th century tin-miners – who cooked up the original pasty as a handy form of packed lunch – would have been glad of any meat content (I believe they used to put apple at one end). But I agree with the Cornish Pasty Association, no artificial flavourings nor additives should be allowed.
Now, I do like a good pasty, I really do. My husband reckons I’m genetically programmed to sniff one out the moment I get within a mile or two of, say, Bodmin Moor. And it’s kind of true. As soon as I cross the border (welcome to Kernow, goodbye Devon), I get an itch, a hunger for a hot pasty. And it’s a hunger that, after years of practice, I can quickly satisfy. Two miles into Cornwall on the A30, there’s a couple of butchers in Launceston who make a half-decent oggie; on the A38, I’d recommend Paul Bray & Son in Tideford (10 minutes, the other side of the Tamar Bridge). But I have to say, I’ve kissed a lot of frogs during my long quest for the handsome prince of pasties.
Laying down the law on quality is all very well, but there’s a lot of genuinely Cornish pasties out there that couldn’t satisfy a single one of the directive’s must haves. Steak, yes, but just a solitary chunk lost in a sticky potato stodge; or lots of rather grey meat that looks like it’s been boiled, or been through a hot-wash cycle. Add gristle. Add heavy, lardy pastry (pet hate: chomping through a wall of the stuff before you hit the filling). Light seasoning? How many post-pasty hours have I spent looking for pints of water to drown the salt.
Personally, I wouldn’t touch a Ginsters. Genuinely Cornish, yes, but I’ve seen and smelt the factory (in Callington, since you asked). What about the ubiquitous West Cornwall Pasty Company? Yep, they are all “hand-made” in Falmouth. Based in Buckinghamshire, though – with outlets in Leeds, Norwich, Reading station, Bristol, Bath (thank goodness, because I do get an urge for a pasty when I’m a long way from home).
The important thing – I’ll just get the flag out – is that no jumped-up, made-in-Slough, mince-and-mash, flakey-pastry, crimped-on-top, just-pretending-to-be Cornish pasties can take our name in vain. It’s got to be proper Cornish, OK. With that in mind, here are 5 of the best (in my opinion) places to go for a pasty.
Sarah’s Pasty Shop, Buller Street, Looe
Since Sarah retired, daughter Lucy carries on the family bakery – knocking out delicious, pasties: rich, moist and packed with quality local produce. Ticks all the boxes – wouldn’t share mine with anyone.
• 01503 263973
Village Butchers, Trevellan Road, Mylor Bridge, near Falmouth
Big, blokey steak pasties made on the premises by this traditional, family-run butchers. Bit out of the way, but they do good sausages too.
• 01326 373713
Horse and Jockey, 41 Meneage St, Helston
Proper old-fashioned bakery in down-town Helston, making proper Cornish pasties with beef skirt and veg, wrapped in short-crust pastry. If you get there in time to beat the queue, ask for small or medium – the large is, um, large.
• 01326 563 534
The Count House Café, Geevor Mine, Pendeen
The pasties are not 100% reliable (go early, before they go limp from hanging around on the cafeteria-style counter), but they are utterly authentic, homemade by Mrs Margaret Burford. The views are fantastic, too (eat your oggie overlooking the Atlantic) and as part of the Geevor Tin Mine museum, you couldn’t get closer to the pasty’s roots.
• 01736 788662, geevor.com
Ann’s Pasties, Sunny Corner, Beacon Terrace, The Lizard
On the subject of pasties, baker Ann Muller, could talk you under the table; her mum wrote a book about them and it runs in the family. Her pasties – made in a shop behind her Lizard home – are among the best, and if you ask nicely (after the lunchtime rush) she’ll show you how to make them.
• 01326 290889, annspasties.co.uk
I’m sure opinion will be divided on the subject of where to find Cornwall’s finest oggie. Where do you go for a proper pasty?