A tale of two pasties

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and never more so than in the kitchen. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve gone to cook a well-loved recipe like fish pie, only to realise that I have forgotten to buy some of the vital ingredients. Like fish, for instance. The Special One is well used to me ferreting through the fridge and freezer looking for alternative foodstuffs, and to her credit, she doesn’t bat an eyelid at my culinary creativity even when it involves the unlikeliest of combinations. In retrospect, she should probably have put her foot down when it came to ducks feet with mango, but you live and learn.

When miners in Cornwall needed an easy to handle hot food to keep them going during the long and strenuous days of extracting tin from below ground, creativity and invention gave rise to the pasty. For those who haven’t been fortunate enough to come into contact with a pasty, it’s essentially a pocket of pastry containing diced steak, onion, swederutabaga and potato. Served hot, it’s like a flat pie with a thick crimped edge which allowed miners to hold it easily without contaminating their food with their dirty hands.

Of course, when the Cornish invented the pasty, they had little idea that it would become one of the great British convenience foods of modern times, with particular appeal as an alcohol-soaking hangover food. Such is the popularity of the pasty among non-mining everyday Brits that a number of chains have emerged peddling all kinds of strictly untraditional pasties such as chicken balti, cheese and bacon, and steak and stilton. Ducks feet and mango is not yet available, but it’s only a matter of time.

The Special One and The Young Ones are particular fans of the pasty, and take any opportunity to get their hands on one when we go to the UK. Sadly, while you can apparently get a pasty-esque creation in some parts of the States (and you can buy the British version in a few very select shops), the United States is yet to embrace the pasty fully to its hearts.

Clearly I would dearly love to set up my own pasty kingdom, to convert my adopted nation to the way of the baked pastry delight. Unfortunately, I’ve got a feeling that there may be a small amount of rebranding to be done beforehand. Given that in this country the word ‘pasty’ apparently describes the adhesive device used to cover a stripper’s nipples, I’m not sure that the folk who wouldn’t mind a pasty in their mouth are the kind of people I want to call customers.

18 thoughts on “A tale of two pasties

  1. Silverback

    Ok that explains why I was thrown out of Disney World last week when all I’d done was ask the young girl behind the concession stand at Epcot Great Britain why she didn’t have any pasties on offer.

    And I give you all fair warning, that Goofy character has a mean streak about him….and rough hands.

  2. Brooklyn

    Pasties, pastry with a filling, what a novel idea.

    Novel, except for: Australian meatpies, Askenazac Jewish-American knishes, Indian samosas, South American empanadas, Middle Eastern bourekas, and their b*st*rd offspring, Hot Pockets.

  3. Almost American

    The pasty craze hit after I left the UK apparently . . . I always thought the pronunciation of the two was different . . . and aren’t Hot Pockets the American take on Cornish pasties? (Not to say there isn’t a market for a higher quality, gourmet version!)

  4. Dylan

    I’ve eaten all of them Brooklyn, and none taste the same as pasties. Next you’ll be telling me that because lots of people and cultures put cheese and tomato on a dough base, they all taste the same as New York pizza?

  5. Brooklyn


    Pasties on (under?) their native ground may have a unique taste, just as Australian meat pies do not taste the same as empanadas. I was responding to the following, which I read as the equivalent as viewing the Cornish creation of pasties as the equivalent of prehistoric human’s invention of the cultivation of the land.

    “When miners in Cornwall needed an easy to handle hot food to keep them going during the long and strenuous days of extracting tin from below ground, creativity and invention gave rise to the pasty.”

  6. Dylan

    Brooklyn – there actually was a measure of invention with the pasty, unlikely though it seems. They were constructed (and still are) with a thick crimped crust so that you could hold on to it without touching the insides…and then they threw away the crust. Mining tin apparently used to cause the miners to get arsenic on their hands, so they unsurprisingly wouldn’t want to eat it…

    And the combination of steak, swede/rutabaga, onion and potato is honestly a unique taste that I’ve only had in a pasty by the way!

  7. Josephine

    Oh my, I still crave Cornish pasties they were a staple on my food chain growing up. About every other month I just have to break down and make about a dozen, nothing smells better cooking.
    I have developed a taste for using the corned beef instead of the beef steak, and lots of HP sauce piled on top…
    Nawt better 🙂

  8. T.Ern

    Dylan – quite right, the Cornish pasty is one of a kind. As Refreshment Supervisor at the WBC I allow the Members access to these these culinary delights only as a reward for exceptionally good behaviour.

  9. Brooklyn

    OK, Dylan, I give up.

    [Apparently Cornish exceptionalism can be as unshakeable a faith as American exceptionalism.]

  10. LB

    If you go to a trashy supermarket in New York (think Associated etc) you can buy empanada pastry ready rolled. It’s pretty good for making cheats’ pasties.

    I always like the smell of pasties – then find the taste a bit of a let down. Especially from those places in the London stations – I think they have a ‘cornish pasty’ air freshner that they spray all over the station to lure you in and make you spend seven quid on their piss poor attempt at cooking some flaky pastry and chewy beef.

  11. Expat Mum

    Cornish pasty air freshener – yuck!
    I am sure there is one place in the US that has pasties, -or is it Canada?
    My 13 year old came home from school the other day and said he’d had a calzone. When my daughter asked what that was I told her it was an Italian pasty!

  12. Expat Mum

    I have one called “fresh linen” which could also be laundromat too. Unfortunately it makes me depressed since it reminds me of the pile upstairs…

  13. Alasdair

    brooklyn – you beat me to it – there’s also Forfar Bridie, et cetera, et cetera …

    The mix of ground steak (minced beef) with rutabagas (turnips), onions (onions), and spuds (potatoes) is yer basic Shepherd’s Pie – add a pastry crust — the Cornish Pasties are basically portable Shepherd’s Pie …

    If you can work a pressure cooker, you can make such gourmet delights remarkably easily …

  14. Dylan

    Alasdair – I let you get away with some comments on here, but certain things I just can’t let pass…

    1. Rutabaga is swede, not turnips. Brother and sister, but not identical twins.
    2. It’s definitely swede in a good Cornish pasty, not turnip
    3. Who in their right mind would put swede or turnip in a shepherds pie? Not me, and I make the best shepherds pie in Brooklyn.

    Brit Out Of Water – hitting the big issues of the day square in the face.

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