Everywhere you go in Cornwall in England, you can see a sign for the Cornish pasty. So I wasn’t surprised to hear that the Cornish pasty industry adds £65 million into Cornwall’s economy. I am a big fan of anything encased in a pastry (Indian samosas, Jamaican patties, American pie etc) so was really looking forward to trying a Cornish pasty in Cornwall. I was not disappointed! Real Cornish pasties are delicious and an easy, quick dinner for all of us after a long day of travelling. As with any traditional dish, there’s a lot of tradition, culture and stories associated with the Cornish pasty. Here is a quick introduction to this traditional favourite and twelve fun facts about the Cornish pasty.
The Cornish pasty is a fast and delicious meal whose popularity still runs high.
What is a Cornish Pasty?
The traditional Cornish pasty is a pastry filled with chunky vegetables and meat. The standard vegetables used are swede, potato and onion. When cooked together with a light seasoning, the meat and vegetables forms its own gravy. The slow-baking process ensures that the delicately seasoned flavours are maximised.
In the old days, the pasty flour itself would have been tough and made from barley flour. Poor mining families would not have been able to afford wheat flour for the pastry.
The pasty was a good way to use up leftovers in a time when every little bit of food had to be used. Fillings can be as varied as the protein available, such as bacon, rabbit, eggs. There is some question on whether fish can be an appropriate filling. I would think not because these miners needed a solid meat and potatoes meal as fuel for the hard labour they did.
The pastry itself is shaped in the form of the letter “D” with one side crimped. The crimped side is handy for holding the pastry. (The purists will tell you that a Cornish pastry should be crimped on the side and not the top). Some people have said that the crimped side could have served as a handle. I expect the miners eating the pasty would have been so hungry the whole thing would have been eaten.
Nowadays, we saw lots of different types of Cornish pasty. My daughter was a big fan of the cheese and onion vegetarian pasties. The rest of us preferred the traditional steak variety. We saw lots of variations in the fillings of the Cornish pasty in Cornwall. I can just imagine the Cornish miner’s face if his wife had packed him a Thai Chicken pasty!
You can get lots of Cornish pasty you can get today.
The History of the Cornish Pasty
You say the word pasty to sound like the ‘a’ in past not paste. The word comes from an old English word that means made from pastry. The Cornish pasty started off as a convenience food for working men to take for lunch similar to the Bunny Chow in South Africa. Men working in the tin mines or the clay pits needed an easy but filling meal they could take to work.
Wrapped in paper or cloth, the pasty was a self-contained hearty meal complete with vegetables, meat and carbohydrates. These men worked long shifts underground. If the pasty was baked in the morning, thanks to the pastry crust, the filling inside could be kept warm for up to 10 hours.
As we discovered in our tour of the salt mines in Salzburg, getting down to the mines was quite the task and so going back above ground to get lunch would have been a serious waste of time and effort. Keep in mind also that miners were paid for the amount of ground they had broken. Dilly-dallying for lunch would seriously cut into their take-home pay.
In the 18th century, Cornish miners would have produced half the world’s tin supply. The work would have been long and gruelling but better paid than any other work they could have gotten at the time. It is said that 19 out of 20 of Cornwall’s men under 25 would have worked in a mine during the peak of the mining boom. After their shift at the mine (or clay pit) ended, the men would have gone to do a second shift as farm labourers.
There is probably a pasty filling that will suit everyone in the family.
12 Fun Facts About the Cornish Pasty
- The oldest pasty recipe we have is from 1746. It is kept at the Country Records Office in Truro. The pasty though is a much older type of making food. In the Middle Ages, pasties (and meat pies) were the food of the aristocracy.
- There are 120 million Cornish pasties made every year.
- Since 2011, according to European Union regulations, a genuine Cornish pasty needs to have a minimum of 12.5% meat and 25% vegetables. Moreover, the pasty needs to be made in Cornwall.
- Using carrots in a Cornish pasty is considered heresy. The only sweetness allowed is from the swede!
- A pasty may be an easy portable meal but don’t take a pasty on board a ship. It’s considered bad luck! This myth was probably started by the miners who didn’t want the fisherman to take their pasties.
- Some say the traditional Cornish pasty crust should be tough enough to drop down a deep mine shaft and not fall apart. Can you imagine how tough your teeth have to be to chew that?!
- The ‘oggie oggie oggie’ chant heard at rugby games came from the Cornish pasty. According to legend, pasty sellers would yell Oggie, Oggie Oggie at the top of the mine shaft and the miners would yell Oi Oi Oi back to signal they wanted a Cornish pasty thrown down at them.
- Oggie comes from the Cornish word ‘hoggans’ which were an early pasty filled with pork encased in barley bread.
- You can get a ‘rounder’ which is a round pastry filled with the same ingredients but bigger (and round!). You get rounders served for Sunday lunch or on special occasions in Cornwall.
- The largest Cornish pasty ever made was 32 feet long!
- Sometimes the Cornish miner’s wife would put his initials on his pasty so he could tell his pasty apart from that of a co-worker. Moreover, the miner may have left a bit of pasty for the magical sprites who lived in the mines who could be placated with bits of food. If he lefts some of the pasty with his initial on it, the sprites would know who not to trouble.
- The Cornish pasty emigrated worldwide along with Cornish immigrants. For example, pasties are popular in Michigan because they have made it to the mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1840’s. Thanks to EU regs though these pasties can not be called Cornish pasties because they are not made in Cornwall. I wonder if Brexit will affect the terminology – deregulation of the Cornish pasty could be coming soon.
Where To Buy Cornish Pasties
As I said, every little village in Cornwall seems to have home made (and delicious) Cornish pasties. I was really surprised because the one I had previously tried in London was nothing special.
The famous Chough Bakery in Padstow.
There is a World Pasty Championship held every year at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Just when I thought Rick Stein had taken over all of Padstow, I found out that the Chough Bakery in Padstow is the current reigning champion. Within the United Kingdom, you can mail order their Cornish pasties to your home. Alternatively, you can follow the recipe on the Chough Bakery website.
As I entered my friend Sheryl’s home, the smell of garlic and bacon wafted from the kitchen. I am a lover of both and so I walked like a zombie straight to her stove.
“What are you making?” I asked, trying not to salivate. My dog who had accompanied me on this visit had no such inhibitions. He wagged his tail hopefully at the scent of fried chicken but was rewarded only with a bowl of water.
“Chicken Adobo,” she replied. “It’s Filipino comfort food.”
Watching her as she finished cooking, we chatted about the dish she is making. I also managed to get her recipe which I have shared below.
A Family Trip to Busuanga in The Philippines
Sheryl had just returned to London from visiting her widowed mother in Manila. She had gone with her Israeli mother-in-law and her husband and children to the Philippines for about 10 days. They had spent a few days with her extended family in Manila. They also had a few days of rest and relaxation at Busuanga Bay Lodge on the island of Busuanga in the Philippine archipelago which is famous for great snorkelling and diving.
I will write about Sheryl’s beach adventures on the island of Busuanga in a later post. It sounded idyllic – white beaches, island-hopping and great snorkelling. Of course, there were the usual family (mis)adventures too. The children got to drink coconut milk straight from coconuts. Her daughter stood on fire coral accidentally which really stung. Her mother-in-law tried to pet a ‘cute’ puffer fish which promptly sank its front teeth into her hand. Other than the minor mishaps, everyone loved the trip and came back happy.
Clearly, Sheryl was missing her Philippines sojourn and cooking up a sensory feast to compensate.
Frankly, I’d be missing this kind of beach holiday too!
Sheryl’s Chicken Adobo
Although it seemed exotic to me, Sheryl explained that Chicken Adobo is a fairly standard dish in The Philippines. For example, if you are interviewing a cook for your home, you will get her to make a Chicken Adobo. If you like her version of that dish, then she’s probably a good fit for your family.
Every family has their own variation of Chicken Adobo. The base for this dish is always chicken legs, thighs and wings (no breasts). The chicken is cooked with soy, vinegar, onion, garlic and ginger. If you travel to the south of The Philippines, the Chicken Adobo gets spicier. It is commonly served over rice.
Sheryl’s version of Chicken Adobo is not spicy so it’s perfect for children. Having tasted Sheryl’s Chicken Adobe, the flavours were a combination of sweet and sour with a hint of salt. I know my children who are fans of sweet and sour would love it!
Chicken, browned and ready
Sauteed onions bacon and garlic
All the ingredients ready for the addition of ginger and coconut
- 10 pieces of chicken thighs and legs
- 2 whole red onions diced
- 10 cloves of sliced garlic
- 2 slices of diced Spanish panceta (similar to Italian pancetta)
- 1/3 of a can of Stella Artois
- 1/4 cup of palm vinegar
- 5 tablespoons of soy sauce
- Sprinkle of rock salt
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 8-10 whole peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons of crushed ginger
- 1 carton (1cup/250 ml) of coconut milk mixed with hot water to create a pint (570 ml) of coconut liquid
Fry the chicken on high heat until it is lightly browned on both sides and transfer to a dish. Lightly pat the chicken to remove excess oil. Transfer the chicken to a pot. Fry the onions, bacon and garlic on high heat in a separate pan and then transfer to the pot with the chicken. Combine the rest of the ingredients. Cover the pot and simmer. Stir once during the cooking process. Cook for 35-45 minutes until the chicken is tender and falls of the bone. Serve with steamed rice. Serves 8.
So, of course, I asked her about the inclusion of beer. When did Stella Artois become a Filipino cooking ingredient?! Sheryl laughed. Traditionally, Filipinos use apple cider vinegar. She prefers Stella because it’s pretty flat and when cooked, all that is left is the sugar. (Doesn’t say much about drinking Stella does it?!). She also uses a small amount of palm vinegar for the vinegar taste without the sourness.
Chicken Adobo in The Philippines
A quick look on the internet showed me that Chicken Adobo is the national dish. Although the term adobo is Spanish for cooking with a marinade, Filipinos were already cooking with vinegar and salt. Vinegar acts as a preservative. With the advent of the trade with the Chinese, the Filipinos used soy sauce as an addition to the dish or a substitution for the salt.
Adobo refers to a way of cooking a stew with vinegar and salt. It’s commonly made with chicken or chicken and pork. Muslim Filipinos make beef adobo instead of pork. You can also the adobo method to cook vegetables (e.g., okra or bamboo shoots) fish and seafood (e.g., shrimp, squid, cuttlefish). For the truly adventurous, there are adobo versions cooked with frog and snake. I think I might just have to skip those last ones!
Hope you enjoyed this little foray into cooking traditional Filipino food for the modern family with Westernised tastes. Sheryl is an amazing and creative cook who shares her recipes online at the Facebook page for her artisanal Asian condiments, Hot Chiu. The set of sauces, sold under the brand name of Hot Chiu, is sold online and selected stores in England. They are my children’s favourite stir fry sauce.
When you are visiting the Badlands National Park, the only place to eat for miles is at Cedar Pass Lodge. So it is a good thing they had a reputation for making excellent Sioux Indian Tacos. I figured we had to try it for ourselves. We were not disappointed!
Although the taco started as a Mexican dish, it is now such a mainstay of American culture and has appeared in non-Mexican versions. For example, Native Americans have the Indian Tacos and Korean Americans started the trend for Korean barbecue tacos.
Sioux Indian Taco
The Sioux Indian taco at Cedar Pass Lodge is a sizeable portion of food. The base is a plate-size portion of Indian fry bread. The refried beans, bison beef, lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and olives toppings create an open-faced taco. You get sour cream and salsa on the side. I felt full even without finishing my frybread.
The Sioux Indian Taco is pretty much like other Indian tacos but is made with bison meat. Bison meat is really tasty and leaner than beef. When you are consuming this many calories, every little bit helps!
The frybread is what makes the Sioux Indian Taco really stand out. Frybread is the state bread of South Dakota. The main ingredients of frybread are flour, water and salt. The dough is then fried in some sort of fat like lard or oil.
Frybread is supposed to have started during the “Long Walk” when the American army forcibly removed thousands of Navajo from Arizona to New Mexico in the 1860’s. The Native Americans were given rations of flour, salt and sugar which was very different from their usual diet of vegetables and beans. The Native Americans made do and created frybread. The rest, as they say, is history.
Frybread isn’t the healthiest option. Typical fry bread has about 700 calories and 27 grams of fat per serving. Some critics have blamed frybread for the diabetes epidemic in Native American populations.
Frybread and Indian tacos are standard fare at Native American pow wows and festivals. Despite the tragic provenance, frybread has been embraced by Native Americans as part of their cultural identity. There is even a National Indian Taco Championship held in Oklahoma.
On our Western Road trip, I came to appreciate bison meat in the form of bison burgers and the Sioux Indian taco. My family and I are big fans of tacos and the Sioux Indian tacos at Cedar Pass Restaurant got enthusiastic thumbs up from all of us.
Information for Visiting Cedar Pass Lodge
Cedar Pass Lodge is located in the Badlands National Park of South Dakota. The restaurant is open from April through December from 8 AM to 6 PM with longer hours during the peak summer months. It is located on SD-240 a few miles from the Northeast entrance.