The Secrets of the Humble Cornish Pasty

The Secrets of the Humble Cornish Pasty

Date Posted: 30 Apr 2021

The Secrets of the Humble Cornish Pasty

If you are visiting Cornwall, it is as important to try a pasty as it is a cream tea. Yes, really!

This fast food with a difference now comes in all sorts of flavours, to suit all tastes, and to Cornwall, the industry is a valuable asset. There is even a Cornish Pasty Association (yes, there really is such a thing) to champion their authenticity. Also, they taste good and fill you up!

It is an important part of Cornish culture and the local economy; trying a pasty experience is a no-brainer.

The genuine article

  • The humble pasty, to be the genuine article, has to contain 12.5% meat and 25% vegetables.
  • The meat is beef, and the veg should be potato, onion and swede (turnip).
  • These ingredients are uncooked when added to the pastry and are baked slowly for succulence.
  • The pastry itself can be shortcrust or puff, but it had to be strong to survive down the mines where it was a lunchtime staple.
  • It also has to be crimped to the side, and …
  • Your pasty must be produced to the west of the Tamar.
  • Pasties were never taken to sea, perhaps because it would bring bad tidings.

Would you believe it even has protected European status? This helps to protect regional foods, though post-Brexit, the position may change in the UK. There are even annual Cornish Pasty Championships (or Oggy Oscars, as they are known) so we Cornish take our pasties very seriously indeed.


The pasty story…

Legend went that the devil would not cross the Tamar for fear of being put in a pasty, as a Cornish woman could make a tasty filling from anything, so tales did tell! So a pasty was protective.

The pasty (which now comes in all sorts of flavours, including sweet) was first mentioned around 1300 as a delicacy for the rich and royalty (containing venison, beef, lamb or even eels), but became popularised by Cornish farmers and miners in the 1800s, because it is a perfectly designed man-sized finger food. A good pasty could survive being dropped down a mine shaft (or so the Cornish tell people – it’s nonsense of course, but a sense of humour is key)! Pieces of the crust would also be offered by the superstitious miners to sprites down the mine who otherwise liked to wreak havoc.

The Cornish pasty delicacy is now enjoyed around the world as Cornish emigrants have taken family recipes with them. The Cornish diaspora extended from New Zealand to Mexico and South Africa, as mining declined in Cornwall and men travelled the globe to find work, so you will find them in surprising places – but Cornwall remains their real home.


Oggy!, Oggy! Whaaaat?

The Oggy!, Oggy!, Oggy! is a traditional shout (which stems from ‘hoggan’) from the miners’ wives or pasty sellers; it is a call to say the pasties are ready. In Cornish slang, Oggy is simply a pasty.

The correct response is Oi!, Oi!, Oi


21st century flavours

Now, our palates have widened so you can get cheese and onion, bacon and brie and chicken tikka pasties among many others, including vegan ones. Some places sell sweet versions, or double ended, savoury and sweet options.

Writing on pasties stems from the miners’ wives marking their initials on them to avoid confusion. The fine art of crimping was much-practised by the daughters of the families.

Here’s how to make your own.


Things to know about the Cornish Pasty (info from The Cornish Pasty Association):

  • At least 120 million are made annually
  • This generates around £300 million worth of trade
  • At least 2000 people work in Cornish pasty making
  • Virtually every village or high street in Cornwall sells pasties (ask locals which are the best in any town)
  • The beef in a pasty tends to be skirt, known for its flavour
  • Crimping seals the pasties, and a crimper can crimp 3 or 4 a minute
  • Pasties are perfect food for post-surfing or other sports
  • Brad Pitt is said to have once ordered 700 in Falmouth for a film crew
  • You won’t find a carrot in a pasty as they were traditionally the sign of an inferior one when meat was too expensive
  • Pasties are also right or left-handed. Those with crimps finished on the left are ‘cock pasties’; those finished on the left are ‘hen’
  • The crust was a means of holding the pasty to avoid imbibing arsenic from the tin mines


So, when you sate your hunger with a humble pasty, you are uncovering Cornish secrets and culture along the way. Enjoy.

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