Cornish Pasties

A wonderful and odd thing is the Cornish pasty (which rhymes with “nasty”). Shaped like two sow’s ears inexpertly stitched together, this ungainly pastry is essentially a lump of butter-rich dough filled with meat and vegetables intended to nourish famished miners, whose profession didn’t allow for leisurely lunches or dainty foodstuffs. With coal-blackened hands, the miner gripped the fat braid laid across the pasty’s hunched back, devoured its meat-puffed belly, and discarded the dirtied remnants. It was a fussless, nourishing meal easily assembled by the resourceful housewives of England’s mining districts.

But the ease with which one could assemble a Cornish pasty didn’t prevent these humble bakers from using a good dose of imagination when it came to inventing tasty and satisfying fillings. A 1905 edition of Good Housekeeping tells us that the Cornish pasty comes in “many varieties” and that they are “very good indeed if properly made.” Some housewives stuck with traditional mixtures of turnips and beef or offal, while more enterprising souls minced together savory-sweet concoctions flavored with apples, sage and pork.

From an 1884 edition of Macmillan’s Magazine comes a traditional recipe for Cornish pasties; feel free, however, to add different herbs and spices to transform it into one of the pasty’s more exotic incarnations.

Cornish Pasties

1 lb buttock steak
1 lb potatoes
1 small onion
1 teaspoonful of salt
A pinch of pepper
1 lb of flour
3 oz of drippings
1 teaspoonful of baking powder
Gill (4 ounces) of cold water

Cut the meat into small pieces. Peel, wash, and parboil the potatoes, and peel the onion. Cut the potatoes into small pieces and mince the onion. Put the flour, salt, and baking powder into a basin, mix all together; rub in the dripping. Mix into a stiff paste with the water. Roll out a quarter of an inch thick. Cut into rounds. Place a portion of the meat, potato, and onion on each round; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wet the edges press them together. Make a frill on the top. Place on a greased baking tin. Bake half an hour.

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