Pasties are semi-circular hand pies with a distinctive crimped edge. Today they are often sold in British train stations with a range of fillings, but in the past they were only made with meat, potato, onion and turnip. They were eaten by fishermen and other workmen, but especially by the miners of Cornwall in the many tin, silver and copper mines that are still dotted around the rugged landscape of the Cornish peninsula. An 1861 newspaper article from Leeds indicates that the Cornish pasty was already being sold to tourists in the region at the time. By then the pasty was no longer just food for the working people, and Victorian tourists would buy them as the local delicacy.
At the beginning of the 19th century, many Cornish miners emigrated to the American states of California, Montana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and to Mexico and Australia. Known as the best miners in the world with the most progressive tools and the best techniques, they started working in mines that were sometimes even bought up by British investors. They took their culture of pasties with them and, as a result, a pasty culture emerged in those regions. In 1968, Governor George Romney declared 24 May as Pasty Day in the state of Michigan. There you will now find places that sell pasties as Michigan pasties.
In Mexico’s state Hidalgo, the pasty is the legacy of the mining past. Here the pasty has Mexican-style fillings such as mole, a spicy chilli and chocolate sauce, and tinga, pulled pork marinated in a sauce of chipotle, pepper and tomatoes. In Real Del Monte, Cornish Mexico, auténtico paste is decorated with the flag of Cornwall. There is a Museo del Paste and the city holds an international pasty festival every year.
In 2011, Cornish pasties were granted a PGI status by the EU, which means a pasty can only be called a Cornish pasty if it’s made in Cornwall, has the shape of a D, it contains a minimum of 12.5 per cent raw beef, turnip, potato, onion and a light seasoning, and the dough is shortcrust and crimped on one side, never on top. Where the crimped edge should be is debatable, since I have found a postcard from around 1900 showing the pasties crimped on the top and not the side. That goes to show that what is considered authentic or traditional is often not certain.
Makes 6 pasties
WHAT YOU NEED
For the shortcrust pastry
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
½ tsp sea salt
300 g (10½ oz) chilled butter, diced
150 ml (5 fl oz) water flour, for dusting
2 egg yolks + 2 tbsp milk, for egg wash
For the filling
450 g (1 lb) onglet, skirt steak or hanging tender
450 g (1 lb) floury potatoes
120 g (4¼ oz) turnip
sea salt and pepper, to taste
WHAT TO DO
Make the pastry by combining the flour, salt and butter in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse for 8 seconds or until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water and pulse again until the dough forms a ball in the bowl. Remove from the bowl and knead briefly. You can also do this by hand by rubbing the butter into the flour and salt until it is the consistency of breadcrumbs, then add the water. Remove from the bowl and knead to bring the pastry together. Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 190°C (375°F) and line a baking tray with baking paper.
For the filling, chop the meat, potatoes and turnip into 1 cm (½ inch) cubes. Finely chop the onion. Combine the meat and vegetables in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface. Using a plate as a guide, cut out six 24 cm (9½ inch) circles and brush the edges with the egg wash. Divide the filling among the centre of the circles and fold in half. Use your fingers to crimp the pastry in the traditional way.
Lay the pasties on their side on the baking tray and brush with the egg wash. Bake for 40–50 minutes until the pasties are golden brown. Serve hot, or reheat the next day.