War of the Pasties
Mention a pasty and thoughts are inexorably drawn to Cornwall. Unless, of course, you happen to be a Devonian! Yes, the history of this classic savoury dish is far more contentious than you might think and these two South-West neighbours have locked a fork more than once over who truly owns the pasty.
Dipping our toe into these controversial waters, at first glance seems as if the Cornwall protagonists have all the aces – as we’ve already mentioned they are overwhelmingly linked in people’s minds with the pasty, just as hotpots are with Lancashire, puddings with Yorkshire and rarebits with Wales. The name ‘Cornish Pasty’ has Protected Geographical Indication status from the EU and over 120 million Cornish Pasties are made every year and shipped to the four corners of the globe.
All cut and dried perhaps. But in Devon’s corner is historian Todd Gray who discovered a shopping list that dated back to 1510 and referred to items needed for a recipe. These items were the classic ingredients for a pasty, and Gray claims that the first records of a Pasty he could find were dated 1746. Since then Les Morton, author of the Official Encyclopaedia of the Cornish Pasty (available in all good bookshops – and some bad ones too) has argued that depictions of the pasty have been found in Cornish cave drawings dating back to 8,000 B.C, so it’s all a question of who you believe.
A few years ago sparks flew as a pasty made by ‘Chunk of Devon’ won the overall title at the Best Cornish Pasty Awards 2009. The organisers blamed a clerical error on the application form and have been careful not to repeat the mistake, but even now many Cornish bakers still shake their heads, assume a thousand yard stare and refuse to talk about the things they saw on that dark, dark day.
So the debate still rages about where and when the pasty was first made, but one thing both sides agree on is that both should be filled with diced or minced beef, sliced or diced potato, swede or turnip, onion AND NOTHING ELSE! The rules are more flexible on the type of pastry – puff, rough-puff and shortcrust are permitted, but it does have to be savoury and tough enough to withstand rough handling as they were traditionally taken across fields, out to sea and down mines.
Distinguishing between the two is harder, but the general rule of thumb is that a Devon Pasty is more oval shaped with the crimp on top, while the classic Cornish Pasty is a D shape with a side-on crimp. The key factor, however, is which side of the Tamar it’s baked.