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What is a Cornish Pasty?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
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The Cornish pasty (pronounce the first syllable like the word “past”) is a meat pie or turnover named after its origins in Cornwall, England. It’s usually made of a piecrust, which is folded over and pinched together to form a semi-circle or half moon shape. Traditionally the Cornish pasty contains chopped steak, onions and potatoes, though there are dessert versions called turnovers that might have fruit in them. From Cornwall comes the slang term for pasty, oggy, which still may be used in parts of the UK to refer to this meat pie.

You could call a Cornish pasty one of the original fast foods, since they were made to be carried by miners who would have them as their sole meal of the day. Today, you’ll most often find them in British pubs, and to a certain extent in Irish pubs too. You’re also likely to find them in the US at UK inspired restaurants or pubs and as a popular choice at Renaissance fairs and Scottish Games. Freezer sections in UK grocery stores may carry pasties in a variety of flavors, some including cheese, vegetarian, and many meat selections. The true Cornish pasty, though, is almost always a combination of beef, onions and potatoes, with a little pepper for seasoning.

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Depending upon the recipe, the Cornish pasty may have a somewhat dry taste. In pubs and restaurants, you may find them served topped with brown gravy in order to moisten the dish. Crust on the pasty varies too. Some are made of the more delicate puff pastry, though this is not traditional, while others are made of simple piecrust. The early pasties would not have featured a delicate crust, but rather a fairly thick one, since the Cornish pasty often had to survive being carried, perhaps for most of the day, in rough conditions. Overworking the crust could help a pasty survive being dropped, and supposedly a good pasty was considered so if you could drop it down a mineshaft and retrieve it intact.

This is not to say that most pasties would have been intentionally dropped. In fact, miners had small ovens in which all the pasties brought to work could be stored and kept warm. Since it was usually the sole meal miners would have during backbreaking and long hours of work, the pasty had to be filling and hearty enough to endure such harsh working conditions.

If you try a Cornish pasty, you will note that the traditional type is quite filling, albeit a little dry if not topped with gravy, or as some prefer, ketchup. There are a number of meat pies in other cultures quite similar to the pasty. In particular, empanadas, though they frequently contain spicier meat, are almost identical in shape and size to the Cornish pasty. Another similar dish is calzone, though calzones are usually filled with cheese and savory meats, and are more closely related to pizza.

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