Friday, June 28, 2013

Pasty, Present and Future

 The Cornish Pasty has been a staple of my diet in this grand international adventure. A pasty (pronounced to rhyme with rhinoplasty rather than being a homonym of the word that would describe a very pale person) is a pastry native to Cornwall. A “true” pasty follows a number of conventions, it must be filled with beef, potato, turnip, and onion, seasoned with salt and pepper, and, most importantly, it must be crimped before being cooked.  I have had pasties everywhere we have visited, from Cornwall to Yorkshire. The pasty has been a running theme of my trip through England, and in this blog post, I will document the various experiences I have had in consuming this tasty dish.

I purchased my first pasty in Penzance.  Unfortunately, my first pasty was filled with chicken, a fact that would have drawn the ire of some of the Cornwall natives I met had I been brave enough to let them know.  The shop I bought it from, Warren’s Bakery, is a chain native to Cornwall that is spread throughout the southwest of the country.  Because the employee who sold me the delicious treat could tell (perhaps because of my accent or because I pronounced pasty wrong) that I was a first-time pasty consumer, she gave me a sticker noting that my first pasty was from Warren’s.

On my next pasty venture in Falmouth, I purchased two. One was the traditional beef, while the second was Thai chicken.  I bought these tasty pasties from the chain Pasty Presto, which is similarly confined to the Southwest.  The pasty is one of the cultural touchstones of Cornwall, and its importance in this regard has made pasty chains as numerous in Cornwall as burger chains in the States. In Cornwall, pasties are as prolific as fish and chips.

I ate my next pasty in Plymouth, a city in Devon, the neighboring county to Cornwall. It was made by Gregg’s, which is a national chain not particularly specialized in pasties. After leaving Cornwall, the nomenclature around the meal had transformed, from being simply pasties in Cornwall to being specifically noted as “Cornish pasties.” I was a bit concerned at purchasing a dish so crucial to Cornish regionalism from a national chain, but I was hungry and it was a long day of riding buses.

I bought my latest pasty from the Cornish Pasty Bakery in the city of York. The city was dotted with nearly as many pasty shops as the cities we had visited in Cornwall. Perhaps this can be explained by the development of English mining. The Cornish are well-known for their skill at mining, leading to the expression “If there is a hole in the ground, there is a Cornishman in it.” They were most experienced at tin and copper mining, but the coal extraction in North Yorkshire may have attracted the Cornish as well as their cuisine.

I will end by discussing my true first pasty experience, which occurred in ninth grade in Miami, Florida. The teachers at my high school would sell something called “pastelitos” between classes. When I traveled to England almost a decade later, I was confused as to whether pasties were Cornish or South American.  Ultimately, the global spread of the Cornish explains this seeming discrepancy. This, along with many other experiences on this trip, has shown me that understanding the complexities of the English story does not only illuminate the history and practices of England. It provides context and depth to the international experience, filling in holes in my knowledge I didn’t even know I had. 

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