Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Pie is not always a pasty!

I have been watching the new PBS series, Poldark, set in the 18th Century. The leading character, Russ Poldark, is from Cornwall, England.  After fighting in the American Revolutionary War, with General Cornwallis' defeat,  the British soldiers return home, Poldark, among them, only to find his father dead, their lands left unkempt, and their copper mine abandoned. Russ picks up the mantle, and tries to make a go of it. It's a good story, based on a series of novels by British author Winston Greene (1908 – 2003). (He also wrote Marnie in 1961, later turned into the Alfred Hitchcock film).

Cornwall is noted for its tin and copper mines, producing the majority of the UK's production of these metals until very recently. So, mining was the thing in the region, hence the story revolves around the importance to the success or failure of the area residents.

And, now for the best part! The Cornish pasty! During the 17th and 18th centuries the pasty became popular with the workers in Cornwall, the miners adopting it as the food of choice for their daily fare. It had a unique shape, forming a complete meal that could be carried easily and eaten without forks or knives. In the mines,  the pasty's dense, folded pastry would stay warm for several hours, and if it did get cold it could easily be warmed on a shovel over a candle flame!

The side-crimped edge gave rise to the thought that the miner might have eaten the pasty holding the thick edge of pastry, which was later thrown away,  ensuring that his dirty fingers  did not touch food or his mouth. There was fear of intake of arsenic. This may or may not be true, but I don't believe poor folk would throw away any food.

The recipe for the Cornish pasty, includes diced or minced beef, onion, potato and swede (a turnip type vegetable) in rough chunks seasoned lightly with pepper and salt. The cut of beef used is usually skirt steak. Sometimes carrots are included, but generally frowned upon in Cornwall. Baked in shortcut barley flour pastry 'til golden brown, they make a hearty meal.  

There is a belief that the pastry on a good pasty should be strong enough to withstand a drop down a mine shaft! By the way, the pasty recipe and its traditional "D" shape have a protected status. A meat pie may not always be a pasty!

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