One of the joys of food blogging is the contact that I sometimes get to have with some of you! I recently had a wonderful email exchange with a reader named Jim. Jim is from Cornwall, England, the birthplace of Cornish pasties–a meat pie traditionally filled with cubed beef, potatoes, turnips (or rutabaga), and onions. I was able to ask Jim about pasties and he told me that his mother made them “perhaps twice a week for dinner, but of course you could take them with you if you went out for the day as a picnic.” He went on to explain, “History tells us that they were originally made for the Cornish tin miners who would take them down the mines with them, sometimes they had a sweet filling in the one end, although I have never seen one made like that. They are very popular in Cornwall, all the bakers shops sell them, but home made ones are the best.” Jim also told me that when he was a young man, he was a fireman on the railway (steam locomotives). He said, “We would place our pasties on top of the engines controls so we could eat a piping hot dinner.” Jim was kind enough to share a recipe for Cornish pasties with me, as well as a poem he wrote about his mother’s pasties. Thank you Jim!
Mothers pasties, I’ll have ee knaw,
Were nothing but the best,
Full of taties, turnips and some beef,
They were, far better than the rest,
We took them down the weir, for tea,
We took them up Trencrom,
By train, we took them to Penzance,
To eat, upon the prom,
Pollards coaches took the weight,
On chapel trips to Looe,
Loaded down with saffron buns,
And mothers pasties, too,
I’d take one down the station,
Father had to have his tea,
I never used to mind at all,
There’d be a corner left for me,
We ate them when we went to school,
We ate them through the war,
They kept us going when times were tough,
We couldn’t have asked for more,
If I could turn the clock back, years,
Now wouldn’t that be grand?
Once more I’d sit on Hayle beach,
With mothers pasty, in my hand.
- James Davey
These pasties are cheap to make and are delicious and filling. The Fujis gobbled them down like I had served chocolate cake for dinner. They also make wonderful leftovers.
Makes 4 pasties, about 8 servings
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 pound fat (use butter or lard, or a mixture of the two)
ice water, as needed
1. Sift the flour with the salt into a bowl. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the fat until the mixture resembles coarse pea size crumbs.
2. Start adding the ice water a little at a time, tossing gently until it works together into a ball without being sticky. Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
1 pound steak, cut into small cubes
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into thin pieces about 1/2-inch across
1 small turnip, peeled and sliced into thin pieces about 1/2-inch across
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
Salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Dust your work surface with flour. Divide the pastry dough into 4 balls. Roll out one of the balls into a circle that is 1/4-inch thick. Moisten the edge with milk or water. On half of the circle, put a thin layer of potatoes and then a thin layer of turnips. Spread 1/4 of the beef on top. Add a little onion, then season generously with salt and pepper. Add one piece of butter, then lightly dust the filling with flour (this helps to make a gravy).
3. Fold the other half of the pastry over the filling and press the half circle edges firmly together. Starting at the right side, turn the edge over to form a crimp. Repeat this process all along the edge. Brush the pastry lightly with the beaten egg (to help with the browning process) and a cut a small one-inch cut in the centre of the top to allow steam to escape. Place on a baking sheet. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for the remaining balls of pastry dough.
4. Bake the pasties for 20 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for another 40 minutes. Smaller pasties will need less cooking time. If they are browning too quickly, cover them loosely with tin foil.