If you’ve been lucky enough to visit a Cornish bakery or even if you’re just captivated by the smells wafting out of pasty shops inside train stations, one thing’s for certain – Cornish pasties are universally loved. That simple combination of buttery shortcrust pastry and chunks of beef, root vegetables and gravy is hard to resist, especially when you’re hungry – just imagine how much Cornwall’s miners looked forward to their lunch after spending all morning underground, doing backbreaking manual labour.
We can trace Cornish pasties way back to the thirteenth century, when the first references were written during the reign of Henry III. The speciality gradually grew in popularity, and by the end of the eighteenth century it was firmly established as the staple diet for working men across Cornwall. They were the ideal food for poor working families, who could only afford cheap ingredients like potato, swede and onion (adding meat to the pasty came later), while miners and farmers liked it because it was durable, easy to carry and the thick pastry stopped the filling from spilling out. By the early twentieth century, Cornish pasties were being mass-made for workers across the UK.
For a food that (at first) sounds pretty humdrum, the Cornish pasty has an amazing amount of history behind it. As you’d imagine, such an iconic food has quite a few stories, myths and legends surrounding it. Its iconic ‘D’ shape is thought to have been designed for tin miners; their hands were often covered in arsenic, so the circular shape meant they could hold the pasty by the crust and then throw it away once they were finished. People would also have their initials carved into the crust before baking, so everyone could keep track of which pasty was theirs, and there was even a trend for the pastry to contain both a sweet and savoury filling – one at each end – so workers could enjoy both main and dessert when down in the mines or out in the fields.