One of the original packed lunches, Cornish Pasties are still a treat for tucking into lunch boxes, eating on the run or serving with a crisp salad for lunch. Each Cornish cook has their favourite recipe but the key is to have the pastry packed with tender chunks of meat and juicy vegetables.
So accomplished were Cornish cooks with pastry that almost anything might find itself wrapped and baked inside a crust. Hence the legend that the devil kept his distance on the Devon side of the River Tamar, fearing that, should he cross into Cornwall, "they might take a fancy to a devilly pie". In her long-out-of-print book of recipes and photographs, 'A Taste of the West Country', Theodora Fitzgibbon has a line-up of five flat-capped males. They are sitting against a stone wall with a stoppered tin flask in front of them and a pasty in hand. The caption reads: "Eating Cornish pasties at 'Crib' time, near Truro, Cornwall, 1905."
They were far from the first and certainly not the last generation of working Cornish men to take a pasty to the fields or down the mines for their lunch. Pasty is an old English word for a pie baked without a dish. The first pie crusts were referred to as 'coffers' - hand-shaped boxes of pastry containing food to go. In Cornwall this evolved into the familiar elongated oval pasty shape, pointed at each end and closed by a fluted seam.
Pastry rolled out like a plate, Piled with turmut, tates and mate, Doubled up, and baked like fate, That's a Cornish pasty.
The recipe given in this old Cornish rhyme still holds good - 'turmut' (turnip), 'tates' (potatoes) and 'mate' (meat) are still the common ingredients of a proper pasty, although allowances are made for bacon, chicken, rabbit and even fish. Vegetables may vary to include leeks or onion, and spinach, sorrel or other herbs.
A pasty was meant to be big, most commonly weighing in at about 330g (11 oz) according to Laura Mason and Catherine Brown's 'Traditional Foods of Britain'. Apparently some were made with savoury ingredients at one end and fruit at the other - main course and pudding all in one, very similar to Bedfordshire Clangers. Additionally, if it was too much to eat at one sitting, initials might be shaped in pastry and stuck on one corner, so the owner could identify his half-eaten lunch when he felt peckish later in the day.