In Pursuit of the Perfect Cornish Pasty

by Katie Richards

It’s probably fair to say that beyond English borders, our regional food doesn’t have the best reputation. But as an English girl who has lived in various parts of England and Wales for my whole life, not counting a brief flirtation with France in my early twenties, I am proud to say that English food is a great deal more than fish and chips.

First things first. You’ll only find a Cornish pasty in Cornwall. Now, while that might sound obvious enough, it took the Cornish Pasty Association a trip to the European Court in 2006 to gain this recognition. The story of the pasty, however, begins some 700 years earlier during the reign of Henry II when it was enjoyed by the wealthy and filled with exotic ingredients such as venison, eel and salmon. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the development of the mining industry in Cornwall meant that the pasty had become the food of the workers who required a nutritious and portable lunch to carry into the mine.

Cornish pasty. Photo by monkeymagic1975 via

Cornish pasty. Photo by monkeymagic1975 via

From the outside, granted, the Cornish pasty doesn’t look particularly appealing. But the buttery pastry shell in a half-moon shape with a characteristic crimped handle made of pastry gives way to a mouth-watering mixture of steak, potato, turnip and onion all seasoned with a liberal dash of pepper. While the crimped handle is today a handy means of eating your delicious pasty on the go, the handle was originally discarded due to the high levels of arsenic in tin mines several centuries ago. The thick pastry handle allowed miners to enjoy their hot meal and avoid being poisoned by the arsenic and tin on their hands as a result of a hard day’s work in the mine. Another traditional characteristic of the pasty which hasn’t lasted to the modern day is the savoury and sweet combination. One half of the pasty would be filled with the traditional steak mix while the other half contained a sweet apple pie-type filling as a welcome end to the miner’s hearty meal.

Growing up with a large family in the south west meant I enjoyed frequent trips to the Cornish seaside and had numerous opportunities to sample the region’s famous dish. Today, if you take a walk along any beach, you’ll lose count of the families enjoying a pasty as part of their picnic lunch, the perfectly portable food reinvented for the modern day.

Mousehole harbor, Cornwall. Photo by Jomega via

Mousehole harbor, Cornwall. Photo by Jomega via

Life in Cornwall largely revolves around the coast and it’s probably for this reason that I can only eat my pasty outdoors, gazing at the sea.  I think it’s the combination of Cornwall’s rugged beauty and culinary heritage that makes this simple lunch a highlight of my time in Cornwall. You are probably looking for a recommendation of where to buy the most authentic pasty, but I’m afraid I can’t help. I always rely on those that are freshly baked by my great aunt in her kitchen in Camborne; unwrapping the greaseproof paper package tied with string is what keeps me returning to Cornwall year after year.

Katie Richards lives in Chester, England and loves to travel. She works for Sykes Cottages, the UK’s leading cottage holiday company, which allows her to indulge her love for travel in the UK and Ireland.

[Photography by monkeymagic1975 and Jomega via Flickr common license.]

Note: this article is brought to you in partnership with Sykes Cottages.