Tuesday, November 13, 2007

P is for Potatoes - Cornish Pasties

A few nights ago we were woken up in the middle of the night. I looked out of the window onto the street to see a large woman swaying down the middle of the road. She was bellowing the song "My Way" whilst carrying a large shopping basket full of food. Living in a city, its not unusual to be woken up by drunks, sashaying back home from a night in the pub. But the large lone shopping lady at 3am was unique. One of our neighbours brought the performance to an end, yelling at her to shut up and move on. In the morning I went out to buy a paper from the corner shop and found her abandoned shopping basket, full of potatoes. Was she serenading me?

A few months ago we had a holiday on the South Coast of Cornwall. Our first Cornish meal of the holiday is always the same. After a long drive down a wooded lane to the ancient town of Lostwithiel, we buy four large Cornish pasties and sit on the river bank to eat them. Like all traditional dishes, the ingredients of an authentic Cornish pasty are often debated but potato is central.
But this year we went further. The Great Big Vegetable Challenge is all about exploring food, learning new things so Freddie and Alex went to Lostwithiel bakery to ask if they could watch how their wonderful pasties are made.
“You really ought to come back and learn from Ruth,” said Christine, who owns the bakery with her husband.
Four days later we turned up for our date with one of Cornwall’s most experienced pasty makers, Ruth. Ruth has been making pasties for over 55 years. She had learnt from her mother and grandmother, baking her first pasty when she was five years old. She took Freddie and Alex under her wing and showed them how to create their favourite Cornish meal. In the middle of a circle of pastry they placed flakes of uncooked potato, swede, chopped onion and a handful of raw beef skirt, diced into small cubes. She brushed round the edges of the circle and folded it in half, expertly crimping the seam of the pastry together to seal it. Freddie and Alex brushed their pasties with beaten egg and watched as Barry slid the tray into the oven. Traditionally, Cornish housewives used to mark the pastry with their husband’s initials so that at lunchtime there was no confusion. An hour later, when our creations were cooked, our pasties were easy to spot next to Ruth’s perfectly crimped pasties. We ate them on the banks of the River Fowey. The juice from the cooked beef seeps into the flaked potato and is delicious. Whenever Freddie cooks something the score is always higher. “I am going to give these pasties eleven out of ten,” said Freddie.

Cornish Pasties, inspired by Ruth

To make 4 pasties

500g ready made shortcrust pastry

300g beef skirt
2-3 large potatoes
150g swede
1 onion
Salt and pepper to season
Knob of butter for each pasty
Beaten egg to glaze

Peel the potatoes and the swede. Using a potato peeler or the coarse side of a grater, cut the potato into small potato flakes. Do the same with the swede. Peel and dice the onion very finely. Ruth explained that as all the ingredients cook inside the pasty, it is important that they are finely flaked so that they cook better.
Dice the beef skirt into small cubes. Roll out the pastry so that it is about 5mm thick. Cut round a plate to make 4 circles. Divide up the potato, swede and onion and beef into four equal parts. In the centre of each pastry circle, spoon the potato, then the swede and onion. Then add the beef skirt on top. Season with salt and ground pepper and Ruth recommends placing a knob of butter on top. Brush round the edge of the circle with warm water and bring together the two sides of the pastry circle to make a parcel with the filling in the centre. Crimp the edges of the pastry together to seal it using the thumb and forefinger. With a knife, slash a small slit in the side of the pasty to let the steam out. Brush with beaten egg to glaze. Place on a baking tray in a preheated oven at 200C for 45 minutes.

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  1. What an amazing experience you are giving Freddie and Alex.
    The cornish pasties sound delicious. Sara from farmingfriends

  2. Thats a top post. Pasties are a British classic, sadly cheapened by some of the efforts of certain high street stores. But they are easy to make, filling, nutritious and delicious. People forget what a true Cornish pastie really is, and thats coming from a Geordie! We used to have 'double' pasties when we were young - savoury at one end, apple at the other, bizarre but it worked!


  3. Your pasties look exactly like Bolivian Saltenas (spelled with a tilde over the n). They have potato and beef in the filling also, but are spicier and also have some peas, a few raisins, a piece of hard boiled egg (or a whole quail egg), and an olive. Here's a link that shows what they look like and has a link to a recipe:

    Also, what exactly is a swede? Would that be the same as a turnip or rutabaga in the US?

  4. What a great post and lovely experience for Freddie and Alex.

  5. Oh, pasty making. Sooooo deeply, deeply jealous. I, too, was going to ask what a swede was (once I get over my overwhelming pasty envy. But that could take a while). It does seem natural to guess that it's some kind of root vegetable.

  6. Meg and Amy - A Swede is a type of turnip - the bigger orangey coloured ones. I think you might well call them rutabaga in America.
    Anyone clarify that for me?

    Amanda - It was fun for all of us - and the pasties were delicious.

  7. Pray tell, what does Freddie's maths teacher think about his New Math? :-) Thanks for letting us tag along into the bakery!!

  8. Oh lovely!! I love Cornish Pasties!!! Well done Freddie and Alex they look really yummy!!

  9. i have this slight suspicion we may stay on 'P' forever...
    send us a pastie :)

  10. The Boy Done Food - We may stay on potato for ever and ever. It is a very comfortable place to be. I would gladly post you a pastie!
    Pat - Thank you. They were yummy.
    Alanna - Freddie's math teacher probably wouldn't mind if we bribed her with a pastie...
    David - How do you like to make your pasties?
    Sara - Thanks. I enjoyed it as much as the kids..its wonderful watching an expert at work. And she was very patient with us.

  11. Lovely post - this really shows what an adventure Alex and Freddie are having and ties in how food isn't just something we eat - it's made, it's learned, it's loved.

  12. I'm just thinking about parsnips. Maybe we could stay on p til they invent a new vegegtable, or we could develop a new strain of something...now, where did i leave my lab coat...

  13. After having been green with envy (and also, really impressed that you thought to take your kids to a pasty maker to show them how it's done), I followed the recipe. It was fantastic. No pictures, as everyone ate them too fast. It sounds dumb, but it had never, ever crossed my mind to MAKE a pasty. They are simple, and wonderful. Thanks.

  14. Great Big Vegetable CHallenge10:49 AM

    Thank you for letting me know oyu had made the pasties. I am so pleased that you all enjoyed them. They are easy to make and great to take on picnics, out on walks, on the beach. As I said we always enjoy them next to the banks of the River Fowey on our annual holiday in COrnwall. If you are ever near Lostwithiel - visit the bakers there.

  15. I am going to have to make those gorgeous looking cornish pasties. Yum. Your two little midgets are absolutely gorgeous chick :)


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