From the legendary Cornish Pasty to saffron buns, Cornish mining nurtured unique, hearty and tasty foods whose popularity is unsurpassed to this day.
The Cornish Pasty is the ultimate, all-in-one meal. They nourished and sustained miners during their long days underground, when it wasn’t possible to surface for lunch.
A traditional Cornish pasty filling is made up of beef, diced potato, turnip, onion and seasoned with salt and pepper, though pork would have been more readily available in the 19th century. Wrapped in pastry, the crust is thought to have been useful for allowing the miners to hold the pasty with dirty hands, without contaminating their much-needed meal. Pasties were such a common part of miners’ daily lives that some mines had stoves down the mine shafts specifically to cook the raw pasties.
In West Cornish dialect, a pasty was also called a ‘tiddy oggy’. Today, pasties make up 6% of the Cornish food economy.
Miners would often leave part of their pasty crust to the ‘Knockers’ – mischievous spirits who they believed lived in the mines and were thought to cause havoc and misfortune unless they were kept happy with small amounts of food.
Migrating Cornish miners helped to introduce pasties to the rest of the world during the 19th century. ‘Cousin Jacks’ were not slow to seek their fortunes wherever skilled miners were needed, and as tin mining in Cornwall began to fail an increasing number of miners began to travel and bring their expertise and traditions to new mining regions around the world.
As a result, pasties can be found in many other countries, including many parts of Australia (the site of a pasty festival since 1973), Mexico (in which many states consider pasties a typical local cuisine), and parts of America, where Cornish migrants brought their skills working in the mines as well as their recipe for the pasty.
How to make a pasty:
1. Start by cutting a circle out of pastry
2. Add the uncooked filling to one half
3. Fold the other half of the pastry over
4. Crimp the edge to form a seal
5. Bake in the oven till cooked and piping hot
The hoggan was also a common favourite and was often made if the ingredients for a pasty were not available. Comprising of flour mixed with water and baked without yeast or other raising agent – but perhaps with a little green (home cured) pork – a hoggan would also be taken underground as the main meal.
A traditional Cornish delicacy, also known as a ‘revel bun’ as they were often baked for special occasions (or revels). Saffron buns are made from a rich yeast dough flavoured with saffron and cinnamon or nutmeg with currants and dusted with sugar. Food colouring is now often added to the buns to give them their distinctive yellow appearance due to the high cost of including sufficient saffron. This practice started around the time of the First World War, when saffron was expensive and difficult to get hold of.
In west Cornwall, saffron buns were also called ‘tea treat buns’ as they were often baked for events known as Tea Treats, which were organised by Methodist churches and chapels for the local community. Tea Treats took place during the summer months, often around Whitsun. These were special occasions which often included a parade with everyone dressed up in their best clothes, followed by a tea party which would be attended by the whole town or village.