I learned to make pasties in an emergency, I was summoned by my mother, Hettie Merrick, a professional pasty-maker, to a Breton agricultural fair, where demand was dramatically and unexpectedly outstripping supply at a stall mother had set up. At the end of a day of pasty-making, I could crimp them as fast as my mother, which was the perfect confidence boost and eye opener into the fact that there was a business to be had producing a good Cornish pasty.
Me and My Mum at the Breton agricultural fair
Soon afterwards I began making pasties for my neighbours, who’d bring gifts of fresh fish they’d caught or vegetables they’d grown, and who treated my living room like a waiting room, sitting around gossiping over cups of tea if the pasties hadn’t come out of the oven yet.
Inspired by the response, mother and I started selling our wares from a stall at the nearby market town of Helston. We soon found business good enough to graduate to a shop in Porthleven. But when juggling family and pasty shop became too much, my husband transformed the garage of our house at the Lizard into a pasty kitchen, where I was able to crimp with one eye on the family.
The business has since flourished, so much so that my son Fergus has stepped in to help keep up with the demand! The family recipe lives on through Fergus who makes a pasty so good even mother approves!
My son Fergus
I am of the Gilbert family from Gunwalloe. Living & growing up at Fishing Cove, Gunwalloe was a magical time for my brothers, cousins and me. Watching the fishing boats launched on summer evenings and having a free run of the beaches & cliff tops was part of our care free existence. I can remember snooping around the village smelling out pasty-day at different relatives houses. I could tell the difference between each of my aunt’s and my mother’s and grandmother’s pasty, even though all used the same ingredients.
Fishing Cove Gunwalloe
I now live at The Lizard where my pasty shop is situated. Here we are surrounded by stunning views of the sea which can be calm like a mirror reflecting a clear blue sky or raging, grey green with an Atlantic storm. Both a joy to behold. For recreation and a bit of fitnessI row a couple of times a week with Helford Gig Club and Trelawney Rowing Club at Stithians reservoir. I do feel very fortunate to live in this lovely place.
Rowing at the Isles of Scilly Gig World Championships
Pentreath The Lizard
Hopefully our Cornish way of life will go on as it has throughout history, a tucked away place where people eek out a living close to nature and support each other in their small communities . We feel under threat at the moment with thoughtless building programmes, the proposal of a cross border constituency with England and no help for our Cornish /British language revival. We work hard and pay our taxes but don’t seem to get heard or respected. The many visitors from Britain and other parts of the world are very attracted to Cornwall . They often tell me they feel they are in a different country to the rest of Britain and I tell them that it is because they are.
Oll an gwella , Kernow bys vykken!
You never talk of a “Cornish pasty” in Cornwall. It’s always pasty, pure and simple. The classic pasty comprises of turnip (referred to as swede outside of Cornwall), onion, beef and potato. Skirt of beef is the preferred cut of beef but chuck is fine cut up into small pieces.
The potato and turnip is chipped into flakes and the onion thinly sliced. These ingredients are layered and seasoned within a pastry round, the edges of the pastry are brought up around this filling and crimped. The pasty is then baked for an hour in a moderate oven.
Cornish Pasty Recipe (Based on a large Pasty)
If you fancy making your own homemade Cornish Pasties, here is my pasty recipe & method to follow. If you need any more help don’t hesitate to give me call.
Making the Pastry
Pasty pastry, for four eight-inch pasties.
450g 1lb strong white flour (large pinch salt optional)
100g 4oz margarine (Echo or similar hard variety)
110g 4oz lard
175ml 1/3pt water
Put the flour and salt (if used) into a bowl. Cut off a quarter of the lard and rub into flour. Grate or slice the rest of the fats into the mixture and stir with a knife. Pour all the water in and stir until absorbed. Knead a little and leave at least 30 minutes in the fridge before using.
Pastry can be made the day before, wrapped in polythene and stored in the fridge overnight. Pastry freezes well, but remember to take it out the night before you need it. Do not refreeze.
This is preferred by some people, especially for vegetable pasties. Use vegetarian fats instead if you prefer.
225g 1/2lb wholemeal flour
225g 1/2lb strong white flour
100g 4oz Echo margarine or butter
100g 4oz lard or Cookeen (salt optional)
175ml 1/3pt water to mix
Roughly chop the fats into the flour. Rub in very lightly; pour in and stir into a ball. Knead for half a minute and rest the pastry for at least half an hour.
Pasty filling, quantity for one pasty.
50g 2oz onion or shallot (some people like leek)
50-75g 2-3oz turnip (swede)
85-115g 3-4oz beef skirt or chuck steak
150g 6oz sliced potatoes
black pepper, salt
Making the pasties
Keep the sliced potatoes in a basin of cold water till needed. Trim and gristle off the meat and cut it (with some fat) into 6 mm (1/4 in) pieces.
Generously flour the board or area you are using. This allows the pastry to relax as you roll, especially if you flip the pastry up from the surface every now and then. Cut off a quarter of the prepared pastry. Roll it out, keeping the shape, into a circle 21-23 cm (8-9 in) across. The pastry should now be the right thickness. Place an upturned plate over the pastry and trim round to get a good shape.
Place most of the turnip and onion across the centre of the round. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper to taste.
Place meat along the top and well into the ends; season the meat with a little salt. Top the meat with most of the potato and the remainder of the turnip.
Sprinkle again with a little salt, and add the remaining potato. Do not season the top layer: salt directly in contact with pastry can make it taste slightly bitter.
Dampen one side of the pastry with a little water. If you dampen the pastry all round or use too much water you will find the edges slide instead of sealing, so don’t slosh it on.
Fold the damp side of the pastry to the other and press firmly but gently together, so that you have a seam down across the pastry, or by the side, whichever you find easier. From the right side if you are right-handed (or the left if you are left-handed) fold over the corner and crimp by folding the pastry seam over and over to the end. Tuck in the end well to seal. Alternatively, if you find this difficult, just curl the edge like a wave.
Make a small slit in the top with a knife and patch any other breaks or holes with a little dampened rolled-out pastry.
Brush the pasties with milk or egg wash or even just water and place them on buttered paper or a greased and floured tray, leaving 5 cm (2 in) between them.
Bake in a hot oven 220C (425F, gas 7) for 20 to 30 minutes. Check the pasties. If brown, turn them down to 160C (325F, gas 3). Bake for another 20 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave them in the oven for another 15 minutes with the door shut.
Remove from the oven and with a slice lift the pasty onto a plate. Cut in half, allowing some of the steam to escape.
If you are eating them picnic style, place the pasties onto a cooling tray and wait 15 minutes before eating. If you want to eat them an hour or so later, or are taking them on a journey, wrap them straight from the oven in paper and then a clean cloth. Pasties keep extremely hot for a long time and if well wrapped a pasty made in Helston would still be ‘hot’ when you reached Exeter. I’ve even been told by holiday-makers that their pasties were still reasonably warm when they reached London.
Many people vary their pasties by substituting pork for beef, by putting in a mixture of kidney and beef, or by placing some parsley in one corner or sprinkled over the filling. Here, however, are some popular variations from what is usually thought of as the ‘traditional’ pasty.
Use ordinary pasty pastry, or wholemeal pastry if preferred. Roll out pastry as for a pasty, then fill with layers of onion, turnip and potato, seasoning as you go, except the top layer. Seal, and cook as you would a pasty, reducing time by about 10 minutes, Just before dishing up, dribble in a good ounce of thin cream if you like it. Alternatively, while making the pasty put in about 25g (1oz) butter. With or without cream or butter, vegetable pasty is surprisingly delicious.
Use ordinary or vegetarian pastry. Roll out a 20 cm (8 in) round of pastry and slice onto it a small or medium onion and 50g (2oz) turnip. Season with pepper to taste.
Cover with 50-75g (2-3oz) grated or sliced Cheddar, or similar cheese. Add one medium to large potato along the top and season with salt. Place a few more slices of potato along the top. Seal and crimp. Cook as for a pasty, reducing the time by about 15 minutes.
The pasty is the national symbol of Cornwall. Pasty myths and legends abound. Nobody can quite pinpoint when pasties originated, but there’s a letter in existence from a baker to Henry VIII’s Jane Seymour, saying “…hope this pasty reaches you in better condition than the last one …” baker to Henry VIII’s Jane Seymour, saying ”…hope this pasty reaches you in better condition than the last one …”
Eighteenth century accounts from up-country travellers to Cornwall tell of labourers bringing up their families on a diet of vegetables baked in a barley dough in the ashes of the fire. A West Briton report in 1867 tells of the subsistence level at which the miners lived and reveals their great dependence on flour. Many of these early writers expressed surprise that both children and adults looked reasonably well nourished on what they considered a very poor diet. Then, as now, the pasty had its detractors, but as a complete meal in itself it found a place in the hearts and stomachs of the Cornish who are proud to claim firmly that the pasty ‘belong’ to them.
Over the centuries pasties played a staple roll in the diet of the Cornish. However fishermen never took them to sea “It’s bad luck to take a pasty on board”. When fishermen set sail, they leave their pasties ashore. Miners would leave a little piece of pastry for the spirits, in the mine, that would lead them to a load and it is said that the Devil stays out of Cornwall because he’s afraid he’ll get baked in one.
Pasties are now an important part of the Cornish economy. Tourism, here, is big business now a days and nearly all visitors want to sample the iconic dish. Many tourists find their way to my shop as they have either read that Ann’s Pasties are good or they have been told so!