Olivia Potts Olivia Potts

How to (correctly) make a Cornish pasty

Illustration: Natasha Lawson

When it comes to traditional food, there is always regional pride to contend with. Many recipes are intrinsically connected to the area from which they have sprung: Pontefract cakes, Chelsea buns, Lancashire hotpot, Welsh rarebit. They represent heritage and tradition – edible history. You must tread carefully to avoid offending regional heritage, or just making silly mistakes. I certainly feel on safer ground making pronouncements from my Salford home on Eccles cakes than I do on Ecclefechan tart.

But when it comes to the Cornish pasty, the people of Cornwall have taken ownership a step further. In 2011, the Cornish pasty was granted Protected Geographical Indication by the EU, which dictates where – and how – a true classic Cornish pasty can be made. This is the same protection enjoyed by products like champagne, Parma ham, and Comté cheese.

They are filling, nutritious and economical. Essentially they are their own packaging

It wasn’t easy for the Cornish to gain this geographical protection – it was a nine-year process – but it’s understandable that they felt it worthwhile. Cornish pasties are thought to represent 20 per cent of the region’s food and drink turnover, with more than 100 million consumed per year, a truly mind-boggling number. Today, following Brexit, things are slightly different: the UK has brought in its own Protected Geographic Origin scheme. But the principle is the same: the status guarantees a product’s characteristics or reputation, authenticity and origin, although only within the UK.

In the pasty’s earliest days, there was nothing intrinsically Cornish about it. Pasties were commonplace across the UK in the Middle Ages, with every region having its own variety. They make sense: a handheld pie made from cheap ingredients, they are filling, nutritious and economical. Essentially they are their own packaging, and can be slipped into a pocket at the beginning of the day.

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Olivia Potts
Written by
Olivia Potts
Olivia Potts is a former criminal barrister who retrained as a pastry chef. She co-hosts The Spectator’s Table Talk podcast and writes Spectator Life's The Vintage Chef column. A chef and food writer, she was winner of the Fortnum and Mason's debut food book award in 2020 for her memoir A Half Baked Idea.

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