Pasty rolled out like a plate,
Piled with “turmut, tates and mate.”
Doubled up, and baked like fate,
That’s a “Cornish Pasty.”
(An old rhyme originating around Breage, Cornwell)
What with all the discussion on Masterchef about recreating your childhood memories on the plate, my thoughts crossed Bass Strait venturing into the Apple Isle where my husband grew up eating Cornish Pasties. Geoff used to buy Cornish Pasties at the school canteen where they were affectionately known as “Curlies”. He loves Cornish Pasties and as much as he loves the taste, they also evoke memories of lush green, rolling hills and being back home on the farm with Mum and Dad.
Whenever we’ve gone back to Tasmania, we’ve had to stop off at Poole’s Milk bar in his home town of Scottsdale to buy Cornish Pasties, including a stash to take home. As much as we’ve tried to find a local equivalent, nothing has ever matched up. They weren’t “the same”.
Knowing how much Geoff loves Cornish Pasties, I thought I should try making them. Looking for inspiration, I Googled Poole’s Milk Bar last night. It wasn’t good news. Unfortunately, it has closed down and the building is up for sale. So, it seems that the great, inimitable Curley has joined the ranks of the Tasmanian Tiger in reported extinction. Perhaps, like reported sightings of the tiger, it’s still out there somewhere but it’s going to be hard to track down, particularly from “the mainland”.
This now leaves me trying to recreate what my husband knows as the Cornish Pasty without really knowing what it was like. Hedging my debts, I’ve opted to make the traditional Cornish Pasty. Scottsdale was a very traditional, country farming area settled in part by Cornish immigrants. Indeed, Geoff’s grandmother was descended from Francis French from Pelynt, Cornwall who arrived in Hobart Town on the 23 August 1831.
Also, when we’re talking about my husband’s childhood, we’re winding back the clock 40 years and food was very different then.
So, after checking out a few recipes, I found a recipe put out by the Cornish Pasty Association, which you can check out here: Traditional Cornish Pasty Recipe
Trying to replicate a traditional recipe poses its own challenges. While I’m creative and inventive, the skill here lies in replicating the original in the same way a concert pianist reproduces Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and doesn’t fuse it with chop sticks, their own composition or even Fur Elise. This means easing yourself inside Beethoven’s skin and reproducing his work with as much heart, empathy and sensitivity as you can muster. Otherwise, you can go write your own piece of music and call it what you like.It’s the same with the Cornish Pasty. You replicate the original in all its glory, or you call it something else.
However, replicating a traditional dish, is not without its challenges. Just like I can feel baffled by unknown “modern” or exotic ingredients, with the traditional Cornish Pasty, I am feeling equally bamboozled by the old. The pasty calls for dripping, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid. It also uses a Swede. I have used Swedes once before but they’re what I’d call “cow food” or at best “old school”, which I guess is part and parcel of recreating a traditional dish.
Making the pasty seems straight forward enough and the recipe comes with good, detailed instructions suited to the uninitiated or “virgin” Cornish Pasty maker. I appreciate this because too many recipes assume too much, preempting your inevitable “disaster”.
Yet, there’s one part that has me quietly shaking in my boots and that’s making the curly top. Apparently, “a good hand crimp is usually a sign of a good handmade pasty.”
Note that it says “good hand crimp”, not slap-dash, sloppy or completely messed up. Knowing my luck, my “curley” will end up with straight hair looking in need of a perm!
However, what am I thinking expecting perfection on my first attempt? It takes practice to make perfect and indeed, it’s almost arrogant to think I could produce a professional quality Cornish Pasty on my first attempt… especially as a novice! I need to stop expecting too much of myself.
It’s okay to make mistakes and certainly not the end of the world.
This leaves me heading out to the shops looking for dripping, skirt steak and swedes. I might need to find myself a huge pair of sunglasses. After all, there’s retro and there’s retro… Soon, I’ll be wearing a scarf!