Friday, February 25, 2011
How Cornish is the Cornish pasty?
The Cornish pasty has been granted 'Protected Geographical Indication' (PGI) status by the European Commission. What does this mean?
Henceforward a Cornish pasty is a savoury, D-shaped pasty which is filled with beef, vegetables and seasonings. Any sort of pastry can be used provided it is savoury and 'robust enough to retain shape throughout the cooking, cooling and handling process and serves to avoid splitting or cracking.' The pastry is crimped by hand or mechanically 'to one side, and never on top'.
A Cornish pasty must contain not less then 25% vegetables which must be sliced or diced potato, swede/turnip and onion only, not less than 12.5% meat which must be minced or diced beef and seasonings. No other types of meat or vegetables or any artificial additives can be used and all filling ingredients must be uncooked at the time of sealing the product.
And to be called a Cornish pasty the product must be assembled in the designated area of Cornwall.
Now the European Commission don't go around the countryside looking for things to classify, chances are they would never have heard of the Cornish pasty if it hadn't been for the Cornish Pasty Association. And who are they? Well you might not be entirely surprised to learn that they are a group of Cornish pasty makers who just happen to all be in Cornwall and are concerned 'to protect the quality and the reputation of the Cornish pasty and to stop consumers being misled by pasty makers who trade off the value of the name without producing a genuine product.' They believe 'protection of the Cornish pasty is necessary in order to safeguard the heritage of the Cornish pasty, the future of the industry and the reputation of the product.'
Safeguarding traditional foodstuffs and the heritage of their production is all part of the modern nostalgia for the past, a back lash against the commercialisation of food production and the fear that local traditions and even national identities will disappear into the blandness of globalisation. In Cornwall the pasty is historically associated with the mining industry. It was a neat, convenient and economical meal for the labouring man. The crimped edge was held by the miner as he ate and then discarded because contaminated with the grime from his hands. So the pasty is an unashamedly proletarian foodstuff, a reminder of hard times and hard work. Now that the mining industry in Cornwall is no more (although the mining landscape has been granted World Heritage Status) the poor pasty becomes a potent symbol of the 'good old days' albeit one which is commercialised and now standardised.
Will being granted PGI achieve the stated aims of the Cornish Pasty Association? Simply standardising the ingredients is surely no guarantee of the quality of the finished product. To qualify to carry a Cornish pasty logo, proof of authenticity, there is no requirement that the raw ingredients be sourced from within Cornwall, so there is no suggestion, for example, that turnips grown in Cornish soil are essential to the final flavour. Many consumers are unlikely to find a pasty made with puff pastry equal in quality to one made with shortcrust pastry (made with lard of course), and many consumers already consider that a pasty made with mince in highly inferior to one made with diced beef whether made in Cornwall or not. In fact to qualify as Cornish it is only 'the assembly of the pasties in preparation for baking' which must take place in the designated area, the actual baking does not have to be done in Cornwall. So what's Cornish about the Cornish pasty?
Is it cynical to suggest that the Cornish Pasty Association is less interested in protecting the good name of the pasty and more interested in the future of the industry in Cornwall and ensuring that 'consumers willing to pay a premium price for a genuine article' will make an appropriate contribution to the Cornish economy?
Safeguarding tradition is something that Cornish families have been doing for centuries and Cornish pasties are consumed in countries around the world. Does it matter that some of them may contain carrots and have the crimping on the top rather than at the side? Perhaps it is no bad thing that there is some standardised recipe for a Cornish pasty just so that no one ever gets the idea that pastry stuffed with Tandoori chicken might have originated in Cornwall but to suggest that only pasties which are made to that recipe AND 'assembled' in Cornwall can rightfully be called Cornish pasties seems – well at least odd, if not down right silly.
For more on the Cornish pasty and what some people think of the granting of PGI status see here and here
The Cornish Pasty Association are here and you can read their application for PGI status here and click on the link.
The images above are from the Cornish Pasty Association website.