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Apparently Cornish Pasties Aren’t Actually From Cornwall

In a recent article for the food studies journal Petits Propos Culinaires, Yorkshire-based food historian Peter Brears claims that Cornish pasties originate from London.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
Photo via Flickr user boB Rudis

Navigating the culinary arts is a daunting task for any amateur chef, but there are a few indisputable facts to help us along—tidbits of steadfast information keeping everyone sane in a world that can't decide whether peas belong in guacamole. Tortilla chips must be accompanied by salsa and ice-cold beer (duh), that half-finished bottle of shiraz isn't going to taste nearly as good after a week on your kitchen counter (fact), and Cornish pasties—well, they're from Cornwall (obviously).


But we might need to rethink this particular pastry-based assumption. A food historian has just called into question everything you thought you knew about Cornish pasties.

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As The Independent reports, in a recent article for the food studies journal Petits Propos Culinaires, Yorkshire-based food historian and author of 27 books Peter Brears writes: "[The pasties] did not originate in Cornwall and although they drew their inspiration from those enjoyed by tourists to the county, were quite different from the true pasties of Cornwall in a number of ways."

Shots have most definitely been fired. A staple of West Country cuisine, Cornish pasties—formed from a circle of shortcrust pastry, filled with beef, potato and vegetables, folded over, and baked—are often associated with 17th century tin miners, who adopted the snack as an easily transportable, all-in-one meal. While Brears says this story still holds true, he argues that what we today consider a Cornish pasty has a different origin.

He claims that the Cornish pasty is actually from London, stating that versions of the snack in Cornwall were usually vegetarian, while the "classic" Cornish pasty is filled with mince.

According to Brears (who, btw, is also the UK's leading authority on jelly), 18th century Londoners were inspired by the hefty vegetarian pasty and created a smaller version filled with the meat, onion, and potato. These real Cornish pasties "were not intended to feed a miner or an agricultural labourer but to make an economical savoury nibble for polite middle class Victorians."


This manifestation of the snack is also a lot closer to the meat-packed, hangover-busting chunk you've grabbed from Greggs more time than you'd probably like to admit.

Brears adds that the meat-filled pasties "spread throughout the entire country by London-trained cookery teachers who invented the term 'Cornish pasty.'"

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Cornish pasties were granted Protection of Geographical Indication status under European Union law in 2011, meaning that only snacks prepared in the county can claim to be "Cornish pasties." They account for 6 percent of Cornish food economy but Brears says this PGI status gives the county's companies an "unwarranted trading advantage."

Despite the upset Brears' claims will undoubtedly cause among Cornwall's pasty-makers, the origins of the snack have never been entirely clear. References to Cornish pasty-like dishes have been found in British historical documents dating back to the 13th century and neighbouring county Devon has also laid claim to the original recipe.

We may never know the full story of the genius who first stuffed vegetables and meat into hand-sized parcels of goodness but it's unlikely to stop us from eating them. And that's a fact you can count on.