Cornish Pasty – Historical Information

A wealth of historical evidence confirms the importance of the Cornish pasty as part of the county’s culinary heritage, with some of the first references appearing during the 13th Century, during the reign of Henry III. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that pasty was identified in around 1300. The pasty became commonplace in the 16th and 17th centuries and really attained its true Cornish identity during the last 200 years. By the 18th century it was firmly established as a Cornish food eaten by poorer working families who could only afford cheap ingredients such as potatoes, swede and onion. Meat was added later.

Evidence of the Cornish pasty as a traditional Cornish food is found in Worgan’s agricultural survey of Cornwall of 1808. In the 1860s records show that children employed in mines also took pasties with them as part of their crib or croust (local dialect for snack or lunch).

By the end of the 18th century it was the staple diet of working men across Cornwall. Miners and farm workers took this portable and easy to eat convenience food with them to work because it was so well suited to the purpose. Its size and shape made it easy to carry, its pastry case insulated the contents and was durable enough to survive, while its wholesome ingredients provided enough sustenance to see the workers through their long and arduous working days.

By the early 20th century the Cornish Pasty was produced on a large scale throughout the county as a basic food for farm workers and miners.

Cornish pasty – Shape and recipe

There are hundreds of stories about the evolution of the pasty’s shape, with the most popular being that the D-shape enabled tin miners to re-heat them underground as well as eat them safely. The crust (crimped edge) was used as a handle which was then discarded due to the high levels of arsenic in many of the tin mines.

The Cornish pasty’s recipe has a 200 year continuity that is unique. Recipes were handed down from generation to generation, often by word of mouth and rarely written down because they were made almost every day. Pasties formed a key part of Cornish local life and tradition. Young girls were often made to practice crimping techniques using plasticine before being allowed to work with pastry. Even allowing for minor variations across the county from Parish to Parish, it is the concept and the cultural ideal that epitomise the importance of the Cornish pasty and its enduring links to Cornwall.