James Reskelley’s Supper
Like Matthew Penhallow and the Cornish miners, James Reskelly’s family moved to Colorado from Cornwall when the Cornish tin mines failed. James didn’t mind. He liked his new mountain home with its strong winds and raw energy. Filled with dreams and aspirations, he’d watch the freight wagons rumble up and down the canyon roads, search the mine tailings for gold and silver, and find lots of ways to get into mischief.
James rarely got homesick. After all, most of his neighbors spoke with the same Cornish dialect as he and the air was often filled with Cornish music. More importantly, though, at least as far as a hungry boy was concerned, his mother always prepared traditional Cornish meals. That is why, on a cold windy night, James shared his favorite part of Cornwall with Kathy, David and Frank—“some pasties and a bit o’ saffron cake.”
The pasty is perhaps one of the most treasured culinary traditions of Cornwall. It is such an important part of Cornish culture, in fact, that it is often considered a symbol of Cornwall itself.
The pasty, pronounced pass-tee, is a form of pie made by folding dough over chopped meat, potatoes, and vegetables. The dough is then crimped together either on the side or top of the pie before baking. Known to exist as far back as the 12th century, the pasty was originally enjoyed primarily by royalty and the upper classes. Over time, however, it became a main staple of the common man. As a hardy meal-in-one, it kept working men on their feet all day in the mines, the fields and on the seas, but it is with the miners that the meal is most closely associated.
Covered with sweat and dirt and unable to clean up while deep beneath the earth, the miners needed a meal that was easy to handle and eat. The pasty met that need. Besides being a meal-in-one, the crimped edges of the pie made a convenient handle that could be sullied by dirty fingers then discarded after the rest of the pie was eaten. This was particularly important since the miner’s fingertips were often covered with arsenic found within the mines. Dirty hands, and thus, contaminated food would have been a serious problem without the crimped crust of the pasty. Conveniently, discarding the crust served another purpose as well. Many miners believed in knockers, or tommyknockers as they were called in America, Otherworld spirits that lived in the mines. The pasty crust served as a gift to appease these mischievous creatures. Apparently nobody wondered if tommyknockers could get arsenic poisoning.
Making a Cornish Pasty
Recipes for the Cornish Pasty can be found at many sites.
The Cornish Pasty at Cornish-Links provides several pasty recipes, while both the Cornish Pasty Recipe - Cornish Recipes and Real Cornwall :: Food & Drink :: Cornish Specialities :: Pasties sites provide photos showing the step-by-step process. The Real Cornwall :: Food & Drink :: Cornish Specialities :: Pasties is particularly nice because it has audio interviews with Ann Muller, a professional pasty maker in Cornwall.