Yesterday, the BBC reported that the Cornish pasty is now being served at the recently opened Cornish Pasty House in Copenhagen, Denmark by Cornishman Jason Mather. This doesn't seem like a newsworthy story at start when one can buy Indian curry, Vietnamese pho and other international dishes in nearly any major city, however, the Cornish Pasty Association would beg to differ. On February 22, 2011, the term 'Cornish pasty' came under protection by the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), meaning that only pasties prepared in Cornwall by a traditional recipe can be called 'Cornish pasties' and will now bear a special logo. Hoping to protect the "quality and reputation" of the pasty, CPA chairman, Alan Adler is hoping to also protect the British food legacy, stating that Britain lags "far behind other European countries like France and Italy, that have hundreds of food products protected, and it's important that we value our foods just as much." This status now puts the Cornish pasty on par with other regionally protected foods like Roquefort cheese and French Champagne.
So how and why is Jason Mather serving 'Cornish' pasties in Copenhagen? Technically, he isn't breaking any rules as long as the pasties are prepared in Cornwall by the traditional recipe and baked in Copenhagen. To achieve protected status, the CPA had to come up with a 'genuine' Cornish pasty recipe. To qualify for the title, the pasty must have the distinctive 'D' shape, be crimped on the side and never the top, and the filling must be "chunky, made up of uncooked mince or chunks of beef with swede, potato and onion and a light seasoning". Mather knew the Danes were fond of pastries, though they were often only used sweet bakes, and thought that there was a hole in the market. His success has proven him right, and he's now considering opening other shops or, in a suitable Danish fashion, selling them from converted bicycles.
These hand-held savory pastries have a history in certain parts of the United States as well, most notably upper Michigan and the Iron Range of Minnesota. Story goes, when the tin mines of south western England closed in the 1864, a large portion of the miners and their families emigrated to mining regions elsewhere in the world. Though the first written record of the pasty dates back to 1510, the distinctive 'D' shape is commonly attributed to its suitability to the miners. Portable and robust, the pasty was a full meal in an edible package. As the miners hands were undoubtedly dirty, the crimped crust served as a handle which they would eat around. Upon a visit to the region 3 years ago, I was told that the miners would then discard the crust in the mine for the fairies to eat, which would grant them safety and luck in return. I don't know if garbage fairies exist, but I'll do the same next time I have a pasty, just in case.
If this article had made you hungry or curious, there are a few places in Minnesota where one can find a traditional pasty or an interesting culinary take on this pastry-wrapped meal. For a traditional pasty in Minneapolis, head over to Milda's Cafe on 1720 Glenwood Ave. Traditional pasties can still be found aplenty in the Iron Range region if you have a hankering for a road trip. After experiencing the traditional recipe, which frankly, I find to be a bit bland, I recommend trying some of the more inventive fillings at Jay's Cafe in St Paul, Minnesota. The pasties here have a lighter crust with fillings like walnut, apple, chicken and smoked gouda or Fischer Farms pork shoulder, wild mushrooms and barbecue sauce. Neither of these restaurants are fancy or pretentious, but like the pasties they serve, just comforting and wholesome.
Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics