Just give me a real veggie Cornish pasty!


Do vegetable pasties exist anymore? Do us a favour, would you, let me know where I can buy one. I’ve been looking for a proper job for almost 30 years.

I don’t mean vegetarian pasties, often somebody’s bizarrely-exotic idea of what we veggies would most like to eat besides just not meat and stuff, thanks. I just want a vegetable Cornish pasty.

Or a Devon one, I don’t mind. Or a Dorset one come to that, I’m Hardy county born and bred so I don’t object to supporting the local team. Is there such a thing as a Somerset pasty? I suppose there’s a traditional Bristol pasty too. Knew I shouldn’t have started this.

I don’t dislike sweetcorn, I’m not cornist

Actually, you know what, I don’t care where it’s from. My Aunt Fanny’s cat can knock up any counterfeit of the protected Cornish species on top of Hay Tor for all it matters – as long as it’s a proper job.

By which I mean that it contains only potato, onion, swede, turnip and white pepper. Maybe carrot, if you absolutely really have to, and a bit of cheese if you like, which I do.

But by proper job I also mean, that this vegetable Cornish pasty does not contain red peppers and sweetcorn. I can’t eat anywhere these days without vegetable pasties having red peppers and sweetcorn in them.

I don’t dislike sweetcorn, I’m not cornist; some of the best things I have ever had stuck in my teeth have been sweetcorn. And red pepper is an almost-favourite vegetable, after its hotter relative, the formidable morning-after thrill which is the Dorset Naga pepper and digestion stimulator.

But what’s that about, red peppers and sweetcorn being in a Cornish pasty? I know, it’s what most people like, market research will prove that it is hugely popular. But is it authentic? A well-known traditional, working-class Celtic staple from the pasty’s 17th Century origins is it, the red pepper? Not a native of Mexico or anything?

Tradition

sweetcorn_peppers
Yet they say it’s traditional. Am I also supposed to swallow that the old tin miners of yore could barely get to work each morning because of the hours it took to struggle through the vast fields of red peppers that must have covered the land in the 1650s?

And why put the corn in Cornwall? Was it to mark the legend that it took St Piran a bit of a while to convert the whole county because of delays caused by trying to find a path through the almost-mountainous thickets of indigenous sweetcorn, which of course hails from Newquay and not from anywhere like the New World?

Indeed, given the popularity of ostensibly-traditional vegetable pasties with sweetcorn, I’m surprised that ancient golden fields of it haven’t featured in Poldark. Although I confess that I don’t watch Poldark, so for all I know it may be the only thing that Demelza ever talks about, ‘oh take me in the maize, Ross, Elizabeth’ll never spot you in this massive forest.’

poldark
Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner), probably preparing for the pepper harvest

Come to think of it, given this traditional authenticity, you know that scene, the one when Ross did a spot of essential-to-the-plot-honest gardening, the one that made a hot and bothered nation run out of towels, wasn’t he scything sweetcorn in that? Bet he was. Have a look (he wrote, in order to gratuitously enable the accompanying image).

But, although it’s recklessly risking total war to complain about what should and shouldn’t have any right to be inside a pasty, let alone to dare sparking the next Korea over how the pastry should be crimped, or whether one should wear red or blue trousers when taking it out of the oven without risking something like a Papal bull against you, it ought to be a matter of great importance to the West Country that a save the Proper Cornish vegetable pasty campaign is launched, with the full backing of all local MPs.

It’s important because I fear that this, the most moreish taste of the West ever created, may be another old West Country way that is fading away, like pubs with lounge and public bars and drinking four pints of that scrumpy that they used to tell us kids was made with rats in the barrels.

I am sure that they must exist, but I have not managed to find a proper [I know, risky wording] corn and pepper free vegetable pasty since my youngest daughter was four years old, and last week we had the christening of her second child.

Pasty Issue

When people come to dinner, a rare occurrence these days because of what is explained in the rest of this sentence, I repetitively and tediously complain about that, that the last time I found a proper job Cornish was in St Ives in the early Nineties; somewhere in the high street, on the right. I bought loads.

OK, I’m a sad old-timer, harking back and against the tide, and I’m sure that when it comes to preferred vegetables, turnip possibly isn’t up there these days in the choice of most Millennials.

But does the provenly considerable demand for the modern Don Cortez version have to preclude a market for the original? Is there no demand beside mine for the old miners’ favourite? Surely they can’t be that difficult to bake, just leave out the American cousins. They won’t mind, Green Giant won’t go bust or get all un-jolly about it.

pastes_tejeda
Pasty shop in in Real del Monte, Hidalgo State, Mexico. Photo Thelmadatter

Also, why red peppers? Yes, we know that miners first took the pasty to Mexico in the 19th century, and that the world’s first pasty museum was built there at Real del Monte, but surely that’s no reason to so ubiquitously embrace the amigos’ translation of the proper Cornish?

River Cottage guv’nor and guru Hugh Multi-Syllablled once published an excellent guide to vegetable [and therefore vegetarian] cooking called River Cottage Veg Everyday. On page 52 of this, my favourite kitchen aid, there is a recipe for a good proper pasty – there’s not a pepper in sight.

Likewise, I suspect that The Indy’s pal Mark Hix didn’t rise from West Bay to the lauded heights where he stands today by adding a nice tin of extra sweet niblets to something that was perfectly fine before he started messing with it. Mark didn’t get the MBE for services to husks.

But does the proper Cornish vegetable pasty matter, or exist anymore? Has it been Americanised out of the market by migrants? But is it very uncool, if not very incorrect, to be pasty pepper phobic?

Or is the modern pasty the new grey squirrel? Should we be building a wall?

The Proper Cornish Veggie Pasty Campaign. Email tips and comments to voices@indyonline.co.uk

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.