1841 Cornish pasty arrives with miners

My mother's Cornish pasties - not pretty, but pretty delicious

In fact, the Cornish pasty most likely arrived in South Australia earlier than 1841. By this time, some 941 Cornish families had taken advantage of the offer of free passage to the new colony. However, after the 1841 discovery of silver and lead at Glen Osmond, near Adelaide, their numbers increased. The mining of tin in Cornwall was in decline and experienced miners were now in high demand in South Australia. The immigrants, of course, brought their food preferences with them.

The discovery of copper –  in 1843 at Kapunda and in 1845 at Burra – increased the colony’s need for miners.  But mineral wealth wasn’t exclusive to South Australia.  In the 1850s, the Victorian gold rush also attracted many Cornish immigrants, including my great, great grandfather, Thomas Trezise. At one point sharing a claim with Eureka Stockade hero Peter Lalor, Thomas eventually abandoned the diggings to run a pub. As fate would have it, one of his descendants reinforced the Cornish heritage by marrying into the equally Cornish Hollow family. Little wonder that the Cornish pasty was a family tradition throughout my childhood.

As a youth, my great-grandfather Sam Hollow  emigrated with his family from Redruth in the heart of Cornwall’s tin-mining region. The pasties were traditional miners’ fare. A miner ate half his pasty mid-morning and saved the rest for lunch. The pastry carried a distinctive mark, so he could identify his own half-eaten meal, while the crimped crust allowed him to hold the pasty with his filthy fingers, without contaminating his food. The crust was discarded afterwards or, legends say, thrown down the deepest shaft to placate the guardian spirits known as “the knockers”.

In 2011, the Cornish pasty received Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status from the European Union. This means a true Cornish pasty must follow the traditional recipe – and be made in Cornwall. Our family pasties qualified on the first count, at least.

They were produced every Saturday, according to a time-honoured family recipe handed down from mothers to daughters. These pasties were goliaths of their kind. Their ends hung over the edges of the average dinner plate. The convention was to cut off a corner and put it aside for morning tea on Sunday, a warm-up for the lunchtime roast. When my father’s extended family gathered for Cornish pasties, whoever was cooking marked each one with a symbol that identified an individual’s preferences.

Saturday mornings during my childhood saw a pasty production line, with my grandmother chopping the potatoes and the onions while she kept a sharp eye on her daughter-in-law, my mother, who was making the pastry. The shortening used in the pastry had to be beef dripping, and preferably beef dripping that had been enriched by the juices of several Sunday roasts. The only permissible fillings for these genuine Cornish pasties were half-inch cubes of skirt steak, cubed raw potato, chopped onion and salt and pepper. In rare, adventurous moments, a touch of Swede turnip might be included, but the very thought of adding carrot or a green vegetable was heresy.

There is controversy about whether the true Cornish pasty has the crimp on the top or on the side. According to the Cornish Pasty Association, who should know, the crimp is along the side and the pasty is D-shaped. Well, our pasties always had the frill at the top, and since the family was Cornish through and through I regard this as optional.

The heartland of the Cornish pasty in Australia is still the area known as the Copper Coast, on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. A festival, known as the Kernewek Lowender (Cornish happiness), takes place in the towns of Wallaroo, Moonta and Kadina every two years. Copper was discovered in the area in 1859 and the assisted migration scheme helped attract a flood of Cornish tin miners to the region. To this day, some 10 per cent of the population of South Australia is of Cornish origin.

There are other kinds of pasties, of course. They just can’t be called Cornish. A search of newspapers from the past reveals venison pasties being served in Melbourne in 1855, while an 1877 article describes egg pasties, leeky pasties and “tiddie” or “tatie” (potato) pasties. At the Copper Coast festival, one pasty maker offers a “proper oggie”, two-thirds filled with meat and vegetables and one-third filled with apples. It seems Cornish pasty suppers were popular in the first half of the 20th century, and not just in South Australia. From Bathurst in New South Wales to Meekathara in Western Australia, the pasty night was a common alternative to the pie night.

The Australian company claiming to make the most authentic Cornish pasties is in Bondi. Cousin Jack Pasty Company’s recipe (with the exception of a touch of added parsley and somewhat fancier pastry) is pretty close to the our family version. Their crimping is a lot neater though – and it’s on the side. Their YouTube video shows how it’s done.

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