An ancient ‘fast food’!

Think of Devon, and you probably think of cream teas. Think of Cornwall and it’s pretty likely you’ll think of a Cornish pasty. Gosh, didn’t we enjoy tucking into them as children on the beach – sadly, my memory is always of pasty with added sand! But this immensely popular dish is a great example of an early packed lunch or convenience food.

There’s lots of historical evidence confirming the existence of the Cornish pasty, the earliest as far back as the 13th century during the reign of Henry III. The pasty became commonplace in the 16th and 17th centuries and, by the 18th century, it was 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. 

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 perfect for their needs. Its size and shape made it easy to carry – its pastry case insulated the contents and was durable, while its wholesome ingredients provided enough sustenance to see the workers through their long, hard working days. 

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 eat them safely. The crust (the crimped edge) was used as a handle which was then thrown away due to the high levels of arsenic in many of the tin mines – ugh! 

The Cornish pasty recipes were handed down from generation to generation, often by word of mouth and rarely written down because they were made almost every day. Young girls were often made to practice crimping techniques using plasticine before being allowed to work with pastry!

You’ll find lots of different recipes online, but here’s a nice simple one to try. I personally think the addition of white pepper helps give it that lovely peppery kick that I remember so clearly from my childhood. Enjoy!

To make 4 Cornish pasties

Ingredients 

  • For the pastry
  • 125g chilled and diced butter
  • 125g lard
  • 500g plain flour, plus extra
  • 1 egg, beaten 

For the filling 

  • 350g beef skirt or chuck steak, chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 175g swedes, peeled, finely diced
  • 1/2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp ground white pepper 

Method

 

  1. Rub the butter and lard into the flour with a pinch of salt using your fingertips or a food processor, then blend in 6 tbsp cold water to make a firm dough. Cut equally into 4, then chill for 20 mins. 
  2. Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Mix together the filling ingredients with 1 tsp salt. Roll out each piece of dough on a lightly floured surface until large enough to make a round about 23cm across – use a plate to trim it to shape. Firmly pack a quarter of the filling into one half of each round, leaving a margin round the edge. Brush the pastry all the way round the edge with beaten egg then carefully fold the empty half of the pastry across to form a semi-circle, or ‘D’ shape, and pinch the edges together to seal. Lift onto a non-stick baking tray and brush with the remaining egg to glaze.
  3. Bake for 10 mins, then lower oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 and cook for 45 mins more until golden. Great served warm for lunch, in a picnic… or on the beach!

 

 

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A load of old cordwainers!

Tools of a cordwainer’s trade.I am always fascinated by words and their origins and coming across old names for things always piques my interest. Partner in crime writing, Julia, recently wrote an article about a woman who made shoes and made the point that she was most definitely NOT a cobbler… she was a cordwainer. What a wonderful term! This, of course, set me off and I began Googling and have found out all sorts of fascinating things…

Old names for trades are really quaint and often highly descriptive, what a shame we no longer use most of them. Here are some examples:

  • Carnifex – butcher
  • Cissor – tailor
  • Flauner – confectioner
  • Huckster – seller of small articles/wares
  • Nedder – needle-maker
  • Puddler – wrought iron worker, mixer of molten pig iron into wrought iron
  • Tipstaff – policeman, bailiff, constable
  • Whitcher – maker of chests

A huckster from the 1860s… long before the advent of the website!Hmmm… perhaps I should promote myself as a ‘Huckster’ as through the website we sell lots of ‘small articles and wares’ – what do you think?

If you are called Cooper or Baxter, you may well know that your ancestors were barrel makers (cooper) and bakers (baxter).  But what if you are a Spicer, Leech or Fuller? Somewhere along the line your ancestors would have been (in order) grocers, doctors and felt or cloth makers.

It’s fascinating to see how our names evolve over the centuries. People’s accents and the listening and spelling capabilities of parish clerks are usually responsible for all the different versions of names we have today. She’s not sure, but Julia thinks ‘Wherrell’ is a corruption of ‘wheeler’. As her family originates from Wiltshire, the accent would make wheeler sound more like “woller’ or ‘worrell’ and eventually, ‘wherrell’.

‘Sheen’ is not an easy name to sort out, but most likely it has Irish origins. The original Gaelic form of the name Sheen is ‘O Siodhachain’, which may derive from ‘siodhach’ which means peaceful, so that’s quite nice!

And the difference between a cobbler and a cordwainer? A cobber mends shoes, a cordwainder makes them. The word is derived from ‘cordwain’, or ‘cordovan’, the fine leather produced in Córdoba, Spain. So now you know!

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Looking forward in 2014…

I always love the first few days of any New Year as there’s so much promise in what could happen in the next twelve months. If I look back over the past year many things have happened that I didn’t have a clue about this time last year, so there is always the excitement of what could be round the corner.

I know we have to take the bad times  as well as the good but I am going to try harder this year to make more good things happen. So often it’s the little things that make me feel good rather than the big things – I tidied my craft room over the Christmas holiday and that’s making me feel really good.

I’m going to give myself some ‘me’ time regularly this year, and I invested in some more scented candles and I’m going to enjoy nice perfume and maybe a book, a game or just some time cuddled up on the sofa with Wellington, whose days I know are numbered but while he is here, he is lovely to cuddle!

I’m also looking forward to finishing my second novel with my ‘partner in crime writing’, Julia. It should be finished in April or May, we are about a third of the way through at the moment. Although there’s a lot of head-scratching and plotting, it’s also exciting as the plots starts to unfold as you are never 100% sure how it is going to turn out!

Sometimes the things that make you feel good can take you by surprise, doing something that benefits someone else can be really uplifting.

On a more down to earth note I am aiming to declutter a room in my house each month this year, I don’t have twelve rooms that need decluttering but I am building in a ‘fail’ for some of the months when work gets too busy or other things grab my time and attention.

I would love to tell you that I intend to succeed spectacularly with my diet this year, but all I can do is try and be kind to myself if I falter and then fail as I have so many times before – but the trying is always the thing that counts. So my resolution for this year and the thing uppermost in my mind is going to be just that saying – the trying is always the thing that counts and who knows what will have happened by January 2015!

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Christmas stockings

My major task this week is to find lovely little stocking fillers for my daughter’s stocking. I realise I have very few Emily-free days before she is home from university and will be as nosy as a five-year old about where presents might be hiding even though she is now 21!

Christmas stockings have been hung for ages but there’s no definitive history, it’s all folklore or tradition. Some people just have presents in the stocking – all supplied by Father Christmas. Some have a stocking, and then Father Christmas comes along and leaves larger presents under the tree. In our family’s case, we have stockings, and then all the presents are from real people rather than Father Christmas.

We always leave gifts for the reindeer and Santa – I don’t mean for a moment that Emily still believes – but I think we all just enjoy the little ritual of carrots for the reindeer, orange juice for Father Christmas as he is driving (Father Christmas was a little disappointed about that!) and a mince pie or chocolate brownie depending on what’s in the cake tin, to sustain him through his busiest night of the year.

When the girls were little, it was easy to have a limit of £4-5 for anything in the stocking, now it’s so much harder. Not only have prices gone up – I saw a £45 cashmere scarf advertised as a stocking filler today – but also adults are much harder to find things for than little girls! As tradition dictates, there’ll be a satsuma, some gold chocolate pennies and then a few other sweet treats, the obligatory amusing bubble bath and sadly this year I have stooped to a parrot key ring that swears – not a very good example but it is highly amusing.

So it’s full speed ahead for me – a personalised cupcake making apron (she loves to cook), some underwear, funny socks … thank goodness for the internet!

So, what are your stocking traditions?

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Photographs: to print, file or…?

With the arrival of my little granddaughter Grace – actually not so little now as she is gaining weight well and is nearly 10lbs – good for you Gracie! Anyway I digress, with a new addition to the family it made me look back and get out some photo albums from thirty years ago when my daughter Pippa was born.

There was a collective gasp when we compared newborn and first month photos and the similarity was incredible, no hiding whose daughter Grace is! I love family similarities (well the better ones) it feels comforting somehow to know the genes are working! But flicking through all the family history and remembering days out and birthdays etc, made me worry about my photographs taken today.

I love my computer, the internet and all things digital – to an extent. I know full well that Richard and I have lost some photographs from about seven or eight years ago, simply because a computer decided to die on us and we hadn’t been thorough enough to back things up. Our fault yes, but no way at all of ever recovering those lost moments.

Which is better I wonder, endless packets of negatives and print costs as you go somewhere to have them developed or to be at the mercy of your technical inefficiencies. We now have a sacred harddrive that we load with pictures and then put away somewhere safe till the next batch.

So what I am saying is – should we print out any really precious photos (possibly a real need for scrapbooking here!) as well as keeping them safe on a memory stick? What about the future in a hundred years time, will they laugh at our current technology and not be able to read it? I have photos from 1850 onwards all framed and hanging in my downstairs cloakroom, no problem with future generations being able to look at those.

What do you think?

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