Saturday, July 26, 2008

REAL Cornish pasties

There are pasties and there are Cornish pasties, and it has been left to a vegetarian to tell them apart.

A six-year campaign by pasty makers in Cornwall has persuaded Hilary Benn, the Rural Affairs Secretary and vegetarian, that the name “Cornish pasty” should be protected in law. He has decided that the Cornish should have the exclusive right to use their county’s name when selling pasties, which took off as a staple food for the county’s tin miners in the 18th century.

If Brussels approves, the Cornish pasty will join the prestigious club of other top-quality produce in Europe such as Parma ham and champagne - though some leading French brands are angling to expand the champagne grape-growing region to take advantage of climate change. It will also mean that anyone attempting to pass off a similar pasty made anywhere else in Britain as authentic Cornish could face prosecution from trading standards officers.

The branding would also guarantee to consumers exactly what they are buying - so anyone eating a pasty with peas, carrots or spicy lamb instead of plain beef, or even with pretty glazed crimping along the top, will know it is not officially the real thing. According to the rules put forward by the Cornish Pasty Association, the authentic pasty must have a distinctive D-shape and be crimped on the side. This feature was demanded by miners who had dirty hands. They were able to eat the meat and vegetable pie and then throw away the grimy crust.

The filling must be uncooked mince or roughly cut chunks of beef - at least 12.5 per cent of the filling - mixed with potato, onion, swede or turnip, and a light peppery seasoning. No flavourings or additives are allowed. The pastry is then glazed with milk or egg and baked.

Mr Benn’s decision is a coup for Ginsters, which makes its Cornish pasties in Callington, Cornwall.

Mark Duddridge, its managing director, said: “This is fantastic news but the decision has been so long coming it’s caught us on the hop. We haven’t even planned a celebration. But if people are making pasties at the moment and calling them Cornish they will have to change the name on the label. We make authentic Cornish pasties and have staff who crimp them by hand in our factory.”

Rival firms have indicated that they intend to challenge the application at the European Commission. Kerry Foods, which produces Cornish pasties under the Miller and Clover brand, from a factory in Poole, Dorset, announced yesterday that it would fight the plan. Greggs Bakeries, which is based in Newcastle upon Tyne, and makes 200 million pasties a year, most of them sold as Cornish, is also to make a formal objection.

Cornish pasties are already worth £60 million a year to Cornwall, some 6 per cent of its food economy. Pasty makers employ 1,800 permanent staff and another 13,000 people benefit from the trade which produces 86.5 million pasties a year.

Elaine Ead, who makes up to 1,000 authentic Cornish pasties a day, learnt the recipe from her mother-in-law and the technique has transformed the fortunes of her Chough bakery on the quay in Padstow.

The popularity of her pasties, made and baked inside the shop, has allowed her to build a new bakery out of town and expand her staff to 20 during the summer months. She is thrilled that in future pasties sold as Cornish must hail from the county.

She thinks that too many people are conned. “I was in Gloucestershire recently and visited a bakery where they were making Cornish pasties. But they were using a pastry mix and were putting in carrots and peas. Well, that’s not a Cornish pasty, whatever it else it may be.”

She said the secret of a perfect pasty is the freshness of the vegetables and the art of hand-crimping the edge. She said: “Our real Cornish pasties contain freshly cut local potatoes, turnip and onions and the best cut of beef. We add only a little salt and pepper though the extra ingredient in our pasties is a dash of clotted cream.

“Then it’s in the oven. Our pasties are so fresh that a customer will have paid and be eating one 20 minutes after the vegetables were chopped.”

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