Introduction: Cornish Pasty - Potato Version (Gluten Free)

About: I am an escapee from modern life, now living by the sea in a forest garden in France. After over 20 years industrial experience, I quit my managerial position to study for a degree in Engineering. That done I …

Before we came to live in France we had a house purchase fall through in the UK, in Cornwall, an old house on a hill overlooking the sea. In a strange twist of fate we ended up across the channel in an old French house and if you climb up one of the trees in the garden, you can still see almost the same bit of sea. So although we love living here, every now and again when we have a pang of remorse for what could have been and want to wallow in nostalgia, we make a Cornish Pasty for our supper.

What is a Pasty and How Does it Differ From a Pie

Mining started in Devon and Cornwall in the Bronze age around 4,000 years ago. Once a world leader in tin production, in its heyday, Cornwall boasted 2,000 tin mines. It also had copper mines and in the 18th century the area around Cambourne (home to the World famous College of Mining) produced so much copper, that it was known as “the richest square mile in the old world”. Mining is an incredibly energy-consuming job and miners had to eat well and because of the nature of their work, they often ate 'on the hoof' underground and without recourse to hand-washing facilities. To this end the pasty was invented or at least adapted from a 13th century recipe, to their needs. A unique form of folded pie which held within its golden wheat-flour crust, a complete meal of meat, potatoes, vegetables and gravy, the pasty has two disposable pastry ends. This way the substantial pasty could be held in both of the miner's hands using these 'handles' or 'ears', which he could then throw away at the end of the meal. The pasty also had a unique shape in that it stood upright, with the pasty crenelations, crimped along the topmost edge, somewhat like the back of a dragon, for which Cornwall is also famous.

What Goes Into a Pasty?

The answer is anything and everything and there's an ancient myth that the Devil would never cross the Tamar river into Cornwall 'because he was afraid of ending up in a pasty'. There are some wonderful pasty shops in Cornwall which prove this point and have serried ranks of seemingly hundreds of varieties and I remember a particularly wonderful one in Tintagel, which ships its pasties around the World! Basically however, whatever you would put on a plate to eat for your lunch or dinner can be wrapped in pastry and made into a pasty.

....and as always there was a gourmet version:

And half cut down, a pasty costly-made,
Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay,
Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks

Imbedded and injellied.........

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Audley Court (1842)


The ingredients I use are organic.

Potato Pastry Dough

Makes 3 pasties - 1 large, 1 medium, 1 small

4 large potatoes (2¾lbs or 1.25kg)

Lard or butter for greasing the baking tin/pan

Rice flour for dusting

Salt and black pepper

Filling - please note I make up this filling the night before - eat half and keep the rest to make the pasties - that way the flavour increases and compliments the potato!

1½ cups - 12oz - 350g of minced beef

1 onion

2 Sweet Bell Peppers - I used red and black

1 carrot

2¼ cups - 1 Imperial Pint - 500ml of tomato purée (mine's homemade, so you will need less if it is concentrated)

½ teaspoon each of: coriander seeds, mustard seeds and cumin seeds

3 bird's tongue aka pili pili aka piri-piri chillies

Preheated Oven

430°F - 220°C

Step 2: Create the Potato Pastry Dough

Peel the potatoes, chop into chunks and boil until they are firm but can be easily pierced with a fork.

Set aside to cool.

Mash with a hand masher.

Step 3: Create the Filling

Peel and chop the onion.

Peel and slice the carrot.

Chop the peppers.

Dry fry the spice seeds and chopped chillies in a heavy frying pan until the mustard starts to crackle.

Place seed into a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder

Soften the onion in a heavy-bottomed pan with a little lard.

Add peppers and carrot and continue until they are soft.

Add the spices.

Stir and cover to let the flavours develop (about 5 minutes).

Add the meat and mix well.

Lower heat and eave to cook slowly until meat is cooked (about 20 minutes).

Add tomato tomato purée heat mixture, stirring frequently, until it starts to simmer.

Take off heat.

Leave to cool.

Step 4: Prepare the Potato Pastry Dough

Dust board and rolling pin with rice flour.

Work the mashed potato into a ball.

Break the dough in half and reform into two balls.

Take one dough ball and roll out on the board in an ellipse shape and to a thickness of around ⅛" to a ¼" - 3mm to 6mm.

For this large pasty I am going to cheat and leave it lying on its side but in fact some traditional Cornish Pasties are made in this way. So prick the pastry around a half of the dough that will be folded over the filling. This will keep the dough crisp as it allows any steam to escape from the filling.

Grease your pie tray.

Slide the pastry from the board onto the tray.

You are now ready to fill the large pasty.

Step 5: Making the Pasties

Firstly you will need to ensure that the filling is not too moist otherwise it will make the potato pastry dough too soggy and it will not crisp. Secondly potato dough is very forgiving - so although more likely to break in transit from the board to the tin, it is easy to add more dough and sculpt it onto the pasty like clay.

Remove spoonfuls of filling with a slotted spoon to allow for the liquid to drain from the mix. This excess liquid can be made into a sauce to accompany the pasty or saved and if needed, frozen as a stock for future use.

Place enough filling in one half of the pasty shape to fill it but allow for the easy closure and sealing of the dough.

Fold over the dough to cover the filling, making any necessary adjustments by adding or subtracting mash.

Seal the pasty by pinching or crimping the edges between the index finger and thumb.

Divide the rest of the dough, taking ⅔ to make the medium pasty and leaving the remainder for the small.

Repeat as for the large pasty but once rolled both these sizes can be moved with a fish slice onto the tray. The pastry should also be pricked everywhere except where the filling will go (see photo and below).

Place the filling around the middle of the ellipse, leaving room to form the handles at each end.

Fold the edges up to meet each other and crimp together.

Place in the oven, on the middle shelf for around 30 to 40 minutes but check from time to time to make sure of the smaller pasty which will cook more quickly. This can be removed in advance and either kept warm or given to a hungry observer!

Step 6: Variations on a Theme

These pasties make great festive snacks. We often make tiny pasties as appetisers or for a first course.

There is a type of pasty that goes even further with the 'full meal in a pastry wrapper' idea and has two chambers within, one of which is filled with jam. That way you get dessert too! I'm not sure how this would work with potato but it is definitely something we will be trying with the pastry version.

Hope you've enjoyed this nostalgic trip to Cornwall and if you are interested in more of our recipes then my wife and I have a blog which explores mostly ancient dishes from around the World made from simple organic ingredients but with delicious results - Simply Organic Recipes

All the very best, Andy

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