British Billy tucks into a Cornish pasty

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  • By British Billy
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
I am often told that variety is the spice of life and, as a bit of spicy individual, I am more than happy to sample different delicacies that come my way. I get a bit weary of some of my American chums telling me that British food is bland and boring. There is plenty to tempt the discerning palate if you venture forth to explore and experience what is on offer.

The Cornish pasty has become available nationwide, much to the scorn of some of the fine folk of Cornwall. Cornwall is the most south-westerly county in England and most often visited by tourists who wish to visit Lands End. Controversially, it was a pasty from Cornwall's neighbouring county, Devon, which won the British Pie Awards in 2009.

Traditionalists claim that, to be worthy of the name, a Cornish pasty must have been made on the correct side of the River Tamar. Tempers flared, but once the crumbs had settled, it was agreed that the rules should be adjusted so that no such anomaly can occur in future.

Essentially, a Cornish pasty is a short-crust pastry case with a filling. It's a little different from a regular pie as it's made by placing the filling on a circle of pastry, folding the case over to wrap up the filling and crimping the edge to seal it, so you end up with a semicircular parcel of scrumptiousness. The traditional pasty is filled with beef, sliced potato, turnip or swede and onion, and then baked. In a proper pasty, the filling ingredients must never be cooked before they are wrapped in the pastry casing.

Most experts believe pasties have been around since the 18th century when Cornish tin miners first took them down into the mines for their lunch, using the thick crust as a handle. They were ideal as portable lunches for tin miners, fishermen and farmers to take to work. Housewives used to make one for each member of the household and mark their initials on one end of the pasty. The miners carried their pasties to work in a tin bucket which they heated by burning a candle underneath. They would all shout 'Oggie Oggie, Tiddy Oggie' in unison at crib, or meal time, before eating their traditional pasties, also known as 'oggies' or 'tiddy oggies'.

After eating the rest of their meal, the miners would throw away the pasty's thick, wide pastry edges, to avoid being poisoned by tin or copper dust from their fingers. These crimped pastry edges were then left for the mischievous 'Knockers', or ghosts, which were said to exist down the mines.

Sadly, the Cornish mining industry collapsed in the mid 1800s, forcing large numbers of miners, artisans and merchants to seek work abroad. Pasties accompanied Cornish settlers overseas, and can be found in many parts of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and the USA.

Although the traditional Cornish pasty is still a great favourite, there is much scope for experimentation. I have come across chicken balti pasties and pumpkin pasties in my research. My personal favourite would, of course, be a mouse pasty. What a marvellous idea. I shall have to suggest that one at home tonight. I have always fancied myself as a celebrity chef.