Cornish pasties have now got protected status under the EU Protected Geographical Indication rules which lay down the composition and appearance of this working man’s delicacy. So, just like Cornish clotted cream, Cornish pasties can only be made in Cornwall.
There are 40 or so British food products similarly protected but we are way behind the French and Italians in this regard.
It is estimated that 87 million pasties are produced every year. From mid-March, when their protected status comes into force, they must have fillings of beef, potato, onions and swede, a light seasoning and no additives or preservatives. They are cooked in a semi-circular shape with a crimped edge and glazed with milk or eggs to give it that golden brown colour.
The pasty was ideal for the miners as it was a self-contained meal which they could easily carry. There are claims that they have found remains of them in caves going back 8,000 years but there is a 16c reference to them being served with claret at a civic banquet.
Some people claim they originated in the middle east and were brought to Cornwall by traders and pirates and this is where it gets interesting for me. I regularly visit Lithuania and I took a colleague in 2006 and we decided to visit Trakai. Trakai was the HQ of Grand Duke Vytautas in the 14c and where he built castles amongst the five lakes, one of which survives today (having been protected during soviet times by the local soviet commissar who actually tried to renovate it).
The Grand Duke brought a group of Karaites to Lithuania to act as his bodyguard and they settled in Trakai where they maintained their own community and language. They were probably from the Crimea but originated in Mesopotomia (now Iraq) and their religion was a mixture of judaism, christianity and possibly islam. They built a Kenesa, a Persian or Karaite synagogue, which is still there and one of the few surviving in Europe (the Nazis couldn’t decide whether or not they were jewish but they still had a hard time of it).
We were told we had to try a traditional Karaites dish called a Kibinas. So we found a cafe by the lake, ordered our Švyturis beer and kibinai. When it came it was delicious, a hot pastry filled with chopped meat and onions with a glazed finish, in a semi-circle with a crimped edge.
So a Cornish pasty? Check out the picture and make up your own mind where they originated.
Updated 15 March 2011: OK now I’ve tried the kibinai in Vilnius and I have to say they were delicious with a choice of fillings. I had chicken and beef, my colleague had chicken and spinach. And today in Rimi (like Asda) we had them again in the cafeteria with freshly squeezed orange juice for less than a pound. A few years ago we could only find them at Trakai and at the airport cafe. Then they modernised the airport and the homely cafe closed so it was a bit too far to pop down to Trakai for one. So it’s good the Kybinini has opened to offer these Mesopotomian cornish pasties.