A traditional British foodstuff, originally developed for the tin miners of Cornwall in the far southwest of the country. A pasty consists of a circle of pastry filled with meat, potatoes and other vegetables which is then folded over to form a filled semicircular thing.

Like other traditional British foods such as shepherds pie these would be made the night before using local ingredients, and were handily self-contained so that they could be taken to work in the morning and eaten later on. A proper Cornish Pasty will have a very thick crust along the joined edge where the two halves of the pastry were joined together: this is because tin extraction used to require handling arsenic, and the miners used to hold the pasty by the crust and eat the filling, then throw away the arsenic-contaminated crust afterwards.

I'd never had a Cornish Pasty until last year. Of course I'd thought that I had, after all, you can buy Cornish Pasties in any newsagents or corner shop across Britain, and most chip shops will happily sell you pasty and chips. Then I went to Penzance in Cornwall and bought a pasty from one of the shops there. The pasties I was used to were filled with a greyish-brown unidentified "meat" and filled out with large amounts of carrot, potato and swede. The pasty I bought in Cornwall had large 3/4" cubes of the finest, most tender steak imaginable, supplemented by a tasty gravy and real fresh vegetables. Most definitely a meal unto itself, and unless you've eaten a pasty from a small local bakery in Cornwall, you've never eaten one!

I think this experience ties in a little with a tale that Bill Bryson tells in his book about the United States, " The Lost Continent". He mentions a region of the northern US (Michigan perhaps, although I'm afraid I don't fully remember) where they sell pasties. When he bought one and the shopkeeper found out he'd spent time in Britain and had tasted real Cornish pasties, the shopkeeper was overjoyed: at last here was someone who could tell him whether or not his pasties were true to the original recipe. Apparently they were, although Bryson relates that he'd spent so much time back in America that his taste buds had become jaded to anything not packed with artificial sweeteners and flavourings.

One final point, "pasty" is pronounced so as to rhyme with "mass tea", ie a short "a". It doesn't rhyme with tasty or pastry, despite the fact that if it did you could derive some good limericks...

Pasties are made from light, flaky pastry, almost like puff pastrty but slightly denser. They are traditionally filled with a "base" of onions, potatoes, swedes and gravy, topped with generous quantities of diced steak. These days however it is possible to get them with various fillings, from chicken and leek to the highly unorthodox feta cheese, pecans and spinach. Pretty much all pasties you'll see are shaped like a half circle with a thick braided crust along the rounded edge, and range in size from about 3 to 10 inches or so for the larger ones.

The best pasties I've had in the UK come from two shops: one in the Covered Market in Oxford and one in a small alleyway off Milsom St. in Bath. I don't remember what they're called, but believe me, you can easily find them - just navigate by the smell. Both shops make a large variety of vegetarian and vegan pasties, a great thing as it can be difficult for veggies to get hot food-on-the-go. The Bath pasties are frankly somewhat better, especially the giant steak pasty which is the size of my head and one of which will set you up for an entire cold winter's day.

Oh and by the way, the whole tin miners holding the pasties by the thick crust is apparently an urban legend.

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