While we waited for the minibus to take us from the field to Trevaunance Cove, I saw one of the parking stewards contentedly eating a pasty (end first; I'd heard that the Cornish miners used to eat the middle and throw away the grimed crust, but our hands are cleaner these days). I asked him, "What's the best pasty in Cornwall?"
"The best one in St Agnes is from the bakery, by the church." And so it was, as we found later. Or at any rate, it was excellent, even if we hadn't tried any other outlets there. And the cake slices looked dangerously good, and large.
But in the whole of Cornwall? Barnecutts in Bodmin, he replied, his mate adding that it was the best of the reasonably-priced ones. Even better, the men agreed, was Aunty Avice's, made "at the back of a garage" in St Kew. It sounded like Jeremy Clarkson's ideal sports car manufacturer, a couple of blokes bashing metal in a unit on an industrial estate.
Then we got onto the bespoke ones. One woman would "go mad" if you dared use any sauce with hers; though he agreed you should have a lot of pepper in the mix. Wikipedia mentions a combination sweet and savoury version formerly eaten in Anglesey, but Cornwall does them, too: my former co-worker Gary from Wadebridge was asked to bring one of his mum's pasties back for a mate in Birmingham, and she made one of these combos that was so big it filled the back shelf of the car.
Pasties are taken seriously, and this year the Eden Project hosted the second World Pasty Championships. In the company category, the winner was from Bath; but the runners-up from St Just and Scorrier, both in Cornwall. Among individuals, Cornishman Billy Deakin from Mount Hawke won the amateur title for the second year running, while the three top professionals came from Bodmin and Padstow. ThisIsCornwall ran a story featuring five leading makers at the time, back in February.
According to the Cornish Pasty Association,
"A genuine Cornish pasty has a distinctive ‘D’ shape and is crimped on one side, never on top. The texture of the filling for the pasty is chunky, made up of uncooked minced or roughly cut chunks of beef (not less than 12.5%), swede, potato and onion and a light peppery seasoning.
"The pastry casing is golden in colour, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and robust enough to retain its shape throughout the cooking and cooling process without splitting or cracking. The whole pasty is slow-baked to ensure that flavours from the raw ingredients are maximised. No flavourings or additives must be used. And, perhaps most importantly, it must also be made in Cornwall."
That last point is borne out by EC Regulation 510/2006 (pdf), which drew unhappy comment from manufacturers outside the county. But it's no more than DOCG for Italian wines and cheeses, and I rate Cornish pasties as a similarly fine, characteristic regional product.
The nicest we've had is a steak pasty from the snack shop opposite Fowey ferry car park - really succulent, with a rich, thick gravy. Made in town, we were told. Don't know if that counts as a traditional Cornish pasty, but so what.
Our researches continue.
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