Hsitory of the Cornish Pasty

Cornish Pasties have been around for centuries. These hand-held, portable, pastry parcels filled with meat and vegetables are enjoyed throughout the world. Pasties are regarded as the national dish of Cornwall.

  • The name “pasty” is said to come from the medieval word “paste” or “pasta”, meaning a pie filled with venison, or other meat, and vegetables. A pasty is sometimes referred to as a pie that is baked and eaten by hand without the need for a dish or cutlery.

Pasties were the ideal wholesome and filling lunchtime food for people who worked in the tin mines in Cornwall. The pasty would be cooked in the morning by the miner’s wife and the thick pastry outer layer would keep the heat inside and therefore keep the food warm for many hours while the miners were at work.

  • To make the pasties easy for the miners to hold, they were made in the shape of a half-moon, with rope-like crimping down one side to form a handle. The miners’ wives would stamp initials on the bottom corner of each pasty so the miners would know whose pasty was whose.

“Oggy”, “Oggy”, “Oggy”

Tin-mining-cornwall-c1890

  • At lunchtime, the miners’ wives would take the pasties to the mines. It is said that they would shout “Oggy”, “Oggy”, “Oggy” down the mineshaft to let their fathers, husbands and sons know the food was ready. In return, the miners would shout “Oi”, “Oi”, “Oi”, and come up to collect their pasties.

When eating the pasty, the miner would start at the end furthest from their initials so they could return to it later and know it was their pasty! Using initials was also useful if the pasties contained different ingredients.

  • Working in the mines was very dirty and hazardous with arsenic dust that got on to their hands. Using the crimped edge as a handle, the miner could safely enjoy his pasty and leave the edge and the corner with their initials uneaten.

Superstition suggests that leaving a piece of uneaten pasty in the mining tunnels was considered to bring good luck. The uneaten pasty was given as a gift to gremlins who lived in the mines and were said to cause mischief, such as mines collapsing and accidents to occur. Leaving food was said to appease the gremlins and avoid trouble.

  • Whether this rumour is true or not, the miners certainly benefited from not eating the corner of the pasty they had touched with their hand which may have been coated with poisonous arsenic.

Another popular rumour is that the devil was so scared of the Cornish women’s habit of putting anything and everything into a pasty that he would not cross the River Tamar from Devon into Cornwall.