Tonia Lewis looks at the legend of the Cornish Tin miners' pasty and asks, ‘were the crusts really used as handles and did the delicacy contain savoury and sweet fillings at opposite ends?’
Plenty of pasty shops, pubs, restaurants and other Cornish eateries advertise their Miners’ Pasties as containing both savoury and sweet ingredients, usually in the form of traditional meat pasty ingredients at one end and a juicy apple filling at the other. But is this actually representative of the pasties eaten by Cornish Tin Miners, or is it a 21st Century marketing ploy?
Similarly, were the crusts used as handles, or is that another fanciful myth?
Miners’ Pasties sold at the Original Looe Bakery contain an all-traditional Cornish Pasty filling. No apple nor a hint of any other ‘dessert’ in there. Is that right? Well, you can certainly find plenty of apocryphal stories, and indeed the combination miners’ pasty is heavily sold in both America and Australia, especially at the Central Deborah Gold mine in Bendigo, but no hard evidence that the dish was ever eaten in Cornish Tin mines. So, it appears that, at best, the sweet filling was an addition of miners that emigrated to far away lands. Another myth?
Next, let’s address the other oft-repeated assertion that the crust was used as a handle to prevent the miner from ingesting arsenic – a common poison in tin mines - and then subsequently discarded. This led to the legend of The Knockers, spirits in the mine that warned miners of an impending collapse by making a knocking sound, providing they had been liberally bribed with crusts!
Well, food history researcher Glyn Hughes shocked traditionalists earlier in 2020 when he appeared on Greg Wallace’s Inside the Factory. He insisted that stories of the tin miners holding their pasties by the crust were made up! His evidence – that pictures from as far back as the 1890s showed miners holding their pasties with cloth bags. He also trawled through thousands of 19th and 20th century written articles and newspapers and could find no reference to miners eating the pasty by holding the crimp. He is also supported by historian Ruth Goodman in his claims.
So, are they right? Or are they recklessly trampling over years of Cornish tradition? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing - our huge miner’s pasty is all savoury and you should eat all of it, including the crust! No knockers here ......