The Boss's Dog

The truth about the humble pasty

By The General

The Boss goes wandering off without me, now and then - without even asking.

He did it again last week. Went off to the Yorke Peninsular in South Australia, claiming he was on a "fact-finding mission" - but he was really going fishing.

That's what I suspected anyway but I heard him grumbling to the missus that the fishing had been called off because of windy weather.

So he and his mates had a good look around at the YP agriculture, which is an impressive amount of cropping; he says they get similar rainfall to here but it is pretty reliable and mostly comes at the right time. They once had 17 active trading ports around the peninsular and three of them still have bulk grain-handling facilities.

And they toured around the old mining areas, where the Moonta Mining Company pulled copper out over the 60 years until 1923. Most of this came out of a rich seam of copper called Elder's lode, which was only 2 metres wide but ran north-south for more than a mile, as deep as 750 metres. 

It became the richest source of copper in the British Empire and a lot of the Cornish tin and copper miners came out to work on it. Among the buildings that survive in the heritage area at Moonta, there's a Methodist church that seats more than 800 people. The mining Captain, or Superintendent, used to make sure all the miners regularly attended church with their families.

It was a tough life. The area didn't have any piped water until the 1890s and a lot of people died of typhoid. Eventually the mine developed a condensing plant which distilled the brackish water pumped up from the mine shafts and sold it to the miners for sixpence a bucket.

Anyway, the Cornish history still runs deep around Moonta, Kadina and Wallaroo, The Boss says, evidenced by the ease with which he could lay his hands on a Cornish Pasty. The Boss has always been partial to a pasty but he learned something at Moonta that he didn't already know.

Its about the crimping on the traditional pasty, which The Boss always thought was for decoration. It turns out that the tin miners back in Cornwall needed it because they would have arsenic on their fingers and the same thing happened in Moonta - arsenic is a naturally-occurring element in metal ores.

So when they sat down for lunch - not having a lot of water to wash their hands with - they would hold the pasty by its crimping and chomp into the soft pastry - then throw the crimping away. 

Straight away I figured the local dogs in the mining area wouldn't have survived for very long. If they were anything like me, they would gobble down half a dozen lumps of discarded crimped pastry without taking a breath.

I can see The Boss is working himself up to bake a few Cornish pasties - he brought back a traditional recipe to try out.

He says you have to start with a good elastic pastry with plenty of lard in it so it will wrap and curl, hold its shape without cracking. A lot of pasties are vegetarian these days but the traditional Cornish Pasty has meat in it - they suggest chuck or skirt steak with some fat on it, which produces a little gravy. It should be finely cut but not minced.

Likewise, the vegetables need to be chipped - according to the time they take to soften - rather than being diced, which is too lumpy, or minced, which is too soggy. The bottom layer is the turnip, chips the size of a thumb nail; then three-quarters of the potato, which should be an old one that softens easily, chips the size of a 5c piece. Add the layer of meat, some salt and pepper, the onion in chips the size of currants, then the rest of the potato to stop the meat sticking and drying out.

The trick with the crimping is to make sure the ingredients don't fall out, then prick the pasty to let some steam out and glaze with milk before placing in a hot oven - 220C for 10 minutes, The Boss says, then another 20 minutes at 190C. Let the pasty stand for 5 minutes so the steam inside will help soften everything.

The Boss likes the idea of the traditional layers. He says modern pasties tend to have everything mixed together but he wants to see how the traditional model goes. With the relish he made last weekend.

And I hope he remembers to throw away the crimping - in my direction. Woof!