TRADITIONAL FOOD: These Cornish pasties look good enough to eat

MY stomach was beginning to tune up loudly as I boarded the bus for the airport terminal. I was still mentally berating myself for missing a sumptuous breakfast that would have set me up for my journey, more so because I had paid in advance for the privilege. From the hotel it is a relatively short journey to Stansted’s terminal, from where the free shuttle to the Car Rental Village runs every 10 minutes; then it would be the open road for me and the drive to Berkshire, the first stop on my UK tour. With the M11, M25 and M4 between me and my destination, ‘open road’ is perhaps a misnomer, but nevertheless, I should be there by mid-afternoon. By the time I alighted the bus, my digestive system was beginning Tchaikovsky’s 1812, so seeing a mobile cafe adjacent to the coach park, I made my way over to what turned out to be a Pasty Shack. I was still in plenty of time to collect my car from the rental people and, with my intestinal orchestra now in full swing, it was a choice between my emaciated corpse being found somewhere along the motorway hard shoulder or taking a few minutes out to restore my waning strength. I have never seen such a variety of pie fillings. They ranged from traditional lamb to turkey and pickle, and even curried mussel, but I played safe by ordering a steak and onion jobbie and plonked myself down at one of the plastic tables provided. A young Eastern European looking couple had sat at a nearby table where they were eyeing their chosen pasties with looks of bewilderment. “These were the traditional food of the tin miners in Cornwall in days gone by,” I informed the pair (I had heard them talking to the counter assistant and knew they spoke English). “And this thick piece of pastry around the outside,” I illustrated, “is how they held the pasty as they ate this bit,” and I demonstrated some more by taking a bite. They nodded dubiously. “You see, the miners would have poisonous arsenic on their hands from the tin, and so this bit they threw away.” “Pasty iss poison?,” asked the young man, horrified. “No no, you see . . . ” and I tried to explain again. But still they could not take in this historic gem and continued to stare at the pasties suspiciously as they sipped their coffees. I put the finishing touches to my own welcome meal and just to further emphasise the point about the crimped pastry edge, I threw a remnant to a crow that had landed nearby looking for scraps. My last sight of the couple, as I rumbled away with my luggage, was of them looking to the heavens open-mouthed. I am convinced they expected the crow to come crashing down, stone dead from arsenic poisoning.

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