I’m from New England, and despite being the closest part of the American mainland to Great Britain, New England lost most of its Queen-inspired flair over the years. It took a bit of overseas traveling before I experienced any real English culture, but it took a trip to the American Southwest to experience the Cornish pasty.
What the hell is a Cornish pasty? To the uninitiated, a pasty could easily be mistaken for a calzone, an Italian-inspired treat us Americans have transitioned to high school cafeterias, pizza parlors and microwaves. Aside from its self-contained nature, a pasty has very little to do with its Italian second cousin. And you don’t say it like ‘pasty’ as in ‘pale’: this ‘pasty’ rhymes with ‘nasty‘—at least the latter word’s American pronunciation.
The pasty is a self-contained little treat inside a pastry crust, traditionally containing some type of meat and potato concoction. The original pasty is said to have been developed by Cornish Tin miners as something they could carry into the mines with them and eat by hand. The thick, crimped edge of the crust was designed so the miners could use that portion as a handle, and discard it when they were through; arsenic poisoning from the minors’ dirty hands was a threat, and the pasty’s design was fully functional. The discarded crust was also thought to appease ghosts in the mines.
My first pasty encounter came not in Cornwall, but in Tempe, Arizona. Dean Thomas, a British transplant, found his way to Tempe in the early 2000s, and before his savings ran dry he brought a bit of his homeland’s history to the college neighborhood. Cornish Pasty Co was born—British inspired down to its pub feel, beer taps and pasties. This isn’t Dean’s first go at the restaurant business. Dean ran Bristol’s Sk8 & Ride skatepark in the UK and its Mexican restaurant and bar, Rolleno Loco, which was featured in Level magazine issue 2.
Cornish Pasty Co’s vast menu ranges from traditional pasties to specialty recipes developed by Dean himself. There’s even a vegetarian menu, a far cry from traditional mince meat, but delicious. The pasties at Cornish Pasty Co are a world away from the Hot Pockets Tempe’s college students grew up throwing in their microwaves and it’s clear they’re liking the authentic pasties in Tempe, as Dean recently added a second location in nearby Mesa.
Judging from the packed house in Tempe, we’ll be seeing more pasties on American soil in the future.
—Jared Souney, 25 February 2011