“Do you want it with extra gravy?” It was a question that floored me for a second as I bought a pasty at a bakery in South East Cornwall recently.
In all the years I have been buying pasties I had never been asked this before, so it took me a moment to process it.
Now, I like a pasty to be nice and juicy, so once I had realised what the woman behind the counter had said, I replied: “Yes please”.
I was planning to eat the pasty by the river at Halton Quay and as I drove there the aroma filled the car and the thought of an extra juicy pasty added to the anticipation.
Imagine my disappointment when I took a bite and realised it was filled with thick, rich, dark brown gravy.
It was a pie disguised as a pasty. The oozing, almost jelly-like substance completely overwhelmed that distinctive pasty flavour.
When I eat a pasty I want that hit of salt and pepper, onions and turnip – I know it’s swede but we always called it turnip for some reason – instead all I could taste was the gravy.
When did this phenomenon begin? Is this unique to this particular bakery? Or is there a sinister plot underway to alter the beloved Cornish pasty?
Maybe I am over-thinking this, but it’s important stuff.
The Cornish pasty has protected status and I for one don’t want to see the original mucked about with.
I know there are all sorts of variations now and that’s fine, as long as the traditional pasty is left alone.
We are funny about our local food and rightly very protective of it.
Look at the fireworks caused when the correct way to serve a cream tea is debated.
“Jam First” has become a slogan. One of the fiercest defenders of the jam first method is the brilliant comedian and local resident of South East Cornwall, Dawn French.
Dawn regularly takes to Twitter to reprimand anyone who dares to suggest the cream goes on a scone before the jam.
Her banter with her followers on this issue is hilarious.
I happen to prefer jam first, so regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, I am with Dawn on this one.
After my pasty/gravy trauma, I asked Radio Cornwall listeners if they had come across this before, and as you can probably imagine, the response was swift and decisive.
There was horror and disbelief that extra beef gravy was being added to a pasty. Most people agreed that a well-made traditional pasty with a knob of butter added inside before cooking will be juicy enough without the need for added gravy.
But it unleashed a whole host of individual twists on what is regarded as the original recipe.
We had listeners who used leeks instead onions. I had an Aunt who did that sometimes and I have to say it was a lovely change, but I wouldn’t want it all the time.
Others told me they had sometimes used corned beef. Again I have tried that, but I am not very keen.
Then we discovered lots of people put in a dollop of clotted cream instead of butter to give the pasty extra moistness.
Then the discussion moved on to the condiments to go with it.
One person told me they couldn’t eat a pasty without adding vinegar.
I must admit I had a relative who always had a homemade pickled onion with her pasty and would spoon a bit of the vinegar into the hole in the top. Someone else had to have brown sauce with it. I quite like that sometimes as well.
Then we got on to what to drink with it. I reckon you can’t beat a good cup of tea. But it turns out lots of people like sugar in their tea when eating a pasty, but don’t have sugar at any other time.
Coincidently, the day after this very important debate about Cornwall’s national dish, I happened to see an episode of the television programme ‘Inside the Factory’.
It featured a well-known pasty brand based in Callington. It was a fascinating insight into what it takes to produce pasties on an industrial scale.
They turn out thousands every day for distribution all over the country and they follow the traditional recipe to comply with the protected status.
But they mince the beef. This is apparently to ensure a proper distribution of the meat throughout the pasty. When the presenter Greg Wallace challenged the factory employee on this, he said minced beef was allowed.
And therein begins another debate: to mince to not to mince?
Every region of the country has specialities that they are rightly proud of. I am partial to a Melton Mowbray pork pie and Lincolnshire sausages as well as Yorkshire pudding.
As a nation we are lucky to have such a rich history of recipes that have been passed down through the generations.
I know I am biased, but I think in Devon and Cornwall we have been blessed with some of the best, from clotted cream to saffron buns.
However, as far as I am concerned the traditional Cornish pasty reigns supreme. I will just avoid the ones with added gravy!
Bye for now.