Cornish Comfort Food for Your Autumn Holiday
The air may be a bit colder, the wind a bit more brisk, but a Cornish holiday escape in the autumn is still a wonderful adventure. With less people during this time of year, it is the perfect place to find some relaxation and comfort – especially for your stomach.
There are many contenders for what would be called quintessentially “Cornish” comfort foods. With a table rich in seafood, fresh game, vibrant dairy farms, and hearty produce, the great food is a great reason to visit. Of course, there are the traditional Cornish cream teas with their delicious clotted cream; there are fairings biscuits and saffron buns. Some travel to the county to get their hands on freshly produced Cornish Yarg cheese.
We narrowed our menu down to three spectacular choices. Whether you are enjoying one of our idyllic St Ives holiday cottages, or maybe trying to bring a little of the South West into your home, here are some great choices for tucking into some pure Cornish comfort food.
Any argument about what makes the perfect Cornish food usually begins and ends with the pasty. According to the Cornish Pasty Association, the basic recipe is straightforward, and mandatory:
- sliced or diced potato
- swede (also called a turnip)
- diced or minced beef
- seasoning to taste – usually just salt and pepper
The Cornish pasty first appeared in the 1200s during Henry III’s reign. Over the centuries the hearty food became a common meal for poorer working families, who could only afford cheap ingredients such as potatoes, swede and onion. As conditions improved, the meat was added to the pasty.
Miners and farm workers took this portable food with them to work. Its pastry pocket and shape made it easy to carry, and helped to insulate the pasty’s contents. Furthermore, its wholesome ingredients gave the labourers the needed energy and nutrition to get their hard work done. By the early 20th century, the Cornish pasty has become “famous” and produced on a scale to supply and feed industrial workers through Great Britain and Ireland.
There are some fairly stringent rules in cooking pasties. The association says: “no meats other than beef, and no vegetables other than those listed in the mandatory ingredients are to be used in the filling.”
The filling ingredients must be uncooked at the time of sealing the product. Even the proportions are looked at when crafting the perfect pasty. The association would like the meat content to be at least 12.5 per cent of the whole pasty and vegetable content must not be less than a quarter.
If you would like to make you own pasty at home, here is The Guardian’s very detailed guide to pasty perfection.
A weird and wonderful culinary creation, this famous Cornish dish combines the region’s seafood culture with a bit of folklore and storytelling.
As the story goes, a local fisherman from Mousehole, Tom Bawcock, sailed out into the stormy sea to go fishing. The town was starving and Tom went out to sea in order to save the town. When he returned, he had caught seven different types of fish. The fish were cooked into a pie and served to the famished townspeople.
Unlike other traditional Cornish comfort foods, there is a certain amount of freedom involved in the cooking of Stargazy pie. Traditionally, it contains pilchards with their heads poking out of the pastry crust. There was also the development of individual fish being wrapped in pastry – in a type of a fish sausage roll – also with the heads sticking out.
Famous chefs have taken inspiration from the dish and have created masterpieces. Mark Hix's version from the BBC’s Great British Menu program featured rabbit and crayfish under the pastry cover, with four of the crustaceans popping out through the crust. The dish went on to be the main course at the British Embassy in Paris.
Here is a variation from the BBC on the traditional Stargazy pie, using sardines instead of pilchards.
Heavy cake – or called hevva cake in the local dialect – is a simple cake made from the combination of flour, lard, butter, milk, sugar and raisins.
The cake grew to prominence as a food staple in the Cornish fishing industry. In the 1800s, local pilchard fishermen would get help from their wives, who would act as lookouts called “huers”. The huer would climb the high seaside cliffs and scan the coast for shoals of the fish. When spotted, the lookout would shout out “hevva, hevva” to alert the fishermen below.
As tradition had it, the wives would then bake cakes for the fishermen to celebrate their catch and return home.
The cakes are complete with a criss-cross pattern scored across the top that represents fishing nets. When tasting the cake, it is clear the term “heavy” is a misnomer. If made correctly, the cake is a light and tasty treat.
To make your own, here is a Cornish Heavy Cake recipe.