The Jamaican Patty v the Cornish Pasty

When we view the Black Lives Matter situation today we know that we cannot change history. Cornish people should never bury their past but look to their links to the Slave Trade, and in particular in Jamaica, as a new future with friends.

Descendants of slaves are as linked to the sea like the Cornish. One of the Jamaican counties is called Cornwall and its main port is Falmouth, they even eat a version of the Cornish Pasty called the Jamaican Patty and it’s these culinary delights are what I’m going to focus on in this blog.

The Cornish Pastie traveled with the Cornish sailors to Jamaica and became adapted over time to include local ingredients, and to suit the tastes and palate of the people, eventually developing into the Jamaican Patty’s of today. The Chinese and Indian influences in the spices came from indentured workers who travelled to the Caribbean to work following the abolition of slavery. The Jamaica Patty is a product of colonialism and migration developed after the introduction of the Cornish Pasty in the Caribbean.

The Jamaican Patty

The Jamaican Patty is a derivative of the Cornish Pasty. In the 17th Century many Cornish ships and sailors were involved in the triangle of routes between England, West Africa and the Caribbean for the trade in spices, slaves and sugar etc. As we mentioned above, this is still reflected today in Jamaican place names such as Cornwall County, Falmouth, and Trelawney Parish. Like the Cornish Pasty it has now been around for a few hundred years.

The Cornish Pasty travelled with the Cornish sailors to Jamaica and became adapted over time to include local ingredients, and to suit the tastes and palate of the people, eventually developing into the Jamaican Patties of today. Using the idea of the pasty from the Cornish,  Jamaicans also used  curry spice from the east Indians, who also migrated into Jamaica,  and cumin from slaves in order to  development of the beef patty.  Not only does the cumin and curry give the patty a distinct taste and spicy taste, the curry also gives the patty its golden colour. Cornish miners ate Pasty’s while they worked because of their small size and convenience which made it the perfect go-to food. These Pasty’s have evolved into what we have today. The Chinese and Indian influences in the spices came from indentured workers who travelled to the Caribbean to work following the abolition of slavery.

The Patty spread around the world, probably first in the USA and Canada, from the 50’s in Britain it became a popular snack especially in cities like Birmingham and Manchester with large West Indian populations.The Patty is now the commonest form of street or snack food in Jamaica, available from the smallest street vendor or market stall, right up to large dedicated chains of takeaway shops and restaurants.

Jamaican Patty (or occasionally Jamaican Puff) is now a generic description within the bakery trade, much like the Cornish Pasty, French stick, Swiss roll, or Danish pastry. Patty’s are manufactured and sold across the world by many different companies. Even within Jamaica itself there are many different makers, all with their own recipes and variations on pastry and fillings, as with the Cornish Pasty, so there is no single definitive recipe or ingredient, however Scotch Bonnet chilli and the pastry colour identify the Patty uniquely.

The Cornish Pasty

It is believed that the Cornish Pasty originated:

The pasty has been a documented part of the British diet since the 13th Century, at this time being devoured by the rich upper classes and royalty. The fillings were varied and rich; venison, beef, lamb and seafood like eels, flavoured with rich gravies and fruits. It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that the pasty was adopted by miners and farm workers in Cornwall as a means for providing themselves with easy, tasty and sustaining meals while they worked. And so the humble Cornish Pasty was born.

The wives of Cornish tin miners would lovingly prepare these all-in-one meals to provide sustenance for their spouses during their gruelling days down the dark, damp mines, working at such depths it wasn’t possible for them to surface at lunchtime. A typical pasty is simply a filling of choice sealed within a circle of pastry, one edge crimped into a thick crust . A good pasty could survive being dropped down a mine shaft! The crust served as a means of holding the pasty with dirty hands without contaminating the meal. Arsenic commonly accompanies tin within the ore that they were mining so, to avoid arsenic poisoning in particular, it was an essential part of the pasty.

Historic UK The Cornish Pasty

There’s a letter in existence from a baker to Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour (1510-1537) saying:

‘…hope this pasty reaches you in better condition than the last one…’

And so the humble Cornish Pasty was born. Cornish Pasty’s developed as portable lunches for tin miners, fishermen and farmers to take to work.

Housewives used to make one for each member of the household and mark their initials on one end of the pasty. The miners carried their pasties to work in a tin bucket which they heated by burning a candle underneath. They threw away the oggies’ thick, wide pastry edges after eating the rest of their meal, to avoid being poisoned by tin or copper dust from their fingers.

A typical Pasty is simply a filling of choice sealed within a circle of Pastry, one edge crimped into a thick crust. A good pasty could survive being dropped down a mine shaft! The crust served as a means of holding the pasty with dirty hands without contaminating the meal. Arsenic commonly accompanies tin within the ore that they were mining so, to avoid arsenic poisoning in particular, it was an essential part of the Pasty.

The traditional recipe for the pasty filling is beef with potato, onion and swede, which when cooked together forms a rich gravy, all sealed in its own packet! As meat was much more expensive in the 17th and 18th centuries, its presence was scarce and so pasties traditionally contained much more vegetable than today. The presence of carrot in a pasty, although common now, was originally the mark of an inferior pasty.

Long ago, Cornish miners shouted ‘Oggie Oggie, Tiddy Oggie’ in unison at crib (meal) time, before eating their traditional Pasty’s, also known as oggies (or tiddy oggies).

When excited spectators shouted ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie!’ in chorus at Sydney’s Olympic Games, they unknowingly boosted the worldwide popularity of that ubiquitous but peculiar British dish, the Cornish Pasty.

To conclude let us put the cat amongst the pigeons:

This I hope will create some decent debate. For me the Jamaican Patty is a far superior beast, mixed with cumin and curry seasonings (of Indian labourers) and cayenne pepper (from African labourers) who settled in Jamaica and the firecracker taste of the Scotch bonnet, a hot pepper indigenous to Jamaica, sealed the flavour, this is a taste explosion to die for, in many ways the Cornish Pasty is, dare I say, a bit dull by comparison.

My current home is in Falmouth, Cornwall and I’ve eaten my fair share of Cornish Pasty’s, however ‘my ansums’ the Jamaican Patty beats it by a country mile.

As a footnote it’s time that Falmouth, Cornwall and Falmouth Jamaica set up some mutual twinning exchanges and got together like genuine brothers and sisters.

Recipe for the Jamaican Beef Patty

INGREDIENTS

For the pastry:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Jamaican)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons cold water or as needed
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

For the Jamaican Patty:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chile stemmed, seeded, and minced (wear gloves!)
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder (preferably Jamaican)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal brand; if using another brand, start with half this amount and add more to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
  • ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 ½ pounds ground beef
  • ¾ cup dried breadcrumbs
  • ¾ cup beef broth or water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. To make the filling, heat the oil in a large, preferably nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, chile, curry powder, salt, thyme, and allspice, and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the ground beef and use the edge of a wooden spoon to break it into pieces. Continue to cook until all the beef is cooked through, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn or stick. Add the breadcrumbs, stir to combine, then add the broth or water and mix until absorbed. Remove the filling from the heat and let it cool.
  2. To make the dough, stir together the flour, curry powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture. Using your fingers, or a pastry blender if you have one, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend). If using your fingers, just rub the mixture together, but don’t overwork the mixture or the butter will get too warm and soften too much.
  3. Sprinkle in about ½ cup of the cold water and gently mix it into the flour with your fingers or a plastic bowl scraper or spatula. Do not overwork the dough. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of water, or more as needed until the dough just comes together into a ball.
  4. Divide the dough into 16 pieces, each weighing approximately 1 ½ ounces. Roll each ball between your palms to smooth it out. At this point you can chill the balls of dough for a few minutes if they feel too soft.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.
  6. One at a time, place a ball of dough on a lightly floured surface, press your palm into a ball of dough to begin to flatten it, then use a rolling pin to roll it out evenly into circle about 5-inches in diameter. They may not be perfect circles, but that’s ok.
  7. Evenly distribute the beef filling between the dough circles. Don’t be too stingy, it will seem like a lot of filling, but you can press and compact the filling a bit to make sure you fill them generously. One-by-one fold over the dough and pinch the edges to enclose the filling. Use the tines of a fork to press along the edges to seal.
  8. Place the sealed beef patties onto the parchment-lined baking sheets, then chill the sheets in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to help set the dough (it will bake up flakier if you don’t skip this step).
  9. Evenly brush the tops of the patties with egg wash, and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans from front to back and top to bottom, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Recipe for the Traditional Cornish Pasty

INGREDIENTS

For the Pastry:

  • 3 1/2 cups (450 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 ounces (140 grams) unsalted butter , very cold, diced
  • 5 ounces (140 grams) lard , very cold
  • How to Render Lard (click link to learn how to make it yourself. It’s super easy and much cheaper than store-bought!)
  • 2/3 cup (155 ml) ice cold water

For the Cornish Pasty’s:

  • 1 pound (450 grams) beef skirt steak or sirloin , cut into small cubes
  • 1 pound (450 grams) firm, waxy potato , peeled and diced in 1/4 inch cubes, or slice them according to personal preference (**starchy potatoes will disintegrate and turn mushy so be sure to use a firm, waxy potato that will hold its shape)
  • 8 ounces (225 grams) rutabaga , peeled and diced in 1/4 inch cubes, or slice them according to personal preference
  • 7 ounces (195 grams) yellow onion , chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • unsalted butter (for cutting in slices to lay inside the pasties)
  • all-purpose flour (for sprinkling inside the pasties)
  • 1 large egg , lightly beaten

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. To Make the Shortcrust Pastry: Place the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times until combined. Add the cold butter and lard and pulse a few more times until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water a little at a time, pulsing between additions, until the mixture begins to come together. DO NOT over-mix the dough or the pastry crust will be tough and won’t be flaky. Form the dough into a ball, flatten into a 1-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before using (this is crucial). (Can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for up to 3 months.)
  2. To Make the Cornish Pasties:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll the pastry dough into a log and cut it into 6 equal pieces. Wrap and keep the other 5 pieces chilled in the fridge while you’re working on one at a time. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to a 8 inch circle that’s about 1/8 inch thick. You can use an 8-inch plate as your guide and cut the dough around it to form your circle.

  • Layer the filling (see note at end): Put layer of potatoes down the center of the pastry circle, leaving about 3/4 inch space on the top and bottom edges of the pastry dough. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Next add a layer of rutabagas, onions and finally the beef, adding a light sprinkling of salt and pepper between each layer. Lay a couple pats of butter on top of the beef and sprinkle a little flour over the filling.
  • Wet the tips of your fingers and lightly moisten the edges of the pastry dough. For this next part work gently so that the filling doesn’t puncture through the dough.  If this happens, patch up the hole with some of the scrap pieces of pastry dough.  Bring the sides up and seal the pasty down the middle. Turn the pasty onto its side and crimp the edges in traditional Cornish fashion (see blog post pictures as a visual).
  • Assemble the remaining pasties and lay them on a lined baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut a slit in the center of each pasty. Lightly brush each pasty with the beaten egg mixture.
  • Bake the Cornish pasties on the middle rack for 40-50 minutes until golden in colour. Remove from the oven and let them sit for about 10 minutes (they will be very hot inside) before eating.

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