7 of the Most Famous Cornish Foods to Try30 September 2020
Google top foodie destinations in the UK and Cornwall will be high on people’s lists. The rugged tip of the great South West Peninsula, lashed by fertile seas, and home to the lushest pastureland.
In the 1970s, celebrated chef Rick Stein helped put Cornwall on the food map, and what followed was a gastronomic revolution. These days Cornwall is synonymous with fantastic food, from homely pub grub to Michelin Starred fine dining, and everything in between. However, Cornwall has been enjoying its food for many a moon. Long before pan-fried sea bass and vintage French wine.
Here are some historic, delicious, and totally Cornish foods to look out for. When in Cornwall, as they say.
The waters around Cornwall are perfect for crabs (an odd phrase, sure) and the quality of the crab reaching Newlyn Fish Market is world class. Succulent, full of flavour, and at its tastiest with lemon mayo in a wholegrain sandwich.
Newlyn Fish Market is one of the biggest and most diverse in the UK, with 600 vessels landing up to 40 different species daily, ready for Cornwall’s culinary flair.
It might not look appetising to have a cluster of whole pilchards peeking from your pie, yet this is exactly what Cornish Stargazy Pie is. It’s not decorative either, there’s an ancient folktale behind it.
Apparently, some time in 16th Century Mousehole (pronounced Mowsal), an iconic Cornish fishing village, there was a shortage of food. As Christmas approached one year, the residents were sadly facing starvation. Stormy seas had trapped the boats in the harbour. One man, Tom Bawcock, decided to throw caution to the wind and brave the high seas. It’s said that he succeeded, returning with enough fish to feed the entire village.
This fish was baked into a pie (an enormous one), with heads poking out of the crust for proof, and to show them symbolically gazing up at the stars. Every December the 23rd Mousehole still holds a festival in Tom Bawcock’s name.
In the 19th Century the word fairing referred to any edible treat sold at fairs around the country. It wasn’t until John Cooper Furniss of Cornwall started selling his fairings mail order in 1886, that they became known as the Cornish Fairings of today—buttery and spicy ginger biscuits. The Furniss brand still exists, 134 years and going strong.
Or “revel buns” or “Cornish tea treats”. The saffron bun is a humble dough with currants, made not so humble with the inclusion of the world’s most expensive spice. By weight, saffron is worth more than gold. It’s speculated that saffron made its way to Cornwall with the ancient Phoenicians, that sailed over the ocean to trade tin. Whatever the case, the saffron bun has been a Cornish favourite for special events for eons. Saffron provides a rich yellow colour, although most modern commercial buns use food colouring. Economically understandable.
Another famous Cornish bake, with links to Cornwall’s fishing heritage. Also known as “heavy cake”. Pre-20th Century the pilchard industry used clifftop lookouts called huers to help locate shoals of fish. To alert the boats, huers would call “hevva, hevva!”. Hevva Cake is a dense cake made with lard, butter, flour, milk, sugar, and raisins. Huers would bake it for when the pilchard crews returned from their trips, serving it fresh from the oven and ready for sharing.
Clotted Cream Tea
There’s a longstanding jest between Cornwall and Devon as to which county cream tea originates in. No one is sure. Both counties do superb cream teas, that can be agreed upon. But there is a slight difference in etiquette. In Cornwall, the jam is spread on the scone before the cream and in Devon it’s the opposite.
Cornish clotted cream is often considered the most luxurious in the country. So much so that in 1998 to protect its authenticity it was given a Protected Designation of Origin status (PDO) by the EU. Essentially, Cornish clotted cream must be Cornish—or tis’ fraud.
The Cornish Pasty
Yes, the one and only, Cornish pasty. The ruler of filling and convenient lunches. Cornwall’s undisputed national dish. Beef, potato, swede, onion, salt, and pepper—folded in pastry to make a D shape and side crimped.
The original Cornish pasties were eaten in the darkness of Cornwall’s coastal mines. Some suggest the thick crust was discarded, functioning as a safe way to eat with potentially contaminated hands. In modern times the Cornish pasty has evolved to include an array of different fillings both sweet and savoury and has found a home in parts of Australia and America too.
If you’ve never tried a Cornish pasty, you’re in for a cultural taste that spans generations and is as loved today as ever before. Tuck in.
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