According to an old Cornish saying, “Cornwall is the land of saints and pasties,” and there is no better place to sample this delicious, authentic fare than at the Chough Bakery in Padstow. The Chough Bakery sits on the oldest trading site in the town, on the edge of the harbor. Originally part of the market and a slaughter-house, it evolved into a dairy before becoming a bakery in the very capable hands of Elaine Eads, her husband, Rob, daughter, Luisa, and son, Greg.
Visit the bakery early in the morning, and you will feel like a child at Christmas. Everything looks, smells and tastes delicious from the saffron buns to the scones and pies; but the main reason people visit the Chough Bakery is the Cornish pasties. So what exactly is a pasty? It is a pastry case filled with beef, potatoes, turnips (also known as swedes), onion and seasoning that is sealed with a crimped edge, glazed and baked. It was only in 2011 that the pasty was granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in Europe, putting it on a par with Parma ham, Parmesan cheese, and other iconic foods. Only those pasties made in Cornwall can be called “Cornish” and there are strict regulations about the filling and the shape. The pasty must be shaped like a D with a crimp on the side NOT on the top.
Why the crimp on the side? Originally, the wives of Cornish tin miners baked the pasties for their husbands’ lunch. The pasty was held by gripping the crimp to avoid contaminating the entire pasty with arsenic from the tin that might have been on the miners’ hands. According to legend, the crimped dough was then left in the mine as a goodwill gesture to any “knockers” (ghosts of dead miners) who might be haunting the premises.
On a recent trip to Padstow we, of course, stock up on pasties. Elaine very graciously invites us to watch as she and her colleagues make a batch. First, plate-size uniform circles of dough are laid out on the counter; a cupful of the filling is placed in the middle. Then Elaine puts in a “special ingredient” on top — a dollop of Cornish clotted cream. The pasty is folded into a semi-circle and sealed by crimping it into the most beautiful braid you have seen on a pastry. According to Elaine, who always crimps from right to left (and is a star at doing it), this is an art that can only be taught. It is impossible to describe. Finally, the dough is lightly brushed with a glaze and baked.
Elaine, who has won many awards for her pasties (including the 2016 Cornish Pasty Championship), produces 1,000 pasties a day except on 1 May when she produces 2,000 a day. This day is known as “Hobby Horse,” a holiday dating back to Celtic Beltane, a day that celebrated the coming of summer, when the townsfolk parade through the streets accompanying two people wearing horse heads. Many pasties are consumed.
An old nursery rhyme sums it up. “Pastry rolled out like a plate, piled with turmut, tates and mate, double dup and baked like fate. That’s a Cornish pasty.” If you find yourself in this corner of Cornwall, be sure to stop for a taste.
IF YOU GO
The Chough Bakery is located at 3 The Strand, Padstow, Cornwall. To get to Padstow, coming from Exeter, take the A30 to Bodmin, then drive through Wadebridge and into Padstow. You can also take the Black Tor ferry from Rock across the estuary to Padstow. If you are in the UK you can also order pasties online and have them delivered overnight. www.thechoughbakery.co.uk. Tel. 44 1841 533361.