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The Cornish Pasty

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The learnings of Henry "Oggy" Trelissick, Esq - V

Pasty coffyns or pasty coffins
..... and animated pies


The following comments were kindly contributed to The Cornish Pasty by Mr Henry "Oggy" Trelissick, a fellow pasty historian and Member of the Ancient Order of Pasty Antiquarians after my asking about the Cornish pasty and pasty coffyns or pasty coffins.

"Coffyns" or "cofyns" were the containers, sometimes edible and sometimes not, for raised pies (i.e. not made in a dish) and, by extension, the pies themselves. They would be made with hot water pastry and either baked filled - like a modern raised pie - or blind, like a pie to contain four and twenty blackbirds or a blonde. Kidder suggests for a high pye that you make a paste of  a peck of flower worked up with 3 pounds of butter melted in a saucepan of boyling liquor. I've forgotten where I saw it, but the technique is to raise your pie, fill it with dry flour, bake it, empty out flour, place a smaller raised pie in the bottom, cram in your blonde or blackbirds and fix on the lid. The small pie is so a not to disappoint the guests after liberating the contents and, at least where a couple of dozen of excited blackbirds are concerned, I would suggest that the pie crust wasn't eaten. I would expect that on state occasions the lids and sides of the coffyns would be decorated with pastry ornaments like fancy pasties and, in extreme cases, painted and gilded as well.

        "The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy" by A Lady (Hannah Glasse), 1774 on Google Books. Page 145 gives recipes for High Pie pastry. Chap. VIII deals with pies and a venison pasty (pp. 140 - 141).

          For a description of "coffyn" see: - History of pie. They also include a recipe for 'Cornish Pasty' made from dough RECTANGLES.  This web page  obviously contains a lot about the history of the pie, from which the word "pasty" eventually became derived.

Quotes .....

"Historians have recorded that the roots of pie can loosely be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. The bakers to the pharaohs incorporated nuts, honey, and fruits in bread dough, a primitive form of pastry. Drawings of this can be found etched on the tomb walls of Ramses II, located in the Valley of the Kings."

"Historians believe that the Greeks actually originated pie pastry. The pies during this period were made by a flour-water paste wrapped around meat; this served to cook the meat and seal in the juices."

"The Romans, sampling the delicacy, carried home recipes for making it (a prize of victory when they conquered Greece). .........."

"The delights of the pie spread throughout Europe, via the Roman roads, where every country adapted the recipes to their customs and foods."

"Animated pies or pyes were the most  popular banquet entertainment. The nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence . . . four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie," refers to such a pie. According to the rhyme, "When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing. Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the King." In all likelihood, those birds not only sang, but flew briskly out at the assembled guests. Rabbits, frogs, turtles, other small animals, and even small people (dwarfs) were also set into pies, either alone or with birds, to be released when the crust was cut. The dwarf would emerge and walk down the length of the table, reciting poetry, sketching the guests, or doing tricks."

From: The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet (1672).

To Make a Venison Pasty

"Take a Peck of fine Flower, and three Pounds of fresh Butter, break your
Butter into your Flower, and put in one Egg, and make it into a Past with so
much cold cream as you think fit, but do not mould it too much, then roul it
pretty thin and broad, almost square, then lay some Butter on the bottom,
then season your Venison on the fleshy side with Pepper grosly beaten, and
Salt mixed, then lay your Venison upon your butter with the seasoned side
downward, and then cut the Venison over with your Knife quite cross the
Pasty to let the Gravie come out the better in baking, then rub some
seasoning in those Cuts, and do not lay any else because it will make it
look ill-favoured and black, then put some paste rouled thin about the Meat
to keep it in compass, and lay Butter on the top, then close it up and bake
it very well, but you must trim it up with several Fancies made in the same
Paste, and make also a Tunnel or Vent, and just when you are going to set it
into the Oven, put in half a Pint of Clarret Wine, that will season your
Venison finely, and make it shall not look or taste greasie, thus you may
bake Mutton if you please."

Once again The Cornish Pasty d'bring 'ee only the facts .....


Celtic spiral animation