The pasty in the 1800s

Two reports illustrate the changing state of the pasty between 1850 and the 1890s.

In 1850 the newspaper the Morning Chronicle ran a series of articles on the condition of the poor. One of these concerned Cornwall. The report tells us that the pilchard, one of the staple dietary items in west Cornwall ‘seldom constitutes an ingredient of the pasty, so commonly met with as entering into the labourer’s diet in Cornwall. The mackerel frequently does … [but] generally speaking the pasties consist of potatoes and bits of meat, more frequently salt pork, covered with a rather tough crust made of flour and sometimes of flour and barley meal mixed together. In the absence of the potato, the turnip constitutes one of the internal ingredients of the pasty … They are generally made for the labourer himself, his family contenting themselves with lighter and more frugal fare.’

The writer encountered a labouring man who claimed his large family had only eaten potatoes and some ‘fat mutton’ over the previous week.

‘“There’s my dinner today, sir”, he continued, breaking a pasty in two, which he took from his pocket. The tough, black crust enclosed a quantity of watery-looking turnips’.

Half a century later, in 1893-94, a Parliamentary Commission into the conditions of the agricultural labourer took evidence from the vicinity of Truro. Things had improved as the report concluded:

‘Cornish pasties are excellent things. “They are mostly full of vegetables”, the men say, a turnip pasty, a leeky pasty, or a potato pasty, but they often have bacon chopped up inside, and in some places beef. At Probus, “the men won’t eat pork in their pasties. It is generally beef. They used to eat what were called hobbans, suet and flour and raisins rolled up and baked, but they have all gone.”’

Boys forced to eat pasties for a cruel photographer