Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich


September 13th, 2009 · No Comments

My two drafts for legitimate topics seem to have evaporated, so instead of writing about something that might help my grade I’m going to talk about something that has made England a thousand times better: pasties.  My family visited today, and it turns out it’s a Russell tradition to like pasties, and historical facts. Pasties most likely were created in Cornwall in the Tin mines. (as a note, Tin mines have always been a crucial aspect of Britain’s appeal, even back to the days of the Romans). The idea behind them was that they had a big crust. The big crust was there because tin miners weren’t able to get to the surface for a lunch break, so they needed to have something to hold onto with their dirty mits without contaminating their food. Pasties would often have meat and potatoes on one side and apples or some fruit on the other– main course and desert all in one. Mines got quite cold, but pasties did not, which also made them ideal for miners.  The crusts were thrown into the mines as alms to the nefarious spirits, known as Bucca, in the mines.  Pasties have remained a great way to cheaply, yet efficiently, feed people. The tradition of pasties carried over with the Cornish miners into Pennsylvania. In the late 1800’s it would be brought west with the gold rush. There the pasty’s English history would meld with the local flavors of Mexico. Stories of Bucca’s also followed with the pasty into the new world, taking roots in both Pennsylvania and the West coast.  Don’t worry, some boring long post will be sure to follow.

It got me thinking about the history of a food though, what goes into the design of something. I eat the crust, dirty hands or not, but it once served a dire purpose. I know I’ve already written something about the Pitman Painters, but I can’t help equating this wonderful food to them. Like the painters, the pasty caught on in popularity with people beyond the mining communities; it became one of those “authentic” things you eat when you go to a place, and it thus lost a large portion of its original purpose and meaning. Of course the closing of mines in England didn’t help its cause, but I wonder what other foods have interesting histories that have been lost to time.  I won’t be silly enough to ask some existentialist rubbish about the meaning of life found inside a pasty; a pasty is nothing more than it sets out to be. Sure the insides are a surprise, but it is nothing more than bread filled with something to keep you going even in the blackest of tunnels. In that simplicity and innocence, it finds perfection. So may be I have found the meaning of life in pasties, there are worse places to find it.

The info that I didn’t already know came from my father Rex Russell, and a pasty salesman named Henry who worked in Victoria station. Thanks for the info and the good pasty.

Anyway, cheers

Tags: Andrew R