This is where the great pasty revolt begins
A Slice of Britain: New EU regulations specifying the shape and contents of Cornwall's favourite snack have got one of its traditional bakers up in arms. And she's willing to go to prison to carry on making the family recipe
Sunday 27 February 2011
It is 7am in the quiet Cornish village of the Lizard, but already whirring sounds and cooking smells emanate from a garage, yards from the central square. A woman is buzzing around getting ready to meet demand for her famous pasties.
A large industrial metal oven creaks as it heats, girding itself for a hot, busy day ahead. Beside one, hand on hip, Ann Muller is full of enthusiasm and energy. It is the last Saturday of the half-term holidays, and holidaymakers want food.
The 57-year-old mother of two is animated as she proudly continues her ancestors' heritage in the county she calls a "small nation". But her passion for that heritage and for the pasties that symbolise Cornish tradition took a blow last week. And this weekend she fears it could ruin the business to which she has given 25 years of her life.
A European ruling awarded the Cornish pasty the same celebrated Protected Geographical Indication status enjoyed by Champagne and Parma ham. Other British foods, from the Melton Mowbray pork pie to Stilton cheese, have been given similar status. But, unlike in those cases, there seems relatively little to celebrate.
A rigorous specification, drawn up by the Cornish Pasty Association during a nine-year campaign for EU recognition, demands that any pasty must have a distinctive D shape, crimped on one side; a chunky filling of not less than 12.5 per cent beef accompanied by swede, potato, onion and a light seasoning. And, most importantly, it must be made within the geographic boundaries of Cornwall.
Ms Muller's recipe follows all of these requirements except one. As her nimble fingers pull pliable pastry around the pile of essential ingredients, she crimps it together. At the top. Every pasty taken out of the shop by her satisfied and loyal customers is made this way. Henceforth, she can no longer legally describe her pasties as Cornish.
So why doesn't she just crimp them at the side? It's not that simple. For a start, every generation of her family in living memory has made pasties this way, and the humble pasty is her livelihood. She rattles off the list of ingredients and the making process like a well-versed teacher rehearsing the two-times table. She admits, laughing, it would be easy to squash the pasties, forcing the crimp to the side and therefore enabling her to keep their name, but there is a principle at stake. "You could do that but it would just be preposterous and silly."
Worse, the new legislation also allows mince to be used. The mere thought prompts outrage. "My mother is livid. It's grounds for divorce in Cornwall if you put mince in a pasty."
So she is sticking defiantly to her family's traditional method and will continue to call the 400 pasties she produces a day as Cornish – even if her non-compliance lands her in prison, she says. "We have built our reputation making pasties for 25 years and now, according to the EU, they are not Cornish. The Cornish Pasty Association has got it wrong and it's really embarrassing. We've got to make a big stink and fuss about all this. If I am fined for an over-the-top crimp I won't pay. I will go to prison."
She holds her hand to her mouth and adds in a hushed whisper: "I want to take some books with me. I want a rest. But I bet they would put me in the kitchen and get me making pasties."
By 10.30 there's a stream of customers heading down Ms Muller's driveway. Her reputation spans the globe: some people have made pilgrimages from Australia and Japan. In March she is being flown to Boston, Massachusetts, to give a crash course in pasty-making.
One of the first through the door, father of two Andrew Sumner, 41, leans comfortably on the counter chatting to the ladies about his holiday as he collects pasties for the family's journey back to Carlisle. He has been holidaying in the area since he was a child. His view is simple: the pasties are the best in the county. "Don't change them. Keep them exactly as they are."
Holidaymaker Marianne Hills is buying her final pasty from the shop before heading home. She brands the ruling "crazy", while local walker Kate Turner, 33, says it is "pedantic".
But this is not just the case of one defiant pasty-maker: it has the hallmarks of Britons' characteristic resistance to being told – particularly by the EU – what they can and cannot do.
There is upset across the South-west. Simon Bryon-Edmond, managing director of Chunk of Devon, which supplies outlets across the region and in other parts of the UK, now finds his firm no longer has the right to make "Cornish pasties". He says he is "sore and bitter" about the legislation. "It is basically big corporations who have railroaded this. I could set up a shop tomorrow and import everything, put it in a cheap piece of pastry, wrap it up and call it a Cornish pasty – does that do the name Cornish pasty any good? I'm worried that the Cornish pasty will go down the route where it becomes a pastiche of a pasty. I just believe they are denigrating this fantastic product."
Naturally enough, social networking features in the people's revolt against the new EU rules. Nationwide bakers Greggs' Facebook page has been overrun with suggestions as to how their products made outside Cornwall should be renamed. They range from the rather long-winded – "the pasty formally known as Cornish" – to the catchier, if more predictable, "Cornish Pastiche".
Back at Ms Muller's shop, customers crowd in through her door and insist the fight has just begun.
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