It’s time for the latest installment in the series Eating My Words, wherein Rebecca Peters-Golden recreates dishes from various esteemed pieces of literature. Today we take a trip to England, to the magical world of Hogwarts as well as the real-life world of mining towns in Cornwall.
When I first read the Harry Potter series, it wasn’t the magic that most appealed to me, or even the boarding school setting—it was the feasts. You know, plates and plates heaped with
tripe, black pudding, cockroach clusters, spotted dick roast chicken, shepherd’s pie, mashed potatoes, and my personal favorite, the Cornish pasty. It’s a favorite meal of Ron Weasley and his family too:
“Oh…okay,” said Ron. “Couldn’t remember all the goblin rebels’ names, so I invented a few. It’s all right,” he said, helping himself to a Cornish pasty, while Mrs. Weasley looked stern, “they’re all called stuff like Bodrod the Bearded and Urg the Unclean; it wasn’t hard.”
—Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The Cornish pasty (pronounced “pass-tee,” not “pay-stee”) originated in Cornwall, England, in the 12th century and made its way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when Cornish miners immigrated there to work in the copper and iron mines in the mid-19th century. Having grown up in the mitten myself, I’ve long appreciated the pasty. So, when I embarked on the month-long project of cooking one instance of food from a piece of literature each day last January, I decided that the time had come to master my beloved pasty—and vicariously visit Hogwarts in the process.
The form of the pasty—hearty filling in a thick crust—is awesomely practical. Cornish miners would take one to work each day, eating half of the often two-pound pasty early in the day and saving the other half for later. For this reason, miners’ wives would impress their husbands’ initials into the end of the pasty’s crust so that they could distinguish their half-pasty from their co-workers’. They reheated them on shovels with candles—badass!
Further, the pasty’s crust served as a kind of handle so that miners could hold and eat their food without having to find a source of clean water to wash their hands. They would then throw these crusts away, believing that such an offering of food would pacify the ghosts with whom they shared the mines. Good thing, too, since the miners’ hands would have been coated not only in dirt, but also in arsenic, a poisonous byproduct of the tin mines.
Although my hands might be dirty, since I do not have to worry about giving myself arsenic poisoning, I relish the thick butter crust rather than throwing it away. Still, the Cornish were really onto something—I’ve wrapped one of these suckers in foil and put it in my bag at 8:00 am, walked around, taken the bus, and generally been clumsy, and found it in perfect condition when I took it out of my bag to eat at 1:00 pm.
Harry Potter’s Cornish Pasties
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Makes 5-6 pies
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter or shortening
- 6-7 tablespoons ice water
- 2 beef bouillon cubes
- 3/4 lb. ground sirloin
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 1 cup finely diced red potatoes (about 2 large or 3 small potatoes)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- salt, pepper and any other spices you want; I added fresh thyme, red pepper flakes and garlic powder
- 1 egg, beaten
In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt and butter 10-15 times, 5 seconds at a time, until a ragged, slightly moist dough interspersed with pea-sized bits of butter starts to take shape.
Pour the dough into a bowl big enough to knead in. Add the ice water little by little, kneading until the dough holds together but isn’t sticky.
Preheat the oven to 425˚ and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
In a medium bowl, dissolve the bouillon in 1/2 cup boiling water. Add the ground beef, onion, potato, and garlic. Season liberally with salt, pepper and any other seasoning you’d like.
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Divide in two and roll each half out to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut out a circle about 8 inches in diameter from each half (you can trace the bottom of a pie pan with the tip of a paring knife). Combine scraps and repeat, using all the dough. You should have enough dough for 5 or 6 circles—more if you roll it thinner; fewer if you roll it quite thickly.
Spoon the filling onto one half of each circle, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge. Fold the top of the circle over the filling to make the pasty’s distinctive half-moon shape. Dampen the edge of your pastry to help it stick. If you want a thinner crust, crimp the edges together using the tines of a fork; for a more traditional pasty edge, leave yourself a little more pastry along the edges and make a roped pie crust edge (thanks to Fine Cooking for the excellently informative video).
Cut slits in the top of each pasty so steam can escape, and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Brush a thin coating of beaten egg onto the top of the pasty.
Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling slightly bubbles through the slits. Serve warm—but be mindful of the piping hot filling—or at room temperature.