Mr Harben on Phoenicians and Cornish pasties

I wrote about my latest acquisition yesterday (yes, I know this is the year of me getting rid of things) a book by Philip Harben bout the traditional foods of Britain, written in 1953. It is not just a recipe book – the recipes are there, twenty-nine of them each in its own chapter with a little essay about them.

I mentioned Cornish pasties yesterday, and this is what Mr H. has to say:

The Cornish Pasty – part 1

Some countries are born rich; some achieve prosperity by the hard work and enterprise of their people: others find wealth thrust upon them by fortune. But none of these things ever happened to the Duchy of Cornwall. Cornwall has always been up against it, fighting for a livelihood. There is sea – plenty of it – with good fish to be caught, pilchards and fine lobsters: but a fierce sea and a vicious rock-bound coast. There is farmland, with some pasture rich enough to give us clotted cream – but it is not feather-bed farmland, a man must work hard to get a yield. There are important tin-mines to be sure (did not the Phoenicians come her for it on page 1 of the history book?) But tin-mining is a hard and cruel trade, the rewards not equal to the danger.
A tough race like the Scots would have made light of Cornwall’s physical problems, vigorously wrested from her what she has to give. But the skies of Cornwall are soft and the climate mild; warmly and kind are the folk of Cornwall and soft in their country speech. They may have plenty of good courage, but the lack the aggressive spirit. So Cornwall remains poor and hardworking.

This may have been accepted nearly sixty-five years ago, but Mr Harben’s views on the Cornish people are controversial to say the least!!

It is this fact, the poverty and industry of Cornwall, that has produced the Cornish Pasty, one of the best examples in the world of what one might call functional food. For the Cornish Pasty (in Cornwall they take their time, so the ‘a’ is good and long – paasty) is not merely delicious food it was designed for a certain definite purpose; it was designed to be carried to work and eaten down the mine, to the sea, to the fields. You will see a Cornishman munching on his tasty pasty squatting in the narrow tin-mine workings, siting on the nets in his leaping fishing boat, leaning against a grassy bank whilst the patient plough-horses wait.


  1. Amy Parmeter

    Fun read! I enjoyed a pasty once while sitting among the ruins at Tintagel – felt like the perfect thing to do! Having been blessed with the means to travel, I remember years ago riding through Cornwall and wondering how my ancestors could have left such a beautiful place – but we all have to make a living and they must have felt they needed to take their shot in America. How they must have missed it though…

    Liked by 1 person

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