Why Savory Pastries?

I’ve got to admit it – I’m fascinated by savory pastries! Their history, their travels, their construction. Isn’t it interesting to think that some form of savory pastry exists all over the world? Samosas, empanadas, meat pies and pasties, calzones, it goes on and on! Many times, a version of a certain savory pastry would start in one country, and, with imperialism & colonialism, would spread all over the world, changing slightly everywhere it went, to suit the local ingredients. Take the empanada, for instance! Probably began in Spain as a large, flat pie,

Empanada Gallega

Pie, mash and liquor

found its way to Latin America, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Carribean… became smaller, sometimes with a cornmeal crust, sometimes baked, sometimes fried. The possibilities are dizzying! Within certain countries, various regions proudly boast their own specific pie. Cornwall has the cornish pasty, while one small region of south London is famous for a certain kind of meat pie to be served with mash, parsley sauce (liquor) and, well, eels.

Savory pastries have enjoyed universal popularity because they are sturdy and portable. You could wrap one up in a handkerchief and take it in your pocket for lunch. Or pack it into your basket for a picnic. As a vegetarian, I enjoy their heartiness, and their center-of-the-plate, star-of-the-meal attention grabbing qualities. You won’t miss your meat! I’m also a fan of the way savory pastries inspire creativity, especially if you’re trying to adapt them to a vegetarian diet. So many types of crust, endless possibilities for fillings and accompanying sauces…it’s a joy to think about all of the ways tastes and textures can combine in a savory pie.


20 thoughts on “Why Savory Pastries?

  1. Pasties are a big regional thing where my dad is from, Upper Peninsula Michigan. They’re filled with rutabaga, potatoes, carrots, and onion. They have meat ones, but purists consider that an innovation.

    • Aha! That sounds like a cornish pastie. I wonder if there’s any connection – if there is some record of cornish immigrants in that region.

      One of the reasons that this interests me, I think, is that in our area of the US I’m not aware of a popular savory pastry (unless you count hot pockets, which I don’t and won’t!) It just seems strange, when they’re all over the world (home-made savory pastries), and we’re from all over the world around here. Hmmmmm. Hmmmmm?

      • There are tin mines there so I assume a Cornish connection,especially because it’s full of fudge shops too!

      • Actually, there are copper mines in the Western Upper Peninsula, known as The Copper Country. And, yes, we have a lot of folks whose families came from Wales and Cornwall. There is even a Cousin Jack festival up here each year. BTW – Meat was NOT a new innovation; it was common in early pasties. It’s the carrots that caused a ruckus because the Finns introduced them to pasties and gave the purists the schpilkas! I did an entire chapter of my dissertation on this.

      • There are pasties in southwest Wisconsin as well, where in the Mineral Point area lead was mined. And, yes, they were meat, onion, potato.

  2. I’ve lived in the Upper Peninsula all my life and I’m not aware of any tin mines in the area. Copper and iron mining are what brought the Cornish tin miners here along with their pasties (pronounced Past-ees). My great-grandfather was one of those miners, traveling from Penzance.

    Pasties have always been made with meat, with beef or venison used primarily although other meats have been used. English recipes going back hundreds of years always mention meat. A recent innovation is the vegetarian pasty, but it usually contains different vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower in addition to carrots and onions. Rutabagas are often optional in local pasty shops.

    Suprisingly, there’s a pasty shop in Tempe, Arizona by the name of The Cornish Pasty Co. They have a selection of pasties with many different fillings, from the original “oggie” to bangers and mash to cajun chicken. This is the type of pasty shop you’ll find spread across England where they are restaurant chains like our fast food joints here.

    Check out the Pasty entry on Wikipedia!

    • Actually, the pasty shop in Tempe wouldn’t be an anomaly, as the Cornish were miners and moved west, and later into Mexico, to follow the mining trade. You can find a Cornish immigrant population in the northern states of Mexico. The Cornish history is wicked cool!

  3. I’m from a mining area in Northern Minnesota, and pasties are definitely popular on the Iron Range. While ubiquitous in commercially sold pasties, meat isn’t/wasn’t essential for the dish. Miners brought them down for lunch because they were portable, stayed warm and were very filling – my guess is the presence/amount of meat depended a lot on how much money the family had.

  4. Claire, have you experimented with pastries that are gluten-free? My younger daughter Sara has been diagnosed with Celiac disease, and we are struggling to find ways to help her maintain her vegetarian diet while cutting out wheat bread, semolina pasta, pizza crusts, etc. I can purchase rice and quinoa pastas; I can buy g-free frozen pizzas and embellish them; I have bought a bread machine, and am experimenting with bread. All these modifications are coming along, but I too LOVE savory food wrapped up in pastry. Any ideas how to do this g-free?
    (p.s. I am so glad you’re doing this! Hurrah!) ❤ Becket

  5. I’m not sure if this is true, but I heard the popularity of pasties among miners in Cornwall developed because when they had filthy hands and it was time to eat lunch they could hold the pasty by the thick outer-crust and eat the rest of it with all the tasty filling. Then the crust could be thrown away and they wouldn’t contaminate themselves with any germs or metal ore.

    • Yes, that makes sense. I can’t believe America doesn’t have more savory pastries. Everybody that came here seems to have some version, but we don’t really have anything typically American. (That I can think of, anyway!)

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Chicken pot pie is about the only one I can think of that was fairly common to most of America.

  6. There’s a couple of reason for the thick pastry crust on a Cornish pasty. Prosaically, it is because the miners would have dirty hands, and I understand that this would include contaminants like arsenic salts. As the miners couldn’t wash their hands effectively, they would hold the pasty by the crust and then dispose of the crust. A slightly more romantic version, is that the crust was left as an offering for the pixies that lived in the mine and appeasing them with food kept the miners safe. (From a cooking point of view, having that thick crust makes a very effective seal when cooking the pasty… and makes them less fiddly to make! I) I’ve also heard, (but never seen), that originally pasties would have a savoury end and a sweet end, fruit or jam, so the same pasty, provides a whole meal.

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