Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fancy Tiddly Oggy for Dinner?

Don't blame you if you decline. I certainly had my doubts the first time it was offered to me. I was at university and made a weekend trip to Devon with a then boyfriend to meet his parents. On the train he regaled me with stories of his family's subsistence life style putting out crab pots, fishing for herring and growing turnips; so when we got to the station and he phoned home to let his mother know what bus we were catching to the village, I was more than alarmed to hear him say , "and Mum, since this is Gerry's first visit to Devon, will you make Tiddly Oggy for super". Visions of another English local specialty harvested from the sea, Norfolk Star Gazey Pie, danced through my head and my stomach churned! believe me there is nothing appetizing about a pie presented with little herring heads, eyes to the sky, poking through the pastry crust.
The 17th, Century farmhouse his family lived in did not smell of fish cooking and, far from close to the land people, his parents were urbane Rhodesians who had returned to their Devon roots just a few years earlier and ran an export business providing nostalgic British ex patriots with things like Marmite and Crunchie Bars.
To my relief, Tiddly Oggy was the local name for a Cornish Pasty. That boyfriend didn't last long and, coincidentally, my first husband, whose family hailed from a Finnish enclave in the UP of Michigan, also had a connection with pasties -he lasted longer.
The Cornish Pasty - loved by some and hideously mutilated by others - is an iconic dish. Simple in ingredients, beautiful in form and heavenly to the taste buds; in its purest form it is comfort food at its best.
I'm a true believer in the most told history of this humble dish - namely that it sprang from the needs of the Cornish tin miners to have a hot lunch that they could eat with filthy and perhaps arsenic tainted hands. Wives packed meat, potato, onion and turnip into a sturdy pastry casing and kept in the overall pockets the interior retained heat and the pastry could be grasped in dirty hands and discarded as the filling was devoured. As the Cornish tin miners migrated to the silver mines of Mexico and Idaho, the copper mines of the UP of Michigan and other parts of the mid west, the pasty came along with them. In Michigan, the Fins were the miners and the pasty became touted as a Finnish Pasty; truth is it's Finnish roots were all of the New World but the Fins did put their own spin on things and substitute carrot for the turnip and ground beef for the traditional thinly sliced top round, sirloin or skirt steak. And for the record, my former Finnish mother-in-law said my pasties were much better than hers and her son had the nerve to call me several months after he re-married to ask for my pasty recipe....oh, yes, I wrote one up just for him... in case you ever get hold of it, bicarbonate soda and minced dill pickles do not figure in the original recipe!
Over the years and, I guess, as hand washing became the norm, the pastry on the traditional pasty, far from being discarded, has become a thing of delight. For years I made my own pastry but confess that the ease of using store bought puff pastry has had an allure I couldn't resist and unless I'm especially motivated, I no longer make my own pastry. I did a quick survey of pantry and freezer this morning and have on hand all the necessary ingredients to make pasties and in the spirit of economical and good food, my version, very true to the original, will follow. This recipe and other recipes can be found at as well as here. With a Salute to Percy Grainger playing , a fire in the hearth, two dogs asleep and a cloudy sky, I'm off to the kitchen.

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