Nobody knows for certain the true origins of the pasty, although it can be traced at least as far back as the middle ages. “Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi Oi,” may have been a common phrase heard throughout the Tin and Copper Mines of Cornwall, England by the late 18th century. “Oggy,” meaning Pasty has been referenced in many sources of literature, including Shakespeare. Fit for a King, the Pasty has been a popular dish among royal families with one of its earliest references being that of Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s third wife) having one of her bakers bake a pasty for Henry VIII. However, it was also thought to be popular amongst poorer working families using more affordable ingredients such as potato, swede (rutabaga), and onion. Regardless of the history, the Pasty can attribute much of its fame and international popularity to the Cornish tin miners of Cornwall.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Pasty became a staple meal amongst miners, farmers, and the like. Wives could use endless variations of ingredients within the home leaving nothing to waste (it was often said the devil would not dare come into Cornwall for fear of becoming pasty filling). The Pasty could be carried with ease, the filling was kept insulated in the dense pastry, it provided a sustainable meal for long days in the mines and fields, and utensils were not required. Some were thought to have a sweet filling at one end to serve as a dessert to complete the meal. Miners thought a good pasty was one that could withstand a drop down a mine shaft.
Although pasties can be enjoyed at any temperature, miners were said to have ovens on site keeping their pasties warm until it was time to eat. Others warmed their pasties on a shovel over a fire or candle. To add to the practicality of the Pasty, the thick roped edge was used for the miners to hold the pasty while eating and later discard to avoid poisoning themselves from the arsenic on their hands. Superstition would suggest the miners discarded the roped edge to appease the “knockers,” ghosts believed to inhabit the mines who warned miners of collapsing tunnels by creating a knocking sound. Fishermen also discarded their roped edges as offerings to dead mariners. That’s if they dared to bring a pasty on board. Many thought it to be bad luck to have a pasty at sea.
After the collapse of the tin mining industry, Cornish Miners emigrated all over the world bringing with them their Pasty recipes and traditions. Today the Pasty can be found around the globe offering an abundance of variations and flavours. Although, the Cornish may argue that a true Cornish pasty can only be baked in the traditional way in Cornwall.