Family Pasty Officially “Inauthentic”…But which turnip to use?

Another delicacy about to join the class of regionally protected foods is the Cornish pasty.
As you will see from the picture, it is essentially a meat and potato pie which is meant to be eaten at room temperature. It makes for a wonderful breakfast or blue collar lunch.

I’m intrigued as to what a “genuine” pasty is like, because I have experienced the family version and the UK deli version and they are different. The Evans-McCay family version was cubed pork and cubed beef combined with sliced potato, onion, salt and potato in a full sized pie (did I mention that the recipe was transmitted via a chain of Scottish and Welsh family members?). I was told that the polite thing to do was to leave some pasty for the fairies, especially if you were a mine worker. The supermarket version is enclosed, but appeared to include vegetables such as carrots and peas, which is good but produced a different taste.

The official definition is that a pasty has beef (cubed or minced/ground), sliced potato and onion. So it turns out that the version I grew up with is a little more authentic in terms of flavor, but not pastry form. I’m somewhat relieved actually, but there is a lingering turnip debate in the official definition which I had a heck of a time parsing.

Apparently, the issue is this (as described in UK English):

However the Cornish are unusual in referring to swede as turnip, even though they differ markedly. The former is white with a sharp taste while the latter is orange with a more earthy flavour.

Because of this linguistic quirk, the regulations have been amended to allow either term to be used on the label although only one of the two is allowed in the pasty.

This will mean that genuine Cornish pasties will be allowed to go on sale advertised as containing turnip, but will break the rules if they actually do contain the rogue root vegetable.

If you’re confused, it probably means you’re an American and don’t know what a “sweede” is. After checking a few Internet sources, I have learned that there are two root vegetables with purple skins – a turnip which is white on the inside and a rutabaga which is golden on the inside.

If you go to Wikipedia, you will see that they look very similar on the outside and this leads to a complex linguistic situation. What Americans/Canadians call the rutabaga (apparently a Swedish word) is called a “swede” in the U.K….except when it’s called a turnip (as in Cornwall) or more helpfully a “golden turnip”.

So according to Brussels, it’s OK if a Cornish pasty contains rutabaga/swede/golden turnip, and they can advertise it as containing a “turnip”…but it can’t actually a white turnip. But it reminds me that our family pasty may have had a white turnip option which I normally vetoed. Maybe it was an adaptation to a new dialect?

Postscript – Swedes/Rutabagas also Turnips or “Neeps” in Scotland

FYI – I got this anecdote from Esther Asprey from Aston University in Birmingham

“The situation is similar in Scotland – white turnips are what I as a speaker of Midlands British English simply call turnips, and the word swede is not used. ‘Turnips’ refers primarily to rutabaga – golden turnips. When I moved to Edinburgh I spent half an hour in Tescos looking for ‘neeps’ to make haggis neeps and tatties for Burns Night, having worked out that swede was in fact the vegetable neeps referred to. I did not know however that even Scottish supermarkets label the vegetable a turnip and couldn’t find directions to the swedes. The nonplussed assistant led me to a huge pile of swedes marked ‘turnips’!”

Who knew finding root vegetables could be so complicated?

Postscript 2 – Quahog

This reminds of the quintessential New England tourist dilemma. You go to the New England shore in search of fresh clams from an authentic clam shack, but all you can find are “quahogs”, but of course “quahog” is New England for…clam. Apparently, the term is borrowed from an indigenous New England language.

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