Saturday, 27 October 2007

The Silence of the Pasties

It's been a difficult week, gastronomically. With the full on arrival of autumn - leaves falling off trees, fireworks falling through letterboxes, the annual battle to delay lighting the stove - with autumn and the prospect of another lunch of lettuce and feta, a rebellious urge rose in me, like a late flowering rose challenging the dying of the year. In some atavistic race memory, a primordial neuron sparking deep in the brain stem cried, 'Pasty!'

The R-complex - seat of fight-or-flight responses, xenophobia, the territorial imperative - is a powerful master. It can be resisted but it cannot be ignored. My body needed pasty. Pasty it must have.

Accordingly I gathered my spear and pouch and went out to hunt.

I have to report abject failure. The true pasty, that magnificent, unbridled, steaming celtic creature, all milk-glazed crimped short crust and layered steak and swede, is extinct in South East England. Inbreeding and parsimony have left us with a limp and corrupted misnomer of a pasty, a sausage roll crossed with a TV supper. Flaky puff pastry containing a pre-digested slurry, runny playdough rolled in diced carrot and mushy peas, like something nasty stepped in behind the woodshed.

I thought I'd cracked it when I happened on a farmer's market with continental overtones. Between the stalls of garlic ginger slices and olive-drenched sun-dried tomato was a baker with a rack of pasties, big as wheel chocks.

Alas, no. Puff pastry and slurry. Slop on an industrial scale. Slop that ran to the bottom of the kitchen bin liner and sagged there like a filled nappy. Recycle that, if you dare.

I shall have to order them direct, my oggies. From Cornwall, beloved Oggieland, where seasoned potato, swede and onion bask in the gravy from chunks of best steak, where short crust pastry crumbles in the mouth. I shall eat them from a paper bag, as pasties should be eaten, straight from the range in the kitchen behind the bar in the Red Lion at Blackwater, washed down with a pint of 'Boys'.

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