The county of Cornwall is the origin of many speciality foods
and dishes. Cornwall is situated at the far southwestern end of
England, the last stopping off place before Ireland and the New
World. Because the county is far from England's capital and
is almost an island, being divided from the neighbouring county
of Devon by the River Tamar which springs up about 4 miles from
the northern coast and then runs south, many unique food
experiences are to be found there. The modern county town is the
city of Truro, but in former times, Bodmin was the administrative
Meat and Meat Dishes
The countryside is less hospitable than the neighbouring
counties of Devon and Somerset, so there is less of a tradition
of livestock rearing. In the past the Cornish people relied
mainly on the hardy goat for meat. Nowadays the county produces
early lambs which are said to have a superb flavour.
There is a wide variety of wild game to be found on the moors
of Cornwall, including rabbit and duck. Poultry is also kept, Cornish Caudle Chicken Pie is a good example of its use.
Probably one of the most famous dishes is the Cornish Pasty, a portable tin miners and farmers' lunch which now
appears in many formats all over the world. Tin mining was a
major industry in the western part of the county in the
nineteenth century, especially around Redruth and Camborne. Until
very recently there was still a working mine, the last one closed
in 1997. The recipe varies, but one of the most important things
is that it should have chunks of meat, not minced meat. Potatoes
and onions are also standard. Some people add a little diced
swede as well. The pastry is traditionally shortcrust, but modern
manufactured pasties frequently have puff pastry as well.
Sometimes pasties dont live up to these high ideals - there
is even a legend that the Devil refused to cross the Tamar into
Cornwall because he had heard that the Cornish would put anything
into their pasties!
Fish and Shellfish in Abundance
Cornwall's long coastline faces two seas and consequently
the fleets bring home a wide variety of fine-quality fish.
Pilchards were formally the biggest catch, but mysteriously
disappeared earlier this century and have now been replaced by
huge hauls of mackerel. Pilchards still are caught occasionally
but in unpredictable quantities. They were traditionally used to
make the delightfully named Stargazey pie, in which the heads of
the fish are left poking out through the pastry crust to gaze at
Newlyn and Falmouth are the big ports in Cornwall, where
monkfish, sole, hake, skate and many other varieties are landed.
A great deal of this fish is exported or sent up to London. But
some is sold fresh locally, and more finds its way into West
Country smokeries, which produce smoked mackerel, kippers and
bloaters. Most mackerel is hot-smoked so it can be eaten cold as
it is. It can also be made into a soufflé. Cold smoked mackerel
can also be found which has to be cooked or cut into wafer thin
slices. A delicious recipe for fresh mackerel is Baked
Mackerel with Gooseberry Sauce. Grey mullet is
another fish delicacy found off the Cornish coast and is
particularly good cooked in lemon and red wine.
The waters around Cornwall are also well stocked with
shellfish, spider crabs, crayfish and lobsters. This has given
rise to dishes such as Cornish
Buttered Lobster and Crab Salad.
Dairying in Cornwall
Although dairy cattle are not kept in such large numbers as
other West Country counties, one of Cornwalls most famous
dairy products is clotted
cream. No visit to Cornwall would be complete without a
traditional cream tea - a plate heaped high with fresh scones or Cornish
splits, lavishly spread with strawberry
jam and, of course, clotted
cream. This type of cream both keeps and travels well, it is
often bought or posted home as a souvenir by the tourists who
throng to this part of the country every summer. A handful of
farms still make it by the traditional method, but most producers
use automatic separators and more up-to-date equipment.
The basic idea is simple: double cream is heated, held at a
high temperature for up to 40 minutes, and then cooled. The
clotted cream that forms has a yellowish colour, wrinkled
appearance, distinctive flavour and a very thick texture. Cream,
clotted or otherwise features in many recipes from the region
such as Pork
Fillet in Mustard Cream Sauce. Luscious ice creams are
another dairy product that is widely made.
As far as cheese is concerned, Cornwall does not produce as
much as her neighbours. The best known cheese from the county is
Cornish Yarg. It is a cow's milk cheese which is
full-flavoured and creamy. It's most distinctive feature is
its coating of nettle leaves. Some tasty goat and sheep cheeses
are also manufactured now.
More-ish Bakes and Cakes
Lots of lovely cakes come from the region, including fruit
cakes and honey cakes. The flowers of the countryside provide the
perfect feeding ground for bees. One of the monks at Buckfast
Abbey maintains over 300 colonies in Devon and Cornwall, and
sells the honey in the Abbey shop. The colour and texture of the
honey differ according to where bees have gathered the nectar.
Ginger and spice feature strongly among the flavourings used
in baked goods. They used to arrive at the ports from various
foreign places, and were pounced on by local cooks to add
interest to their recipes. Saffron was a popular if expensive
flavouring and colouring ingredient, most famously found in
Cornish Saffron buns, an Easter delicacy. Cornish fairings are
also baked, they are a type of biscuit. Another well known cake
from the area is the Cornish split,
a light bun split almost in half and filled with jam and cream.
A delightful dessert is the Helston Pudding,
made especially for the Floral Dance or Furry Dance day held in
Helston in May. It is a fruity steamed pudding which is quite
light and delicious.
Early Fruit and Vegetables
The warm climate of Cornwall is due to the influence of the
Gulf stream. This means that crops are ripe well before those
grown further north. Farmers can begin planting potatoes in
February, a month earlier than most other places. The very first
crop is ready by May and these young early potatoes and other
vegetables, such as peas and broad beans, have a tenderness and
delicacy of flavour that is unbeatable. New Potato Salad
is an excellent use for these early potatoes.
Early strawberries from the Tamar valley are another great
delicacy and Cornwall also grows gooseberries, no doubt in order
to cook one of the county's best traditional dishes, Baked
Mackerel with Gooseberry Sauce.
Wine-making in Cornwall
Wine-making is a growing venture in the West Country, even
though the climate is not quite as suitable as it is in drier
parts of the country. There are commercial vineyards in Cornwall,
generally producing white wines.