EATING FOR BRITAIN: CLOTTED CREAM & PASTIES IN CORNWALL.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have written entries for The Guardian’s Word of Mouth Blog supporting the attempts of Glasgow and Birmingham to gain PDO status for the Chicken Tikka Masala and the Balti respectively.
Inevitably, this being The Guardian, I received plenty of comments both in support and telling me not to be so bleeding stupid. I could certainly sympathise with the latter group, but think that in the end their slightly pooterish argument that these two dishes are just imports from the sub-continent that we have fannied around with fails to take into account the fact that without immigration we would not have had so many of our national dishes including Lancashire Hot Pot, Kippers and of course, Fish & Chips.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of that debate, I am sure there can be little doubt from about the claims to protected status of the two dishes I went in search of this week, both in Cornwall and both, quite frankly, bloody delicious.
On Wednesday, I found my way to Scorrier a short distance from Redruth and the home of the big name in Clotted Cream, Rodda's. The large plant still stands on the site of the original farm and many of the old buildings remain in place as indeed does the ownership of the Rodda family.
I met with Philip Rodda, who is a grandson of Fanny, the woman who first started cooking cream in glass jars to preserve it so it could be sold further afield than just the surrounding villages. It kept well in the jars, but did not form a crust, so, over the years, the family tweaked the system so it could be cooked in the plastic containers in which it is now sold, which allowed for the formation of that glorious yellow topping.
There is not much to see in the factory, which is much like many of the other facilities I have visited, but Philip explained that, although they now get through more than 200,000 litres of milk a week, the cream is still made in exactly the same batch method as it always has been, which is simply to separate the cream from the milk and then to bake it gently until the crust forms before allowing to cool.
This tradition and attention to detail is probably why it has remained so popular, not just with the likes of you and me but also with the late Queen Mother who used to have it delivered to Clarence House every week when she was in residence.
Well, the proof of the cream is in the eating and Philip explained the Cornish way of eating it. His own preference is to have it on a ‘split” a bread roll which is dolloped with cream and then drizzled with syrup to make a “Thunder & Lightning” or on a scone where the cream MUST go one after the jam unlike the way the heathens in Devon serve it. Me? I just like it straight out of the pot with a spoon.
Rodda’s Clotted Cream is easily one of the greatest tastes I have encountered in the whole of the UK
If Rodda’s cream is made a large facility, then Chough’s Award winning Cornish Pasties could not have a more humble home. Close to the harbour in Padstein, sorry, Padstow The Chough Bakery has been around for well over twenty-five years but has only been making pasties for about seventeen of those. Robert Ead and his wife began to sell them in competition to the mass produced efforts on sale in the rest of the town.
The recipe comes from Robert’s mother and, although they have had to change it a little to deal with the demands of making thousands a week, they are still made by hand fresh every day less than ten feet from the sales counter in the shop.
The recipe for a proper Cornish Pastie is a simple one. Shortcrust pastry surrounding a mix of beef, potatoes and turnip, seasoned with salt and pepper. Given this simplicity, you would imagine that it is not too hard to make a good pastie but, as Robert explained too may bakers use the humble status of the pastie to use poor ingredients including something rather unpleasant called “pastie meat” which involves bits I would rather not contemplate.
At Chough’s on the other hand, they only use prime ingredients. Chunks of lean skirt steak, from Cornish cattle, of course, freshly peeled and chopped potatoes and turnips, plenty of salt and both black and white pepper, hand mixed shortcrust pastry and their own special ingredient, a blob of the Rodda’s clotted cream I had seen being made the day before.
The real skill comes in the crimping of the pastry, which in the days of the tin mining industry allowed workers to eat the filling and discard the crust of twisted dough which was left on the mining floor for the “knockers” the fairies that people believed inhabited the mines and guided the miners to the rich veins of tin with their knocking.
After being brushed with a wash of whole egg, the pasties are baked for forty minutes and allowed to cool a little before they are served up as fast as Robert and his small team can make them.
Like so many “peasant” dishes the end result is hearty and delicious. The pepper makes sure the filling is never bland and the pastry breaks to allow a gloriously meaty steam to escape from the insides. Perfect with a good slug of HP sauce or English mustard.
If you want to try for yourself, they run an efficient online mail order service where you can of course buy pasties but also an entire Cornish cream tea by post which includes, you guessed it, Rodda's clotted cream. www.thechoughbakery.co.uk
Two more dishes ticked off my EATING FOR BRITAIN list and I don’t think even some of the readers of The Guardian could argue with their inclusion.