Crumbly or flaky, but always buttery and moreish, the cornish pasty has travelled far and wide across the world but once it arrived in Mexico, pastes as they came to be known, became a perfect Mexi-Brit fusion.
Think about this: what does Mexico and Britain have in common? Not the language, religion, or the weather that’s for sure! Here’s a little known tale of how the industrial revolution brought together two nations and forged an unexpected bond of friendship, love of hearty food and a fervent passion for football.
This is the story of Mexico’s Little Cornwall and the food that came to stay.
Food is a fundamental aspect of a community’s life, is deeply embedded with symbolisms, meanings, and elements that connect us with our past and the essence of our cultural identity.
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The 19th century was a complex bur exciting time in Mexico, the steep road to build a nation after just claiming its independence from Spain in 1810, was paved with hard work to modernise the country and it didn’t take long for Britain, the indisputable technological leader of the time to join forces to exploit the abandoned silver mines in the state of Hidalgo near central Mexico
Wherever we are in the world, no matter how far, no matter how lonely and homesick we might feel, the food from our homeland will always bring a glowing smile to our faces.
Like thousands of migrants before, a handful of Englishmen crossed the Atlantic with their little suitcases full of hopes and dreams, a few belongings and their entire cultural heritage to keep them company into the unknown.
On a particularly hot day of may in 1825, the tropical shores of Veracruz in the gulf of Mexico, saw the arrival of the fist 60 Cornish miners and their 1,500 tons of equipment ready to step into the biggest adventure of their lives.
A large a convoy of 53 wagons, around 550 mules and 120 men were required to move tons of machinery and started the great trek to Real del Monte, the slow and difficult quest quest claimed the life of thirty Cornish and 100 Mexicans.
A Miner’s diet
There is no romanticism when it comes to mining, endless working hours in a gloomy humid darkness, with dangerous conditions, mines are no place for biscuits, open sandwiches and cordials.
Hundreds of years ago Cornish women had solved that problem by creating the perfect lunch: a hearty combination of beef, parsnips, potatoes and other vegetables encased in a tough dough crust. This rough baked empanada of sorts required no cutlery, reheating or even clean hands as the tough crust was inedible, a mere carrying vessel that preserved intact its rewarding contents.
Although there are recordings of pasties in England dating back to the 1300s, according to the Cornish tradition the true Cornish way to make a pasty required wives to bake their husband’s initials on the crust so the men could then recognise it in the poor lighting of the mines. According to a Cornish superstition the crust should not be eaten, but instead dropped on the ground to appease and feed the mining gremlins.
The truth is that Cornish tin mines are rich in arsenic, and the miners’ hands were covered with this poisonous substance, so this was yet another reason for not eating the crust but only the filling.
The Cornish diaspora in Real del Monte was warmly welcomed in Mexico, and even a Methodist church and permission to build their own graveyard was granted, as the time to use it came, one by one all the tombstones were laid in one same direction, because the future dwellers asked to be buried pointing back to Cornwall.
As the Cornish immigrants settled, many married locally and of course the cultural bridges like those that only food can build were provided by the pasty.
Food is a fundamental aspect of a community’s life, is deeply embedded with symbolisms, meanings, and elements that connect us with the essence of our cultural identity, wherever we are in the world. And the Cornish pasties are yet another example of this.
Mexicans renamed pasties as as pastes [pahstehs] and soon embraced them and made them their own by having very Mexican fillings such as: creamy poblano pepper and corn; mole; tinga (tomato-chipotle stew) and even rice pudding.
Not only of food, work and man lives alone, football if anything -comes first and last for Mexicans and Britons alike.
In 1900 the first football match ever played in Mexico took place in hidalgo and two years later the Pachuca Athletic club -exclusively formed by Englishmen was formed. The city of Pachuca (Hidalgo’s capital) prides itself for being the home of Mexican football.
The Cornish-Mexican mining community features in FIFA’s hall of fame for introducing their national sport to the country.
Although tennis and cricket were also introduced they really didn’t have a chance against football.
n 2008 a revival of the Cornish heritage in Hidalgo inspired the first International Paste Festival in Real del Monte and to celebrate their shared heritage, a twin cities agreement between Camborne, Cornwall and Pachuca was signed.
With help of the Cornish-Mexican Cultural Society in 2014 the the world’s only Pasty museum opened its doors, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were guests of honour at both the festival and the museum where they baked pasties as part of the celebrations.
Tinga is an easy and tasty option to make a Mexican paste, the sweetness of the chipotle and molasses gives this tomato stew a good warmth.
The dough to make both Cornish pasties and Mexican pastes is exactly the same: a simple mix of flour, water, salt and shortening.