Once British kitchens had established pastry-making as standard, a number of variations from different parts of the country began to surface.
Diversity across regions
The most commonly known savoury pastries today are the Cornish pasty and the Melton Mowbray pork pie. Each has been given protected food states as a result of their heritage in culinary circles. The pork pie, not unlike the early game-pies, features either aspic or a set jelly to accompany the pork filling. They are believed to have been specifically developed in or around Melton in the 1700’s thanks to the growth in fox hunting and cheesemaking. They may not be the most likely relationship in the world but an increase in the production of cheese resulted in an excess of whey, which made for great pig food and gave a boost to local pig production. Presented in convenient packaging for labourers, they were also spotted by huntsmen visiting the area, who then proceeded to spread the word. At around the same time, the Cornish pasty was gaining in popularity as a packed lunch for local coal-miners. While other versions of a dish that sound suspiciously like a pasty have been around since the 1300’s, the durable pastry case, along with the inexpensive meat and vegetables for the filling were ideal for the poor families working as labours in the mines. We saw this taken to the next level with the Bedfordshire Clanger. The suet-pastry case included a dessert with the main, in a single package. It featured a sweet at one end and a savoury filling at the other. It’s unlikely that you’ll see these around, however. They didn’t really leave a mark and are no longer available to buy.
Sweet tart variations
The sweet tart’s rise in popularity gave more fodder for interpretation, with the base often formed by custard fillings. The Manchester Tart ranks among the more well-known versions, with the custard covering a raspberry jam layer, and with a desiccated coconut topping. The Liverpool tart (another north-west version) features a lemon filling. Then there’s the Eccles cake (puff pastry surrounding spiced dried fruits). Bakewell in Derbyshire, of course, was responsible for the Bakewell tart, with its almond filling. A recipe box from 1869 about household management made reference to a Bakewell pudding with puff pastry, as opposed to the shortcrust it’s famous for today. From their humble portable case beginnings to being centrepieces on the tables of royalty, the pastry has enjoyed quite some journey in its centuries-old history. Once regarded as being merely a utensil, it’s now more often used as a culinary canal for increasingly innovative fillings and toppings. Today, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to pasties and pies, tarts and quiches, and with almost an unlimited amount of flavours and fillings: from traditional recipes to modern fusion creations. And just to think that the Romans were prone to throwing their pastry away.