Cornwall vs Devon: Part II
Pasties, surfing pedigree, reefbreaks, pointbreaks, and cream tea.
We resume our quest to determine the finest county in the South West. Part I considered nomenclature, music, celebrity chefs, and beachbreaks. Part II turns to the no-less-pressing issues of pasties, surfing pedigree, reefbreaks, pointbreaks, and cream tea.
The debate over the origins of the so-called Cornish pasty — it’s often prefaced with the epithet traditional — has been raging fiercely for centuries, and clearly it is a debate of supreme national importance. After all, the pasty is Cornwall’s national dish — but perhaps in the same way that England’s national dish is sometimes said to be Chicken Tikka Masala.
In 2011 the foodstuff was granted Protected Geographical Indication by the EU, which meant that only pasties prepared in Cornwall, and containing beef (at least 12.5%), swede, potato and onion, could be labelled as “Cornish pasties". The ruling was welcomed by the Cornish Pasty Association but not by food historian Peter Brears, who argued that the habitual inclusion of red meat could be traced not to Cornwall, where pasties were traditionally vegetarian, but to 19th century London.
Nor was it welcomed by the native population of Devon, whose historical claims to the pasty had been bolstered in 2006 when archivists discovered a pasty recipe among Plymouth’s 16th century civic accounts. It was dated 1510, making it the first reference to pasties in either Devon or Cornwall, and 236 years older than the first known Cornish recipe for pasties. “Devon Invented the Cornish Pasty", proclaimed the BBC, but not everyone was convinced by the apparent breakthrough. “There are caves at the Lizard in Cornwall," retorted self-styled pasty expert Les Merton, “with line drawings of men hunting a stag and women eating a pasty. At that time it was wrapped in leaves and not pastry, but the leaves were crimped, so I would say there is positive evidence of pasties in Cornwall from primitive times." Argument with such people is clearly futile.
Anyhow, perhaps the earliest known reference to the pasty in English can be found in a 13th century charter, by which the town of Yarmouth was bound to send to the sheriffs of Norwich twenty-four pasties of fresh herrings, which were then to be delivered to the lord of the manor of East Carlton, who would in turn convey them to the King.
Cornwall has produced numerous well-loved surfing personalities, and Newquay in particular is a veritable conveyor belt of legends. There’s powerhouse Spencer Hargreaves, whose Cornish accent could, in happier times, be heard on the Quik Pro France webcast every October. There’s Russell Winter, who became Europe’s first surfer to qualify for the CT, and who once, in a nod to UK surfing pioneer Capt. “Mad Jack" Churchill, wielded a broadsword in the streets of Newquay to fend off a band of hooligans — a heroic stand for which he was unjustly arrested. More recently, Reubyn Ash and Alan Stokes have ensured Cornish domination on the domestic circuit.
None of the these, mind, has spent nearly as much time on telly as Devon’s Andrew Cotton, whose combination of big wave daring and plumbing expertise has captured the nation’s imagination. Still: Kernow’s got better shredders. Even in the big wave arena, Cotty’s admittedly giant testicles are counterbalanced by the combined bulk of Tom Lowe’s & Tom Butler’s.
There once was a man from Porthleven,
Who could count up to six, but not seven.
Of his favourite reef
He’d the utmost belief
That it far surpassed any in Devon.
Neither the Cornish nor the Devonian surfer leads an entirely pointless existence. Lynmouth is the most famous example but there are others, not all of them apocryphal, one or two of them occasionally quite good. I don’t know, I’m just going to call this one a tie, if that’s alright.
There are two generally admitted ways of preparing cream tea. In Devon, one applies clotted cream to each half of the scone, then jam on top of the clotted cream. The Cornish maintain that jam should be applied first, then clotted cream dolloped on top of the jam. In practice these battle lines are not always upheld, and both methods can be found in use in either county.
The ideological split is reminiscent of the feud between the great empires of Liliput and Blefuscu, and of their disagreement regarding the correct way of breaking eggs, ie. whether they should be broken at the small end or the big end. The principle is the same: just as all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end, so they shall prepare their scones in the convenient order. And which is the convenient order seems, in my humble opinion, to be left to every man’s conscience.
But really, cream after the jam? Not on my watch.