Looking way back, more than a half-century ago, I see a distant white farmhouse along a 2-lane road in rural Michigan. I’m in the back seat of my grandfather’s Buick with my brothers. No seatbelts in those days and, because he‘s the youngest, Tom has to sit on the “hump” in the middle. Windows open, (no AC back then) warm breeze flutters in as we get closer to the farmhouse. We pull into the dirt driveway and park under an old tree. Behind the house is a huge, red barn and I can see chickens, frightened by our arrival, scurrying around the back yard. We pile out and head for the open front-porch door. We three boys hang back a bit, bashful in the presence of a very old lady who we barely know, but are aware that she’s a relative of some sort. We’re city boys, and the farm is disorienting. Plus, although I don’t ever remember her speaking to me, I was aware that she talked sort of “funny.”
I don’t remember much else until lunchtime. I remember a kitchen with bright sunshine streaming through curtainless windows. I remember sitting at a grey Formica table. In front of me is a plate and, there on the plate, is something I had never seen before. Is it bread? It looks like a pie, sort of. It’s thick in the middle, and pointy at the ends. It’s steaming through slits in the top. And something smells really good.
I see the grownups cutting theirs in half. I do the same, and through the slash spills beef. Juicy chunks of beef. And potatoes. Little squares of potato. And something that looked a bit like potato, but not quite. Never mind – that could be pushed to the corner of the plate. I stuck a fork into the meat and looked at it closely, examining it for foreign or unknown spices or (worse) green vegetable traces. It was clean.
It looked hot, so I nibbled a morsel from the fork.
Oh. My. God.
I took a big bite – damn the searing of my palate. Potato next, with bits of onion clinging. Then a piece of crust. NO! No pastry has ever tasted so sublime! Lard! Suet! Beef drippings! Onion! All baked into a brown, crisp perfection.
I remember little of that lunch after that. Just the old lady, in her odd speech saying “ ‘es a shaam ‘e diddn like ‘en, eh?” I looked at my plate. Empty.
I’m sure that we went, after lunch, out to the yard and chased the chickens and tried to make the many cats get close enough to pet them. I remember being taken into the barn where there were cows. I expect that when we were put back into the car to head home, I slept the whole way.
My first pasty. Made by a cousin of my Grandfather, a lady who must have been 90 if a day, and who had left Cornwall for America easily seventy years before. Out in the middle of Southwestern Michigan, hundreds of miles from the seacoast, and then an ocean away from Cornwall, there was a bit of Cornwall. And I ate a pasty in it.
Jim Wearne is a Cornish-American Singer-Songwriter from North America, performing at Cornish Festivals in the U.S.A, and Cornwall. He is a Bard of the Cornish Gorseth and is known for his dedication to establish national status for Cornwall within the United Kingdom.