3 September 1999

Pasty-master in the art of tasty Cornish cooking

TWENTY minutes out of the oven and Ann Mullers pasties are at their peak. But dont dare call them fresh. In Cornwall, that means the cook has been niggardly with the salt.

When it comes to choosing ingredients, no effort is too great to ensure that her Pasty Shop on the Lizard sells only Cornwalls finest. "To get the best flavour out of a pasty, you have to put the best quality in," insists Ann.

The only things she buys cheaply are saucepan lids. Their thin metal makes an ideal pastry cutter for her small and regular-sized pasties. All other ingredients receive lavish attention.

Her recipe for a traditional Cornish pasty starts with organic strong white flour from Doves Farm, Hungerford, Berks. Combined with Echo margarine, it makes the lightest of short-crush pastry, says Ann.

Cornish turnip, onion, potatoes and skirt beef complete the recipe. "We do things a bit differently in Cornwall; what other people call swede, we know as turnip. Its just a bit frustrating that I cant get top quality Cornish turnip throughout the summer. I dont like to buy foreign vegetables but sometimes I have no choice."

For preference, Ann selects Desiree potatoes. Having tried many types over the years, Ann is convinced that the waxy, firm flesh of Desiree gives the best texture to her pasty fillings. Any strong English onion variety provides the bite her pasties boast.

Skirt beef is the preferred cut although chuck will do. Both are tasty and juicy enough to blend with the swede and onion.

To bring the best flavour out of all the ingredients, careful seasoning is vital. "Poor seasoning can ruin a good pasty. Its no good trying to add seasoning to a pasty after its cooked because the salt and pepper are just not absorbed."

Carrots are scorned at the Lizard Pasty Shop. "We dont use carrots. They just dont mush down like potatoes and turnips and so cant absorb all the lovely juices that make a well-made pasty so heavenly."

Ann learned her pasty-making art at her mothers knee although her technique differs from her teachers in one respect. "Im a left hand crimper but my mother crimped the pasty edges together from right to left." Its a small distinction but one which conceals one of the best-kept secrets of the pasty-makers art. "Crimping is how we fasten the pastry together once the filling has been added. Some people just throw it over but crimping is vitally important because thats what holds the filling in place in the oven and afterwards."

After crimping the pasty is basted in egg-wash and water and then baked for an hour, to emerge steaming, crisp and delicious.

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The traditional pasty is still the most popular but its not the only one that graces the shelves of the Lizard Pasty Shop. "Theres cheese with veg, veg, herb, spinach and watercress. One of my favourites is the baked bean and sausage which goes down a treat at breakfast." says Ann.

For her, pasties are superior to a snack and more than a meal, they are a passion. Anns devotion to the Cornish mouth organ means she would happily eat them at every meal. Only her husbands insistence stops Ann taking a supply away on holiday to their favourite location of Corfu. But the odd box of pasties has gone to Holland to fuel Anns Cornish gig-rowing team. What do the Dutch make of them? According to all reports they join the chorus of "yums," "mmms," and "delicious," which cram her over-flowing visitors book.

Thats for the tourists though. The bulk of Anns customers, local farmers, dont voice their praise. They signal their approval quietly by returning to her little, bright yellow shop.

But times move on – even for the not so humble pasty. In addition to shop sales, Ann now posts pasties to customers throughout the UK. And last year her pasties hit the information super highway when Ann launched her pasty website Lizardpasty.com.uk

So what is the true secret of pasty-making perfection? Ann pauses and smiles, almost conspiratorially. The fruits of years of experience are not given away lightly. Finally, she speaks: "Use only the best of ingredients, apply thoughtful seasoning and learn how to give a good crimp."

Put those elements together and 20 minutes out of the oven, you end up with a meal that Anns customers agree comes close to perfection on a plate.

Inquiries: 01326 290880.