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The Cornish Pasty

Cornish flag

The pasty famine


This page of The Cornish Pasty d'tell 'ee of a time of great hardship to do with our pasties ......

The little-talked-of Pasty Famine of the late-1850's was due to several factors.

The Irish Potato Famine occurred between 1845-1849 (with effects lasting into 1851) and the Highland Potato Famine 1846-1857 - much longer in Scotland. The crops were badly "blighted" i.e. spoiled by Phytophthora infestans, which is an oomycete fungus. This be a filamentous mold. The disease is often called "Late blight" or "Potato blight".

Another disease, caused by Alternaria solani, occurs earlier in the season and this is "Early blight". 

What went unreported was local events of the time to do with the blight being seen in Cornwall, resulting in the Cornish Potato Famine. Luckily, the summers were dry compared to the west of Ireland and the Scottish coasts so the mold didn't do so much damage in Cornwall to the potato crop. And .... of course, potatoes are used in pasties. 

Where the mold was a pest was in the pasty trees - possibly they were vulnerable due to the similarity of part of their genetic material to the genes in the potato plant. This meant the trees were susceptible and became blighted like the taty plants. This was called the "Pasty blight".

Seeing that nobody who wadn't local could actually find or see the trees, there followed a great wailin' among those poor souls whose very lives practically depended on the pasty trees in their orchards and on the taties in their gardens to keep them going along .....

Another factor was a failure of the normal prevailing winds that normally brought the Black Nights to the south-west for the pollination of the trees - this made things worse.

Overlapping with the Highland Famine was the Crimean War which was 1854-1856. It is believed that troops coming home unfortunately brought the croust beetle with them, so that any pasties that did survive the blight were spoiled by the beetle.

The upshot of all this, was a period of hard times, leading up to a great emigration of miners and their families, especially after the price of copper crashed in 1866.

The legacy of this is the story that if you shout "Jack" down any mine in the world, a Cornishman will answer you ..... probably with the shout - "Where's my pasty to?!"

Celtic dog

Celtic clipart courtesy of

Celtic dragon

So now you know something else about the history of our Cornish pasty .....


Celtic spiral animation