North East student's Mexico pastie hunt

Newcastle University history student Ester Pink has tracked down how the pastie  - a North East bakers' staple - has made it to Mexico

Ester Pink (right) at the pastie museum in Mexico with fellow student Ambra Carai
Ester Pink (right) at the pastie museum in Mexico with fellow student Ambra Carai

A regional favourite - the humble pasty - has made the culinary journey to Mexico.

Newcastle University history student Ester Pink discovered that pasties, a staple of the likes of North East bakers Greggs, are thriving thousands of miles away.

A legacy of the Cornish miners who went to Mexico in the 19th Century, these North American hybrids now come in many different guises, most commonly containing refried beans and chorizo.

Ester revealed her findings as students made their presentations at Newcastle University’s Expedition and Research Scholarship lectures event.

Supported in the summer by university expedition funding, she traced the steps of Cornish miners in 1824 who endured months of arduous travelling over sea and land to work in the Mexican silver mines.

She said: “A lot of them didn’t last long, once they realised Mexico wasn’t the Eldorado they had been promised.

“Many of the women made beautiful gowns before they left, hoping to impress Mexican high society when in fact they were in a tiny village miles from anywhere.”

For the first few years, the mining families lived on company land in Real de Monte, near Pachuca, but they gradually moved out into the community, with many of the miners marrying Mexican women.

Their wives soon learned how to make pasties. Chilli was added, and they became more potato than meat. A new version using refried beans and mashed up chorizo also emerged. The original recipe had to be adapted as there was no lard or shortening to be found in the local markets and also a lack of variety in available vegetables – cactus was the local staple.

However, as the miners were paid up to 20 times what the locals earned, gradually they were able to obtain some of the necessary ingredients which would have been beyond the reach of most of the villagers.

Over the last few years, pasties have been made commercially for the tourist market, with new flavours such as cheese, ham and pineapple being developed, but the old family recipes still remain a closely guarded secret.

“Everyone has a different way of making pasties and a lot of work goes into it,” said Ester. “They are fiercely protective of their recipes.

“There’s now a local pastie makers guild, an international pasty festival every October and the world’s only pastie museum .”

The focus of Ester’s expedition was how migrant communities adapt while maintaining their own identity. “The written history of the time is rather dry and technical, with very little about the stories behind the miners’ families who settled here, especially the Cornish women, so I wanted to bring this to life,” she said.

“They weren’t just making pasties – they took it upon themselves to educate the children and set up a school which records suggest has always been run by women - one of them served as the school’s director for 74 years.”

Over the years the Cornish identity has remained strong in the region. As well as pasties, the first football match in Mexico was played in Real del Monte, where the miners settled. An English school was set up which still teaches bi-lingual classes today; and there is a British Cemetery, which is the first overseas site to join the Cornish Mining World Heritage Association.

wThe University Research Scholarships and Expeditions support undergraduate students to work alongside researchers on summer vacation projects and undertake field research in other countries. 

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