When you are on holiday in a place like Cornwall you are probably spending a lot of time outdoors, possibly being a bit energetic – walking, swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, kayaking, following wife and daughter on Poldark hunt etc. So hearty sustenance is important. Happily, there is no problem getting your five-a-day in Cornwall. Here’s how:-
1. CORNISH PASTY. The jewel in the Cornish culinary crown. For those not in the know, a Cornish pasty is basically a beef steak and potato pie (with onions, swede and seasoning thrown in) but made in a distinctive semi-circular shape with the pastry forming a thick crust round the curved edge of the pasty. The pasty was the traditional lunch of the Cornish tin miner and legend has it that the distinctive thick crust was used for holding by the miners’ dirty fingers, then discarded after the rest of the pasty had been devoured. Unlike tin mining (now extinct), pasty shops are everywhere in Cornwall selling both the traditional steak and more exotic varieties (often with a curry or vegetarian vibe). And good value, they are too – about £4 for a large, hot pasty that will provide enough fuel for an afternoon’s bodyboarding.
2. CREAM TEA. Tea rooms and cafés abound in Cornwall and a real afternoon treat is the classic cream tea. A pot of tea, a scone or two (actually it has to be two), strawberry jam and lashings of cool, thick, yellow clotted cream. Ideally, there should be more clotted cream than appears necessary. Having cut your two scones in half, the challenge then is to ladle every last ounce of your excessive amount of clotted cream on to your four halves of scone (before adding some jam). I never have a problem rising to that challenge. The worst crime that can be committed by a tea room/café is not giving you enough clotted cream to provide a 13.5 Tog rated cover for each bit of scone. Laws should be enacted to ensure this can never happen because it can ruin the rest of your day. A real bonus is to arrive at your tea room or café of choice while the scones are fresh out of the oven and still warm (happily this happened to us at the National Trust café at Bedruthan Steps).
3. ICE CREAM. Dairy is big in Cornwall, hence the clotted cream and more local ice cream makers than you can shake a flake at. The likes of Roskilly’s, Kelly’s, Callestick Farm and Moomaid trip off the tongue …. not to mention the lips and chin on particularly warm days. In the interests of research(!), we visited Roskilly’s farm near St. Keverne on the Lizard peninsula. A homely, tumbledown affair down a typically narrow Cornish country lane, we had a small lunch in the café and no prizes for guessing what we had for dessert. But … have you ever been to a restaurant and instantly regretted your choice of dish? I happen to like coconut ice cream but the only type they had was non-dairy but I still went for it. Why, oh, why did I do that?? That’s ice something but not ice cream. I was on a farm where you can even see the cows being milked and I chose a non-dairy product. Happily, we all had three scoops (and three different flavours), so the excellent, full-fat white chocolate and raspberry ripple and black currant cheesecake saved the day. To be fair, knowing I was having two dollops of proper ice cream did have something to do with the non-dairy choice!
4. FISH. Cornwall is a long thin county surrounded by sea (except for the frontier with Devon and the rest of the UK). Even in the middle of the county you are never far from the sea and an achingly quaint fishing village or harbour, so it’s a great place for traditional fish and chips. A seaside holiday for us typically includes the take-away version of this British classic, usually eaten out of the paper, sitting on a harbour wall or sea front – the romantic notion of fish and chips (let’s ignore fighting off hungry seagulls and tackling a large piece of battered fish with a totally inadequate little wooden fork thing with only two prongs). However on this holiday (we got back home two days ago by the way), it was raining at the time we decided that fish and chips was the thing we needed most in the whole wide world. Fortunately, The Beach Restaurant in St. Ives came to the rescue. The counter on the ground floor selling fresh fish was a good omen and upstairs we sat inside but with an excellent view over the harbour. The haddock and chips did not disappoint – thick, firm fish, perfect crispy batter and decent chips (to be honest, battered fish is at its crispiest best when eaten straight away rather than after having been wrapped in paper for a take-away). Traditional fish and chips is not the only product of the sea on offer in Cornwall as there is plenty of other fish and shellfish to be had. If you have been to Padstow in recent years, you will know that celebrity chef, Rick Stein, seems to own at least half of the eating establishments in the town and fish is what he is most famous for. And yes, we did do the Rick Stein thing but in one of his pubs in a small village just outside “Padstein”. The menu was not dominated by fish dishes by any means but I went for the Goan fish curry and it was seriously good.
5. CHEESE. More moo juice products from those productive Cornish cows. Cornish Blue is a lovely, mild blue cheese – the chunk we bought did not last long. I even had a Cornish Blue pizza one evening at a pub, sitting outside overlooking a quiet, picturesque creek. If you like blue cheese but find Stilton a bit too strong, then Cornish Blue could be the thing for you. The other Cornish cheese we tried was Cornish Yarg. An intriguing name but not from the depths of ancient Cornish culture. Apparently, a couple called Gray re-discovered the 13th century recipe for this cheese and simply reversed their surname to create a convincingly Cornish-sounding name. The distinguishing feature of this cheese is the edible (but mouldy!) rind made by wrapping the cheese in nettle leaves. Inside, the cheese is a bit Cheddar-like towards the edges, being yellowy and smooth. Towards the middle, it becomes whiter and a tad crumbly – vaguely reminiscent of Wensleydale. At first, it tasted a bit soapy but, as I nibbled at it over the course of a few days, it just got better and better – creamy and delicious. The mouldy nettle rind is a bit of an acquired taste though!
So there you have it – how to sustain yourself when on holiday in Cornwall. OK, it may not be that healthy, but different rules apply when you’re on holiday, don’t they? To be honest, if you did eat all five of these in one day you may explode. I think the most I had was three in one day.
The choice for number five was not easy. Fudge (made with clotted cream of course) and cider are popular local fare and were possible contenders. However, not a morsel of fudge passed my lips in the whole two week holiday and I only got round to having one bottle of local cider. But what a belter that cider was – Healey’s Oak-Matured Special Edition Cornish Cyder. If the name sounds familiar, yes these cider makers are related to Donald Healey. You can visit their cider farm, not far from Donald’s birthplace Perranporth and they have a small collection of Austin-Healeys on show (I trust they don’t drink and drive!).
Finally, here are a few photos of Cornwall itself. If you are not familiar with the UK – look at a map. Cornwall is the bit sticking out at the bottom left, a bit like a leg and it’s the most popular holiday destination in the UK. Miles of beautiful coastline and loads of old towns and villages. The North coast and South coast have different characters. The North is rugged with rocky cliffs and endless bays with long sandy beaches. Facing the Atlantic, it has a surfing culture and surprisingly warm sea. The South has fewer beaches but numerous peaceful, wooded creeks and a bit of a subtropical feel thanks to the occasional palm tree. We cannot decide whether we prefer the North or South because they both offer something different. So, as we have just done on our most recent Cornish holiday, we usually have a week in each!