Ester Pink, a history student at Newcastle University visited Mexico as part of her research into Cornish identity in Mexico and gave a
a special public lecture at Newcastle University:
Examining the role of women and the legacy of the Cornish mining community in Pachuca, Mexico
"Since the 1820s the village of Real Del Monte and neighbouring Pachuca in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, have been home to significant Cornish community. This expedition set out to analyse how Cornish culture evolved, assimilated or was preserved, and how this identity was transmitted to the newer generations born in Mexico. We focused especially on the role of women in key areas of Cornish influence such as food history (the Cornish pasty, now known as “paste”, features heavily in local cuisine in a variety of flavours, and Real del Monte is home to the only Paste Museum in the world) and education history (the oldest schools in Pachuca were founded by/for the Cornish community, and many of the teachers were Cornish women). The study combined historical and anthropological methods, and was mainly based on interviews with descendants of Cornish families."
Newcastle University press release:
"Cornish pasties might be a traditional British staple but one student discovered they are also thriving thousands of miles away in Mexico. A legacy of the Cornish miners who went over in the 1800s, these North American hybrids known as ‘paste’ now come in many different guises, most commonly refried beans and chorizo.
History student Ester Pink will be presenting her research into how Cornish identity has been preserved and handed down the generations at a special public lecture at Newcastle University tomorrow (Wednesday 20 Nov 2013).
This summer, supported by Newcastle University Expedition funding, she traced the steps of the original Cornish miners in 1824 who endured months of arduous travelling over sea and land to work in the Mexican silver mines.
“Back then, Cornwall was to the mining world what Silicon Valley is to the digital age,” she explained. “Cornish miners, or Cousin Jacks as they were known, had an excellent reputation – if you wanted the best miners, that’s where you got them from.
“A lot of them didn’t last long though, once they realised Mexico wasn’t the Eldorado they’d 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 Cornish pasties, which is when they began to evolve – chilli was added, they became more potato than meat, and a new version using refried beans and mashed up chorizo emerged.
The original recipe had to be adapted quite a bit 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, they were gradually 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,” says Ester. “They are fiercely protective of their recipes.
“There’s now a local pasty makers guild, an international pasty festival every October and the world’s only pasty museum where you can learn how to make them.”
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 explains.
“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.
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