From the Brand Historian’s Timeline: 1969
It’s 1969, and just as the Lunar Module Eagle is planning to execute its historic Moon landing, the Brand Historian has been playing cricket in Walsall, a town currently located in the ancient county of Staffordshire but about to repositioned both topographically and stylistically in the new concrete metropolis of the West Midlands. And just as Neil takes his giant step for man, Geoffrey Ginster is also about to make his distinctive mark on the universe.
Geoff Ginster has strong family connections with Walsall. His forebears were in business selling horse manure to Black Country foundries whose moulds were made with a mixture of dung and sand. But in 1969, he has left Longwood Lane, taken his share of the family inheritance and driven south-westwards. After a sojourn in Devon, getting to grips with clotted cream and the Milk Marketing Board, he travels further westwards (218 miles from Walsall) in a move that will make his name and fortune.
The pasty is a quintessential English food with an ancient lineage and interesting relatives like empanadas and pirogs. Simply put, a pasty is a baked pastry with a meat and vegetable filling, folded in the shape of a half-moon with a crimped edge to seal it. It has been eaten by people of all sorts, including Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third, and arguably most successful wife, although I honestly cannot remember if Hilary Mantel describes a scene in Wolf Hall in which she and Cromwell share its delights. Shakespeare was also quite partial to pasties and made a rather unsavoury modification to the traditional recipe in Titus Andronicus.
At some stage in its history, the pasty became inextricably linked with Cornwall and by the mid-nineteenth century travellers were raving about, “The Cornish pasty, which so admirably comprises a dinner in itself—meat, potatoes, and other good things well cooked and made up into so portable a form.” It became the food of choice for miners from Redruth to Nevada –always generous, filling, long lasting and convenient.
To return to 1969 and the birth of the Ginster Pasty: Geoff opened his first bakery in a derelict egg packing shed in Callington with a staff of four and a production target of 24 – this we can assume was easily achieved. Ginsters using the proverbial ‘secret recipe’ (this time supplied by a ship’s cook) and offering the punter down to earth honest fill, started to appear in pubs, restaurants and seaside catering sites throughout the South West. Soon Ginster was employing over 30 people and making more than 48,000 pasties.
In 1977, Geoff decided to retire and sold the business to Samworth Brothers, the pie and pastry magnates who successfully built upon his work to create one of Britain’s most powerful and ubiquitous food brands. Ginsters pretty much owns the category and proudly celebrates Cornwall as the home of the Nation’s favourite pasty. It all seems a long way from Longwood Lane, Walsall, but not as far as the Sea of Tranquillity, which that July night I remember looking at fondly from a bench outside the pavilion.
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Essential Reading Matter:
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