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‘After the mines closed in the 1990s,’ said Pedro, ‘the town really struggled.’

We nodded, sagely. When a company town loses the company that sustains it, the ending is rarely happy. But in this case, there was a twist.

‘It was the pasty that revived us.’

Perhaps, at this point, a little context is required.

 


 

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During the 19th century, it was said that wherever there was a hole in the ground, you’d find a Cornishman at the bottom. The tin and copper mines of Cornwall spawned generations of country-strong miners, whose reputation spread far beyond south-west England. Expertise and experience bred opportunity, and Cornish miners travelled the world to make their fortunes underground.

The mines near what became known as Mineral del Monte, a hilltop town in central Mexico, were first plundered by the Spanish in the 16th century. By the early 1800s, they’d long since been left to decay, but new technology invented in England during the Industrial Revolution made them ripe for revival.

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The new Cornish owners brought with them skills and equipment previously unseen in Mexico. Both the mines and the town, today more widely known as Real del Monte, came to thrive under their watch. The miners and their families threw up Cornish-style houses and cottages around Real del Monte, centred on a clock tower with a timepiece built by the firm of John Moore & Sons in Clerkenwell. When the miners died, they ended up in the town’s English Cemetery. All this heritage is today celebrated in Cornwall by – yes, really – the Cornish Mexican Cultural Society.

Not everything brought across the ocean by the Cornish expatriates took hold. Methodism didn’t really stick; like the rest of Mexico, the state of Hidalgo remains staunchly Catholic. Nor, to our disappointment, is there any trace in the locals’ speech of the unmistakable West Country accent. But other imports proved irresistible. The first game of football in Mexico is believed to have been played by teams of Cornish miners in nearby Pachuca, which in 1901 became the home of the country’s first ever football club. And then there’s the Cornish pasty – or, in its Spanish spelling but with the same pronunciation, the paste.

 


 

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In truth, the presence of Cornish pasties here wasn’t a complete surprise. As we paused at a service station on the first Saturday of the year, we fell into conversation with a family driving home after the holidays. They lived in Pachuca, it turned out, and were delighted to describe to us the paste heritage of their home city. (We’ve chanced upon similar history once before: in central California, where evidence of the Cornish mining influx to the town of Grass Valley during the Gold Rush remains visible, and edible, thanks to Marshall’s Pasties.)

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Even so, we were slightly taken aback by the scale of the pasty industry. Pachuca, it turns out, is full of pasterías; in the centre of town, there’s almost one on every corner. And up the hill, a 400m climb from Pachuca, Real del Monte is equally enthusiastic, the main road into town strung with tiny shops selling pastes of various types. A couple of months before we arrived, Prince Charles took a look around. Presumably he was enlightened as to the main difference between a paste and an empanada (on the left in the picture above), which is that the filling in a paste isn’t cooked before it’s wrapped in the pastry.

A former miner, Pedro was our genial guide at the Museo del Paste – the Pasty Museum. We’d feared the museum might be little more than a shop with an entrance fee, but it turned out to be a very sweet operation with detailed and rather proud displays on the area’s Cornish heritage – plus, yes, a huge kitchen, at which visitors are invited to make their own pastes. The museum opened in 2012, a few years after the town’s first ever Pasty Festival. The festival is now an annual occurrence, drawing 30,000 people a year, and its paste competition is hotly contested.

 


 

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And the pasties? Well, at the museum, they were really rather good, and pretty authentic to boot. But at other pasterías, the Mexicans haven’t been able to resist giving the recipe a little tweak or two: spicy chorizo and cheese, chicken with mole negra, even pineapple. Up in the English Cemetery, the miners are presumably turning in their graves. More fools them: we rather liked the variety.

from Xilitla, San Luis Potosí, Mexico