Daphne du Maurier’s Christmas feast in Cornwall

Iconic Literary Food Moments

One of our recommended reads for the Josephine Moon episode was Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel – suspense on steroids. The books is full of food, herbs and tisannes, which in the hands of the irresistible Rachel are weapons of power – rituals that lift the world from the mundane to the sublime.

The Christmas dinner is one of the most memorable scenes in the book, highlighting how much in life can shift around a dinner table – the joys and conflicts that are borne when people are drawn together in a confined space.

The characters feast on “roast goose, roast turkey, sides of beef and mutton, great smoked hams decorated with a frill, pastries and pies of all shapes and sizes, puddings bulging with dried fruits, and between the heavier fare were platters of that delicate fragile pastry, airy as thistledown, that Rachel had concocted with the Barton maids.”

Set in Cornwall, it seems highly likely that these pastries would have included the classic Cornish pasty – possibly with an Italian twist. One immediately thinks calzone, which while resembling the more industrial Cornish pasty, doesn’t quite have an “airy as thistledown” ring.

So we decided to concoct a pasty bolognaise – a dish that melds the flavours of Italy with Cornwall – and it was rather delicious. We like to imagine that these were the pastries upon which the characters in My Cousin Rachel might have dined that Christmas.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 kilo beef mince

  • Olive oil

  • 1 tbsp dried basil

  • 1 tbsp dried or fresh oregano

  • 1 onion

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1 carrot

  • 1/2 red capsicum

  • 1/2 green capsicum

  • Four rounds of pie-crust pastry or puff pastry

  • 425g tin diced or crushed tomatoes (extra if need be)

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 1 or 2 tsp sugar (to taste and to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes)

  • Salt and a good serving of pepper from the pepper grinder

  • 1 egg

  • Milk

Method

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius.

Place olive oil in a large fry pan on medium heat. Brown the mince then remove from the pan and put to one side.

Add onions, oregano, basil, garlic and carrots (in that order) into the pan and cook for three minutes. Then add the capsicums and cook for three minutes.

Return the mince to the pan.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, sugar and salt and pepper and simmer until much of the water evaporates (you don’t want it too wet or the pastry will get soggy).

Use a plate six inches in diameter to cut out six rounds of pastry – you can go smaller if you prefer more dainty pasties.

Place each round on a floured surface.

Using a slotted spoon to reduce the liquid, scoop the filling into the centre of each circle, taking care not to overfill.

Mix the egg and milk together and brush the edges of each pastry circle. Bring the edges of the pastry together and press firmly. Fold edges over and crimp to give a neat finish.

Place on a greased baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Bake for 20 minutes.

Image Credit: IISG [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons