Wednesday, 7 January 2015

When is a swede not a swede?

I will get to the answer - which has nothing to do with those neighbouring Scandinavian countries - all in good time but, first, a slight diversion to discuss a perceived threat to the Cornish pasty.

Here in Europe, certain foods have... well, I'm not sure what the official wording is, but it is something like protected geographic status.  What it means is that, for example, champagne is produced in that part of France from which it gets its name and nowhere else.  No other sparkling wine may be called champagne.  Similarly, there are three English foods that have this protection: Melton Mowbray pork pies are produced in that small market town; Stilton cheese (which, oddly enough, is not made in the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton) is made in a designated area; and the Cornish pasty, which can only be made in Cornwall.

(And I think the official wording might well be Protected Denomination of Origin.)

But the Cornish pasty is in danger.  The denomination of origin protection extends only to Europe, so there is nothing to stop similar pasties made in America, to recipes carried by Cornish emigrants, being so described.  So what, you might ask?  There is talk of some sort of trade deal being discussed between officials in the European Union with their counterparts in Washington.  If that deal comes about, there will be nothing to stop American manufacturers exporting so-called Cornish pasties to Europe.  There is no apparent danger to Stilton cheese or Melton Mowbray pork pies as there are no products made in America bearing those descriptions.

So, what is this business of a swede not being a swede?  Well, it all came to light about four years ago when officials of the European Union tried to decide when a swede is not a swede but a turnip and, conversely, when a turnip is a swede.  It was all the fault, as so many things like this seem to be, of the French. Their wines have long been subject to appellation controllée which defines exactly where the grapes for the wine were grown. They later spread this scheme to cover cheese and, for all I know, it might now cover olive oil as well. The original reason for this was to protect their farmers and to prevent people from other areas or, worse, other countries from using names such as Champagne when what they were really describing was a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne style. Needless to say, the Brussels bureaucrats soon jumped on this idea as a way of expanding their own little (only now it's not so little) empire.

In order to give the Cornish pasty its PDO or appellation controllée, it was necessary to describe the recipe precisely and officially, and it was this precise description that exercised so many bureaucratic minds.  You see, in Cornwall, the swede is known as a turnip.  The traditional recipe uses swede in the filling, but to a true Cornishman, it's turnip. So the bureaucrats had to decide just what ingredients go into a Cornish pasty - and what should be listed on the packaging. Does it include swede or turnip? If the bureaucrats decided on swede because that is what most people call the vegetable, the Cornish would say it's not the proper recipe, but if the decision were to call the vegetable turnip, people outside Cornwall would expect something different.

I never did learn what was decided, but I can answer the question in the title: when it's in Cornwall.

7 comments:

Jenny Woolf said...

Bureaucracy - don'tcha love it?

joeh said...

Can't we at least keep politics out of food?

Interesting stuff.

In the States, any city can sell Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches, but they do taste best when made in Philadelphia.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Shakespeare said it best:
"A rose by any other name is..."

Or did he?

Sophie said...

Apparently the EU had a rule that marmelade is only made from citrus fruit and everything else is jam or in German "Konfitüre" In Austria however, all sorts of fruit spread are called Marmelade, no matter what fruit is in there. There can be strawberry or cherry marmelade as well as orange marmelade. So they then had to make an exception to the rule that, as long they're not traded outside the country, each Konfitüre can be called Marmelade in Austria.

#1Nana said...

One of my favorite foods when I visited England was a sausage roll. I'd buy them everyday from Tesco. I wish they exported them to the US.

Sarah said...

The eternal swede v turnip debate - I'm not sure anyone has the answer and in truth, I think they are the same thing and the names are just regional - even the Scots cant agree if neeps and swede or turnip. I've always thought of turnips as being the smaller, whitish variety where as swede is bigger and an orange colour but who knows ... All I DO know for sure is that a Cornish pastie tastes best sitting on the seafront in Cornwall!

Brighton Pensioner said...

" I've always thought of turnips as being the smaller, whitish variety where as swede is bigger and an orange colour"
That's what I think, Sarah. So does our local Asda...