When you take a long drive up “up north,”as soon as you cross the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula you will begin to see small roadside restaurants advertising “Pasties.” No, these places aren’t advertising risque articles of clothing (which are pronounced paste-ees). They are selling a delicious meat and potato pie-like food (pronounced past-ees), and I highly recommend you stop and try one.
Before I explain the long history of the pasty in the U.P., let me tell you what they are. They’re similar to a homemade Hot Pocket. To make a pasty, you start by making a basic dough, which is then rolled out in a circle and layerd on one side with meat, potatoes and other vegetables/spices. The other side of the dough is then folded over top, making a half circle, and the edges are crimped together. Bake it for an hour and enjoy!
The pasty comes to the U.P. via Cornwall, England. Cornwall is the southwestern most county in England, a peninsula itself as it is surrounded on three sides by water. Like its better known neighbors Wales, Scotland and Ireland, Cornwall has a Celtic history. Historically, much of Cornwall’s economy has been based around fishing and tin mining, and the mining is where the pasty comes into the story. The exact origin of the pasty is unknown, but they became very popular with miners because they were easy to carry and eat and because their dense form kept them warm for long periods of time (they were also easy to reheat – on a shovel over a heat source).
In the 19th century, tin mining in Cornwall began to decline and many Cornish people emigrated out of the country. They settled in many places – Australia, California, Pennsylvania, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where they often worked in the copper mines. Of course, they brought with them the tradition of the pasty, which was just as portable and delicious in copper mines as it was in tin ones.
However, the Cornish weren’t the only people to move to the U.P. to work in the mines. Many ethnic groups came to the U.P and adopted the Cornish pasty as a convenient and filling food for working in the mines. The Finnish people particularly embraced the pasty, incorporating it into their own culture long after mining ended in the region. Today, the pasty is a part of the general culture of the Upper Peninsula. Along with the roadside stands, the town of Calumet hosts an annual “Pasty Fest,” and the food was featured in Jeff Daniel’s 2001 film Escanaba in da Moonlight.
Ingredients in pasties vary, although most incorporate beef and potatoes. In Europe, the pasty has Protected Geographical Indication status, which means that to call something a “Cornish pasty” it must be made with certain ingredients and prepared (but not necessarily baked) in Cornwall. These ingredients are beef, potatoes, rutabega (also known as swede), onion, and salt and pepper. However, pasties can be filled with many different ingredients, and pasty shops in the U.P. will often have different varieties to try such as chicken or vegetarian. Some people like to put gravy or ketchup on their pasties, but I think a good pasty should be juicy enough to stand on its own – that said, eat it however you want, so long as you give it a shot!
Why did I decide to write about pasties today? Because I made some last weekend! I’m half Cornish and my grandmother was born in the U.P. – pasties are in my blood! I follow my grandmother’s recipe, which uses the traditional ingredients of beef, potatoes, rutabega and onion. Although my pasties will never quite live up to hers, they are still plenty tasty and will be used for a few different dinners and lunches over the next few weeks.
“The History of the Pasty,” Michigan Tech University, http://www.hu.mtu.edu/vup/pasty/history.htm
“Pasty,” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasty