Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A foray into the world of pastys. Part I.

Though I first encountered them in Michigan I knew little to nothing about the history of pastys. Before I get into that I have to tell you about a dream I had:

  • I was having a dream about dumplings.  Yes, I dream about food sometimes.  No, they are not sexy dreams.  I was dreaming about the giant meat dumplings at Tai Shan.  They are the size of steamed buns but have a dumpling wrapper.  Plus they helped me survive a long stretch of the late 90s.  So I was dreaming about the dumplings and then I dreaming about Jamaican Beef patties.  Then it was a short jump to pastys or pasties.  
The pasty (PASS-ty) is for all intents and purposes a hand held meat pie - if Apple marketed the pasty it would called the iPasty...ha ha, sigh.  The history of the Michigan Upper Peninsula pasty revolves around Cornish immigrants who worked in the mines.  I found this on www.whatscookingamerica.net:

Pastie or Pasty (PASS-tee) - These are basically individual pies filled with meats and vegetables that are cooked together. They should weigh about two pounds or more. The identifying feature of the Cornish pasty is really the pastry and it’s crimping. When pasties are being made, each member of the family has their initials marked at one corner. This way each person’s favorite tastes can be catered to, identifying each pasty.

The solid ridge of pastry, hand crimped along the top of the pasty, was so designed that the miner or traveler could grasp the pastie for eating and then throw the crust away. By doing this, he did not run the risk of germs and contamination from dirty hands. The crusts weren't wasted though, as many miners were believers in ghosts or "knockers" that inhabited the mines, and left these crusts to keep the ghosts content. There is some truth to this rumor, because the early Cornish tin mines had large amounts of arsenic, by not eating the corner which the miners held, they kept themselves from consuming large amounts of arsenic.

One end of the pasty would usually contain a sweet filling which the wives would mark or initial so the miner wouldn't eat his dessert first, while the other end would contain meat and vegetables. The true Cornish way to eat a pasty is to hold it in your hands, and begin to eat it from the top down to the opposite end of the initialed part. That way its rightful owner could consume any left over portion later.

Pasties are one of the most ancient methods of cooking and of carrying cooked food. It is said that the early Irish Catholic Priests created them in order to transport food as they walked about the countryside preaching and aiding the people. The dish is mentioned in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor (1598).

The earliest known reference to the pasty contribute it to the Cornish.  From 1150 to 1190, Chretien de Troyes, French poet, wrote several Arthurian romances for the Countess of Champagne.  In one of them, Eric and Enide, it mentions pasties: 

Next Guivret opened a chest and took out two pasties.  "my friend," says he, "now try a little of these cold pasties And you shall drink wine mixed with water...." - Both Guivret and Eric came from various parts of what today is considered Cornwall.

Irish people that migrated to northern England took the art of pastie making with them. Soon every miner in northern England took pasties down into the mine for his noon lunch. Pasties were also called oggies by the miners of Cornwell, England. English sailors even took pastie making as far as the shores of Russia (known as piraski or piragies.

The Cornish people who immigrated to Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the United States in the middle of the 19th century to work in the mines made them. The miners reheated the pasties on shovels held over the candles worn on their hats. In Michigan, May 24th has been declared Michigan Pasty Day. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the pasty has gone from an ethnic food to a regional specialty.

Huh.  Things you never knew.  The standard recipe goes like this:

Cornish-Finnish-Michigan Pasties


4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup shortening
1 1/4 cups ice water
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 cups thinly sliced potatoes
2 carrots, shredded
1 onion
1/2 cup diced rutabagas
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound lean ground pork
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons monosodium glutamate
1 cube beef boullion
1/2 cup hot water

  1. Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut shortening. Make a well in the center of the mixture, and quickly stir in ice cold water. Form dough into a ball. Set aside.
  2. Dissolve the boullion cube in the hot water. Combine uncooked vegetables, uncooked meats, salt, pepper, monosodium glutamate, and boullion.
  3. Roll out pastry dough into 6"x8" rectangles. Place about 1 1/2 cups of filling in the center of each rectangle. Bring 6" sides together and seal. Cut a slit in the top of each pasty. Place on a dull, not black, baking pan.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.

Greatest Hits

Blog Archive (s) It's like a Wayback Machine!