Thursday, August 15, 2013

An homage to the pasty

As I'm typing, it's morning, and I haven't had my breakfast yet, so for some reason I'm torturing myself by devoting this post to that most tasty of Upper Peninsula foods, the pasty.

(I always have to stop and think before I pronounce the word "pasty" to make sure I'm referring to the Cornish meat pastry, and not to the OTHER pasty, which, in the interest of not getting too risque, I'll simply refer to as an article of clothing worn by certain women to cover certain body parts during certain activities involving certain types of clubs frequented by certain types of men. Clear as mud, eh?)

Let's just say that the UP pasty is pronounced "pass-tee" and leave it at that.

I had my first pasty a few years ago, which is a pretty dismal record for a Michigander, considering that three decades passed before I finally experienced its tastiness. The "traditional" pasty is basically a pie made from a round pastry shell folded over ground beef, potatoes, rutabagas, onions, peas, and carrots. The shell is crimped closed, baked, and thoroughly enjoyed by whoever eats it.

Photos do not do it justice. I'm serious. The pasty is DELICIOUS.

No one knows exactly where the pasty came from, but references to it appear in cookbooks from the 1300s. A few centuries later, it became a popular dish in Cornwall, England, where miners ate it on the job. The pasty was the perfect meal for a man stuck in the ground all day, as it was portable, required no utensils, and could be heated on a shovel or over a candle when mealtime arrived. In the 19th century, when Cornish miners immigrated to the Upper Peninsula's Copper Country, they brought the pasty with them, simultaneously introducing the dish to Finnish miners, who adopted it as an element of their own culture.

Today, pasty shops can be found all across the Upper Peninsula (and in a few Lower Peninsula locales as well). The village of Calumet, in Houghton County, even holds an annual PastyFest (which, unfortunately, is over for the year, as it took place on June 29). While the traditional pasty is a beef dish, modern diners can enjoy a variety of alternatives, including chicken and vegetarian versions. The popularity that pasties have enjoyed in Michigan for over 150 years is a testament to the fact that you don't have to be a miner to enjoy the delicious combination of meat, veggies, and lard-filled dough that has become the Upper Peninsula's iconic dish.
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