My great-grandmother was married to a miner. What a woman. She washed the coal dust from her husband’s blackened jeans with her own hands, and she could cook to keep pace with a miner’s appetite. Grandma says her daddy ate apples by the bushel, and he took several biscuit sandwiches to work every day.
Copper miners in Michigan were hungry too, but they typically carried pasties (pass-tees) for lunch. Their wives baked meat and vegetables in pastry dough, then wrapped the small pies in cloth or paper to keep them warm. After Cornish immigrants brought the dish to Michigan in the 1800s, pasties became an icon of the Upper Peninsula.
Meat and potatoes—the classic foundation of a hearty meal—sound like perfect fuel for physical labor. But pastry dough is fragile (there’s a reason people usually serve pie on plates).
In my mind, these ladies should have brushed up on their sandwich-making abilities (generally considered an essential part of the domestic female’s skill set). My great-grandma was a sandwich innovator—her husband didn’t like sliced bread, but he loved biscuits. Again, what a woman!
Still, pasties have the charm of tradition. My mom grew up in Michigan, and she loves these—for reasons that have nothing to do with portability.
Pasties are traditionally filled with beef, potatoes and rutabaga. My family likes chicken better (and it’s easy to use leftovers). You can also try other vegetables—although I recommend chopping a rock-hard rutabaga for anyone who loves a challenge (and has a machete).
- 2 lbs. cubed meat
- 5 chopped large potatoes
- 1 small cubed turnip or rutabaga
- 1 or 2 large onions, finely chopped
- 1 T. salt
- 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
Combine all ingredients and mix to distribute seasoning.
Use your favorite pie crust recipe—or try this one, which comes from the other side of my family tree:
Mix 2 1/3 C flour and 1 tsp salt. In another bowl, combine 2/3 C oil, 6 T milk and 1 T vinegar. Pour into flour and stir until mixed.
Divide your dough into small handfuls (or the appropriate number of portions) and roll between sheets of waxed paper. Make the circles as thin and as large as you like.
Place a scoop of filling on half of each circle. Fold the other side over the top and pinch the edge closed. You can make a decorative edge, or just seal it shut. Pasties don’t have to be perfect (think rustic)—and unless you’re carrying one off to the mine, it doesn’t even matter if they fall apart.
Place on a baking sheet and slash a vent in the top for steam. Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 45 to 60 minutes, or until golden brown.
Pasties are a unique creation—and a fun way to try your hand at cooking like a miner’s wife. Savor this taste of the Upper Peninsula, and be thankful you’re not eating a newspaper-wrapped pasty in a mine (or doing a miner’s laundry).