Okay. Now those of my readers who are Yoopers (specifically) or Michiganders (generally) will know exactly what I’m saying. Those of you who don’t have kith or kin in either Michigan or Cornwall might need a little explanation. The pasties of which I speak are pronounced ‘PASS- tees’. The ones you’re probably thinking about are pronounced ‘PAY- steeze’. My pasties are handheld meat pies and not little adhesive backed ‘modesty’ panels worn over, well, you know what. So from now on, each time I type ‘pasties’, please think the correct pronunciation, k? That way I don’t have to blush every time you read it.
And also for those of you not from Michigan, I should probably toss in a few other definitions:
- Yooper: A resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
- U.P.: A widely used acronym for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Well, heck, you’d get tired of typing out Upper Peninsula of Michigan every time too, eh?
- Big Mac: A nickname for the Mackinac Bridge; the 5 mile long suspension bridge that links the U.P. to the lower Peninsula.
- Trolls: Residents of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Get it? They live under a bridge?
- Summer: Two months of bad snowshoeing.
But back to the food…
Pasties are a Yooper (and Cornish) specialty. The Cornish miners that came over to the Upper Peninsula during the golden era of iron and copper mining brought the pasty with them as part of their homeland’s cuisine. Owing partly to it’s convenient, hand-held-meal portability and mostly to the fact that it’s mouthwateringly delicious and warms you from the inside of your toes to the tips of your ears in cold U.P. weather, pasties were soon not just the fare of Finnish and Cornish miners, but were adopted as a favored food through the entire region. More than just popular in the U.P., though, pasties make an appearance in troll restaurants under Big Mac, too. One of the best in the northern part of the lower peninsula is Cousin Jenny’s in Traverse City, Michigan.
A pasty is so representative of Yooper culture and food that those of us who are Yoopers-in-exile get wistful when we whip up a batch or talk to relatives who just picked up their pasty boxes at the local church’s fundraising drives. I had actual hunger pangs when Val emailed me the ‘pasty order form’ from an insert in their church bulletin a few Sundays back. I pictured a couple dozen Finnish grandmas up in Marquette whipping together hundreds of succulent pasties to sell to benefit the local community chest, booster club, or whatever worthy group they decided to support that year.
Then I did what I often have to do when I finish talking to Val. I walked into my kitchen because I was starving. All that pasty talk had left me with two options; feeling sorry for myself or making my own. I decided to whip up a couple dozen pasties.
Perhaps ‘whip up’ is not the best description of the process involved in making pasties. It’s a bit of a job, but if you have sisu* you can manage.
*Sisu: A Finnish term that translates roughly into English as having an inner strength of will, obstinacy or persistence to power on in the face of adversity regardless of the cost.
I heard someone describe pasties once as ‘hand held beef stew pies”. I think beef stew wishes it was a pasty. While there are variations in pasties based on what the cook can get -beef, venison, chicken, turkey, etc…- and the ratios of vegetables there are some things you’re likely to find in them all. Potatoes, onions, carrots and rutabaga are the traditional pasty veggies and I’m happy to stick with them because you don’t mess with perfection! You’re not likely to hear me saying that often in the kitchen, but we’re talking about food as tradition when it comes to pasties, people. I admit that I frequently make cheese pasties, and they’re divine, but that’s a completely different animal than a Yooper pasty. Truth be known, I don’t think of the cheese ones as pasties. I think of them as cheese pastries. Delicious, to be sure, but in a different food family altogether.
A fresh-from-the-oven pasty served with the traditional ketchup. That’s right. I said traditional ketchup. If you insist you can eat it with gravy, but that’s Yoopers identify tourists. Just sayin’…
This recipe yields about 16 plate-sized pasties. Feel free to adjust amounts but you might want a few of these in your freezer. They’re the ultimate winter meal-in-one.
- 1 large rutabaga and 1 small rutabaga, peeled and diced
- 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 medium onions, peeled and diced
- 8 medium potatoes, preferably a waxy variety like Yukon golds or reds, peeled and diced
- 4 pounds lean ground beef
- enough sturdy pie dough for eight double crust pies (or eight boxes prepared refrigerated pie crusts)- I use the butter tart crust dough from the Fannie Farmer cookbook. If you need the recipe, email me and I’ll happily pass it along!
- salt and pepper to taste
First you are going to sharpen your knife so that if you slip and take off a finger while wrestling your rutabaga it’ll be easier to reattach. I kid. Sort of. My point is this. Exercise caution with the rutabaga because it does not go gently into that good night.
Rutabagas are hard little things to get into, but easy once you get it cracked open. They store really well in cold weather root cellars which is one reason they’re so popular in the U.P.
The best way to prepare the recalcitrant little beast is to slice a sliver off one end of the rutabaga so that it stands sturdily on your cutting board. Then use your biggest sharpest knife to lob it in half. If it’s freaking you out too much to try to hold a slippery, wax covered, round and really hard vegetable while trying to cut it, feel free to whack it in half with a hatchet or an axe. Just don’t do it on your kitchen counter!
Splitting the rutabaga is the toughest part of the whole operation. Once you’re there you’re golden!
Once you have the brute opened, lay it on the flat side and dismantle it further so your original sphere is in quarters. Take another little bit off the bottom so you can stand the quarters up on their ends and use another sharp knife to remove the peel from the insides.
Use a sharp knife. Really.
From this point on, cut the rutabaga into 1/4″ slices and stack them like a deck of cards.
See? Rutabaga cards. Delicious!
Now you’ll take your rutabaga cards and slice them into 1/4″ strips that will then be cut into 1/4″ cubes. Isn’t that wonderfully symmetrical?
Now you’ll have your super adorable sous chef peel your carrots.
Combine all diced vegetables in a gigantic mixing bowl.
Break up ground beef over the top, add salt and pepper to taste, and mix up thoroughly.
Roll out a piece of pie crust to a diameter between 8″ and 10″. Lay on a pie plate with the crust hanging over the lip of the plate by about 1/4″. Use your hands or a large spoon to transfer as much filling onto the crust as you can, mounding and pressing down lightly with your hands, to fill the half of the crust that is hanging over the plate.
When in doubt, refer to the picture below. This is by far the easiest way to form pasties.
Now fold the empty part of the pie crust over the filling, pinch the seams together, transfer to your countertop and crimp the edges with a fork.
Using yet another sharp knife, slice three little vents into the top of the pasty and transfer it to a baking dish or parchment lined baking pan.
You might find it helpful to use a benchknife to help move the pasty from counter to pan.
Now slide those pans into a preheated 375°F oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Since pasties don’t traditionally get an egg glaze, they won’t be a shiny brown when done, but a deep crispy looking golden brown. Oh I’m getting so hungry talking about these.
Serve hot, cold, or anything in between. My Dad used to heat his pasties up on the steam-pipe at the factory where he worked or on the manifold of the log skidder he operated. I meant it when I said they were portable!
To eat in true Yooper fashion, smother with good ketchup. If you have an aversion to ketchup you can serve with whatever gravy you prefer. Either way they’re soooooo good.