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 were n0t 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 would not 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.
In 1968, Governor George Romney declared May 24th as Michigan Pasty Day.
This pasty recipe is courtesy of Kim Miller of Newberg, Oregon. A native of Traverse city, Michigan, Kim says that she does not know which family member this recipe originally came from, but that it has been passed down and shared by three generations of women in her family since the late 1930s.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Make Pasty Crust (see recipe below).
In a large bowl, dissolve beef bouillon cube in hot water. Add potatoes, carrots, onion, rutabaga, ground beef, ground pork, pepper, and salt; gently stir until well mixed.
Place 1 1/2 cups of vegetable filling in the center of each rolled dough rectangle; bring short (6-inch) sides together and seal by crimping edges together. Makes 3 or 4 small slits in the top of the pasty to allow steam to escape during cooking.
Place pasties onto a large ungreased baking sheet. Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until golden brown; remove from oven.
Can be served warm, but real Michiganities eat their pasties cold with tomato ketchup. They make a great sack lunch and freeze well.
Makes 6 pasties.
In a large bowl, sift together flour and salt. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut vegetable shortening into flour mixture until particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle in water, a little at a time, tossing with fork until all flour is moistened and pastry dough almost cleans side of bowl. Form dough into a ball and cut dough into 6 sections.
On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out each section into 6 x 8-inch rectangles. Fill and bake as directed in recipe.
* Turnips may be substituted.
Comments from readers:
Thanks for the history of the Cornish Pasty! My family came over from Cornwall as copper/ore miners to the Ishpeming area. I learned from my mother, who learned from her mother. I hadn’t made Cornish Pasty in years, but ran across a recipe I’d transcribed as I helped her make hers years ago, so gave it whirl. They were great! – Susan Boase, Portland, OR (1/28/15)
Thank you for publishing the Michigan Cornish Pasty recipe. I’ll be trying it this weekend. My husband is a Michigander who fell in love with pasties when he was in college at Michigan Tech in the U.P. Until now, the only Michigan version of the recipe we could find was the one from the university’s cook. It called for something like 500 pounds of flour and entire crops of the root vegetables! They serve it at homecomings, class reunions, and the school’s 125th anniversary celebration. Yoopers are kind of crazy when it comes to pasties and every Tech alum is a Yooper at heart.
There’s a statement in the recipe: “Can be served warm, but real Michiganities eat their pasties cold with tomato ketchup.” Apparently Ms. Miller has been away from Michigan too long because all the Michigan natives I know call themselves Michiganders. Wikipedia also lists Michiganian, but I’ve never heard anyone use that term. I often tease my husband by telling him that by extension of the nickname, Michigan women should be called Michigeese. – A Michigander’s Goose (1/23/15)