The Pasty has traveled a long way from being a Miners cuisine to a Unique Michigan Food in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The past is believed to have originated in Cornwall and was considered to be a tin miner's cuisine. It is made by placing the filling in the center of the circular pastry dough and folding it to cover the filling, crimping the semi-circular edge to seal it. This gives it the raised half - moon shape. The Cornish pasty traditionally contains sliced meat, potato, onions and parsley.
Where it all started
The earliest known literary mention to the pasty dates back to the 12th century. It also found mention in the ballads of Robin Hood and even in Shakespeare's work. In about 1850, miners began to dig for copper in the Upper Peninsula (the UP) of Michigan in the Keweenaw area. Being one of the first ethnic groups to become well established in the Upper Peninsula mining colonies, pasty making in Michigan originated as a convenient Cornish miner's cuisine. As michigan mining areas became home to other ethnic groups, such as the Finnish, Irish, Canadians, and other eastern Europeans, the idea of having a pocket sized, high caloric meal, caught on as a practical matter. Often miners did not come out of the mines for meals. A poorly provisioned miner would go hungry waiting for the end of the work day.
A pasty was a food that could be eaten on site without the hassles of finding the sparse sources of clean water to wash up before having lunch. The crust served the purpose of a handle, which the miners could hold and eat from the other end or eat from the middle. And so this was another reason for the pasty's popularity in mines, as miners hands were occasionally exposed to arsenic dust or other toxic substances. So coveted were these handy meals, wives placed initials on the crusts so an uneaten pasty could be claimed by its rightful owner later.
How to Heat and Eat?
An additional advantage of the pasty was it could remain warm for nearly 10 hours. Normally a miner began eating his pasty at breakfast and left the remainder for lunch. Sometimes a pasty would be subdivided to several sections for several meals, including dessert. Pastys were also useful as they could be passed down from surface ovens into mine shaft with ease. A meat and potato pasty could be reheated by a shovel against a light bulb. Or the pasty could be consumed cold.
What Pastys Are We Eating Today?
While the original pasty was filled with beef, vegetables and onions, variations are available in most markets today. The meat could be replaced by a creamed chicken, with vegetables. A vegetarian could replace meat with a cream of mushroom sauce and cheddar cheese or simply cottage cheese, for those watching their waistline.
Some Interesting Superstition...
It was traditionally believed that in order to please the evil spirits under the earth's surface, the crust of the pasty was discarded. This way the spirits would not harm the miners. Another superstition of fishermen to never have a pasty on board a ship at such was to invite bad luck.
Interesting Michigan side note...
The pasty is often thought of as a Finnish food in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This is from Finnish immigrants settling into mining camps with well established Cornish populations and adopting the Cornish utilitarian food. Subsequent immigrants then assumed pasties were of Finnish origin.