A pasty is a baked pastry made by piling fillings, usually a hearty mélange of meats and vegetables with light seasoning, onto half of a flat short crust circle. The pastry is then folded in half, with the fillings wrapped inside, before crimping the edges and baking it whole. Simple though it may seem, this popular hot pocket has a contested history, albeit one that starts in the Cornwall area of the UK.
What is a Pasty?
This baked pastry has spread around the world, but there are a few things that tend to stay the same. The basic structures are fairly consistent, though shapes may shift and change according to peoples’ needs, with the Cornish, in particular, using a “D” shape for their pasties. Other consistent details include:
In general, pasties are made with whatever is handy, although more strict culinary traditions might see certain ingredients or vegetarian versions as inappropriate or less pleasing.
A Cornish Tradition
The pasty comes from the Medieval French cooking of the 1300s and cookbooks like Le Menagier de Paris where it referred to pie filed with Venison or other meats, vegetables, and cheeses baked with no dish. While this pastry was initially associated with the wealthy, the 17th and 18th centuries saw it become popular among the working class, especially among tin miners in Cornwall. There, it took on a side-crimp and thick edge for holding with dirty hands, although muslin and paper bags were also common. By the 19th century, national schools were teaching lightly seasoned Cornish pasties with beef, potato, rutabaga, and onion with an uncrackable crust. In 2011, the traditional Cornish pasty became a Protected Geographical Indication in Europe
An Icon of the Upper Peninsula
Over time, Cornish miners brought the pasty to Australia, Argentina, Ulster, Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand, and many areas of the United States, including Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Miners immigrated here for the Copper Country mines in the 1800s to earn their fortunes, but as other ethnic groups emulated their success, they also took up their cuisine. The piping hot, portable pasty was ideal for miners who worked underground all day, as it stayed warm for 8 to 10 hours and could be reheated on a shovel over a head-lamp candle. Over time, each group added their own twist to the seasoning and ingredients, but it was the Finns who adopted it most easily due to parallels with their own piiraat and kuuko pastries. Their legacy lives on with the pasty tourist industry and various new takes on this classic hand-food, including the annual Pasty Fest in Calumet, Michigan, as well as similar festivals throughout the northern Midwest and other mining regions.