Monday, April 21, 2008

Yooper food down under

The pasty, an iconic Upper Peninsula survival ration, was also exported to New South Wales by immigrant Cornish miners.

An air letter postmarked March 16 arrived today from June Allen, a reader in Fairy Meadow, Australia, a suburb of Wollongong about 1 1/2 hours south of Sydney. It had been sent to Robert Hale Ltd., my United Kingdom publisher, thence to my literary agent in New York, and finally to me. Quite a bank shot.

And what do you know? The pasty -- the "portable potpie stuffed with diced beef, potatoes, carrots, rutabagas and onions about the size and shape of a softball and four times heavier" that is all by itself one of the major food groups in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan -- is a staple for Aussies as well as Yoopers. Ms. Allen writes:

"I read A Venture into Murder and enjoyed it very much. This is the first book I've read which is set in Michigan so that was new and interesting for me.

"Steve [Martinez, my deputy sheriff sleuth] eating a pasty made me laugh. I'm 76 and pasties have always been part of my life as a treat. Today I could walk up the road and buy one from any bakery hot and ready to eat -- or frozen from Woolworths.

"This pasty has the same history as yours -- Cornish miners -- and the same ingredients, but a different shape. We begin with a circle of flaky pastry about the size of a man's hand outspread. The filling goes on one half, then the pastry is folded over, the edges crimped to make a handle or sometimes a plait of pastry is added. It looks like a solid capital D."

(Truth to tell, Yooper pasties are also D-shaped as well as softball-thick. We wash ours down with Molson's while Aussies doubtless employ Foster's for that purpose.)

Small-town New South Wales, Ms. Allen went on to say, "is a wonderful place to live, rather like Porcupine County."

Thank you, Ms. Allen, and I hope you invite me for a pasty supper someday.


  1. And don't forget, the pasty is still soul food in Cornwall, Devon, Wales, Ireland and even on the Continent in Brittany.

  2. Yes. And did you know that Breton, a Celtic language still spoken in the west of Brittany, is closely related to Cornish?

  3. The wikipedia article on the subject reveals the existence of a Mexican pasty too. Once again, Cornish miners working in the area used local ingredients to make it, and it has become a cherished part of local cuisine.

    Personally, I really really want to try a spicy Mexican pasty, but I can't convince anyone at Harbor Town to whip one up.

  4. Maybe if enough of us gang up on the Harbor Town cooks this summer -- salsa pasties! Ole!

  5. OK, if we're talking variations on the pasty, my personal favorite is the cabbage pasty. It's not truly a pasty variant but a species of pasty all its own, originating from the south Karelian area of Finland along the Russian border. The crust and shape are the same as the conventional Cornish "D" but it is filled with braised, slightlly browned, coarsely chopped cabbage. The real name is "kaali piirakka" - "piirakka" being a Finnish cognate of the Russian "piroshki". Serve with a glass of cold buttermilk (OK, beer if you prefer) after a hot sauna and your in Heikki Lunta Heaven.

  6. And "piroshki" is a kissing cousin of "pierogi," is it not? All these things are variants on stuffed turnover pastries.

    No wonder the Cornish pasty was so easily adopted by the Upper Michigan Finns -- in fact, I understand, many Yoopers mistakenly think the pasty was Finnish in origin.

    This thread is making me hungry.

  7. It's making me hungry too, but all I have is toast for a snack.

    Henry, I enjoyed your article on landings. That big ole wing on the C172 just wants to keep on flying doesn't it?

    If you've got a moment, please check out what we've been doing for authors on our new e-books site.