I don’t remember when or where I first ate a pasty. It might have been in Ironwood, Michigan, where some friends of my parents took us one time when they went to buy colored oleo. Stores in Wisconsin could not sell colored oleo at that time, so people would drive to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to buy cases of the nasty stuff.
Wherever it was, I did learn that pasties were called pass-tees, not paste-tees, an entirely different word that has nothing to do with meat pies. The fact intrigued me, so I began seeing pasties advertised in cities whenever we drove north in Wisconsin. Most of those small cafes that sold pasties are gone today, but you can still enjoy some pretty good pasties in the upper midwest.
Since pasties are commonly associated with the Cornish miners who settled near Mineral Point, Wisconsin and the mining areas of northeast Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, pasties are a traditional menu item in those areas. But the Finns also made similar meat pies and soon Finnish housewives were sending their husbands off to work with a pasty for lunch in the mines as well. There are still some great pasties made on the Iron Range in Minnesota by the granddaughters of those miners.
Pasties are actually a very old food and it is possible that they were first made in Cornwall. The name itself comes from the Latin word for paste, which was commonly used to mean a flour dough used to make pies.
One of the earliest references to pasties is by Chretien de Troyes who wrote Erec et Enide in 1170. According to him, a knight of the Round Table was offered a pasty in Cornwall while he was on one of his adventures. But Chretien was French, so he might have been thinking of the pasties he enjoyed for dinner at the court of his patroness, the Countess of Champagne.
As well they should be, pasties were considered an elegant dish for a long time. When George Neville was installed in 1465 as archbishop of York and chancellor of England, 5,500 venison pasties were served at the installation feast. A letter to King Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, reveals that the royal menu included pasties.
Though pasties became a workingman’s dish later on, I prefer to think that I like them because they really are a food fit for a king.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE FILLING:
1 beef bouillon cube
1/2 cup hot water
5 medium potatoes
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion (3 inches in diameter)
1 small rutabaga (3 inches in diameter)
1 1/2 lbs. beef
1 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CRUST:
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups shortening or lard
3/4 to 1 cup ice cold water
First make the dough for the crust. Put a couple of ice cubes into a cup of water and allow the water to chill while you mix the dry ingredients.
Stir the salt into the flour in a large bowl and use two forks or a pastry blender to cut the shortening or lard into the flour until it looks like coarse cornmeal. Then sprinkle about a half cup of ice water over the flour. Use a fork to toss the dry ingredients and add more water in small amounts until all the flour is moistened and begins to clean the sides of the bowl. With a fork press the dough into a mound in the bowl, cover the bowl in plastic film and put it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
This is a good time to preheat the oven to 400º and lightly grease enough baking sheets to hold eight pasties.
Dissolve a beef bouillon cube in a half cup of boiling water in a large bowl. Add the other ingredients to the bowl as you prepare them. Peel and finely dice five medium potatoes, which should give you about five cups. Peel and finely dice the carrots, onion and rutabaga. You should have between one half and one cup each of these vegetables.
Trim any excess fat from the beef and cut it into half inch pieces. Add the salt and pepper and mix everything together.
Take the chilled dough from the refrigerator and divide it into eight pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Roll the balls into circles about ten inches in diameter. Put about two cups of filling on one half of each circle, fold the other half over the top, moisten the edges, and seal the top crust to the bottom, rolling the edges up to form a rounded border that you can decorate with a fork or your fingers. Cut two or three small slits in the top crust and, using a baker’s scraper or large spatula, put the pasties on greased baking sheets.
Bake them for an hour until they are a golden brown. Let them cool covered with a dish towel for ten or fifteen minutes before serving. Make sure that the ketchup bottle is on the table. Jerri is from Kansas. She suggested that I should emphasize the ketchup more.
Pasties are a meal in themselves, but they go especially well with a good beer.
NOTES: You can freeze pasties and keep them for at least a couple of months. Reheat them in a conventional or microwave oven. Preheat a conventional oven to 375º. Put the frozen pasties on a baking sheet and bake them for thirty to forty minutes. Cut into a pasty to make sure that it is hot or use an instant read thermometer. The internal temperature should be 160º.