While Michigan doesn’t have an official state food, in the UP (upper peninsula), there is a fond love for the pasty. Pasties are meat hand pies, and depending on who you ask, a pasty may or may not have specific filling ingredients (potatoes, onions, rutabaga, carrots, meat). A little further on, I’ll share our recipe for Michigan Pasties, but first, a bit of history.
According to a student webpage project done for Michigan Tech University, the history of the pasty is quite detailed. It was a common meal for workers in Michigan’s upper peninsula copper mines (originally Cornish, but adopted by other European immigrants).
The pasty became popular with these other ethnic groups because it was small, portable, was very filling, and could stay warm for 8-10 hours. Pasty rivalry occurred between the Finns, Swedes, Irish, Poles, Germans, Scots, Italians and French with each group contributing something in the way of seasoning and other ingredients. All groups agree that pasties must contain two things, potatoes and onions.
The pasty was eaten by hand, and could be reheated or eaten cold. We’ve tried both ways in our household; the boys LOVED having cold pasty leftovers for lunch.
The portability of the pasty not only made it easy to carry, but if it should get cold it would be relatively easy to heat up. This was done by putting the pasty on a shovel and holding it over a head-lamp candle. Miners never ate a pasty with a fork, they ate it end to end, and held it upright to keep the juices in. Since entire Cornish families worked in mines and each member of the family wanted different ingredients in the pasty, the Cornish wife would stamp the bottom corner of each pasty with an initial. According to the Cornish Recipes Ancient and Modern, “The true Cornish way to eat a pasty is to hold it in the hand, and begin to bite it from the opposite end to the initial, so that, should any of it be uneaten, it may be consumed later by its rightful owner. And woe betide anyone who take’s another person’s corner!”
Pasties consists of a crust filled with diced potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, onions & ground beef seasoned to perfection. Now some people combine ground pork, ground beef, and ground lean beef. Now a days they even have chicken, veggie, and even a breakfast one.
Another bit of interesting history trivia? In 1968, then Governor George Romney declared May 28th Michigan Pasty Day. Oddly I’d never heard this, despite being born and raised in Michigan. Thanks, History channel! Apparently the tourism industry …er, the Mackinac Bridge, helped elevate the status of Michigan’s pasty from a homecooked meal to a restaurant-worthy entrée:
After the 1957 Mackinac Bridge opened the Upper Peninsula for tourism from southern Michigan, the pasty shifted from being a food mainly cooked at home by U.P. locals (known as “Yoopers”) to one sold at restaurants to visitors from southern Michigan and beyond (playfully derided as “Fudgies” for their preferred dessert).
I also didn’t know that there is an annual pasty festival in early July (according to the Pasty Recipe on the Cooking Channel!)
Making Michigan Pasties
And now, it’s time to share our take on a Michigan Pasty. Well, at least, our most recent variant. I admit, I’ll make them with whatever is on hand. This time, we skipped potatoes entirely (gasp) because I didn’t have any!
Next, it was time to start on the dough for the pasty. We used freshly ground einkorn flour, and shortening (rather than our typical butter). My toddler helped with this phase quite a bit! Also, if you’ve never heard of a Danish dough whisk (#afflink), you need to try one …or at least check out when we made Irish Soda Bread with the Danish dough whisk. It really simplifies the dough mixing process; I love how easily the ingredients get blended together — and how little mess there is!
And that’s it! Into the oven for almost an hour, and when they come out, dinner is ready!
Michigan Pasty Recipe
- 4 c. einkorn flour
- 1 c. butter
- 1/2 c. water
- 1 t. salt
- 1 lb. carrots, diced
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 3 Vidalia onions, diced
- 1 lb ground beef or venison
- 2 T. butter, melted
- 1 T. Thyme
- 1 T. paprika
- 1 T. rosemary
- 1 T. coriander
- 1 T. onion powder
- 1 T. garlic powder
- 2 t. salt
- 2 t. pepper
- Combine flour and salt in bowl. Add butter, and use a knife to cut into flour.
- Add water, and stir with Danish dough whisk (#afflink) until well combined. If necessary, add more flour or water so the dough is workable. If you use normal wheat flour, you’ll probably need another 1/4 cup of water.
- Divide dough into four sections (we rolled ours into balls) and set aside.
- Combine first four filling ingredients in a large bowl. Separately, combine butter and seasonings; drizzle over top of fillings and stir to coat.
- One at a time, roll each dough ball into ~10″ rounds. place filling on half the circle, leaving 1″ border around the edge. You can mound the filling up high. Then, fold the dough over top, and crimp the half-circle pasty’s edges together. We rolled these out on a silicone baking sheet, and then used the silicone to help flip the thin dough over top. If you plan it out right, there is room to roll out two pasties per baking sheet (with no need to transfer). That way, you don’t have to worry about the dough tearing and the pasty innards leaking out!
- After all four pasties are completed, place the baking sheets in the oven at 375 F for 50 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.
The nice thing about this recipe is that it comes together pretty quickly. The ingredient list may be long, but if you have kids who like to “measure and dump” — no problem. While older kids can be involved with every step of the process, you can let younger kids help help roll out the dough for their own pasty, place the fillings on the dough, and “check on the pasties” by looking through your oven window as it cooks. My toddler was so excited to eat dinner the night we had pasties!
Have you made pasties before? What fillings are your favorite? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
This post is part of the Tour the World by food series — make sure to check out some of the other blog posts that highlight various state foods!
Here are some more resources on the Michigan Pasty (and other state foods), if you’re interested: