Pasties: food in dough, food in memories
Past-Tees are wrapped in Pays-Tree!
Pasties are wrapped in Pastry.
ha! That should tell you about how to pronounce the name of the meal I’m talking about.

My father grew up in the U.P. in Iron County, Michigan. He is now in the grips of a memory-loss disease—far from where he grew up, though still in Michigan, so I thought that making him a meal he had often eaten and enjoyed might trigger a happy response. This may or may not have “worked” for him; he ate and seemed to like the food.

Traditionally, Cornish miners carried hearty lunches of meat and potatoes wrapped in heavy crust. There were no hand washing facilities in mines so the thick twisted edge which sealed each pie provided a handle to hold the meal. The dirty crusts could be thrown away. Anyone who has eaten a pastie knows how well they retain heat, another useful feature for men working in deep cold mines.
Pasties are well loved in the U.P. where many believe they are a fine example of Finnish food. In fact, Cornish miners were recruited to work the rich iron and copper mines in mid and western Northern Michigan during the 1840’s, and they were followed by a small contingent of Finnish immigrants in the mid 1860’s. The mines were profitable and technology for shipping on the Great Lakes improved. That first small wave of Finnish immigrants was followed by a large influx in the 1890’s when Calumet far north on the Keweenaw Peninsula became the largest city in Michigan—larger even than Detroit.

Those people found their countrymen baking pasties, and assumed that it was a Finnish invention. As a result, the pasty has become strongly associated with Finnish culture in this area. Something similar happened in the Iron Range in northern Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior. The author of the book I use to make my pastie crust is from this area: Beatrice Ojakangus.

Basic Yeast Pastry

The Finnish Cookbook—by Beatrice Ojakangas
enough for 8 pasties

page 82

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 4 to 4 ½ white flour
  • ½ cup soft butter

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Combine the milk, salt, egg, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the yeast, stir in 2 cups of the flour, and beat until smooth and elastic. Stir in the butter until blended, add the remaining flour, and mix until a stiff dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turn to grease the top, and let rise until doubled (aobut 1 hour). Punch down and let rise again (about 30 minutes); the dough will be puffy but not doubled.

The Filling

  • 1 pound steak
  • ½ pound ground veal
    (or use chuck ground for chili,
    or regular hamburger meat)
  • 2 onions
  • salt
  • 2 pounds potatoes
  • freshly ground black pepper

Freeze the steak for 30 to 45 minutes, cut it into cubes, and pulse in a food processor to a coarse grind, turn into a large bowl and add the ground veal using a chopping-turning motion with a large spatula. Don’t stir and press to make the meat become sticky and heavy. Process the onions to a fine chop. Stir the salt into them and let sit for a few minutes before lightly mixing them into the meat. Dice the potatoes ½” dice. You should have about 2 parts beef to 3 parts potatoes. Fold the potatoes into the meat.

Divide the dough into 8 parts. Roll each piece into an oval about the size of a dinner plate: about 10″ by 8.” Wet the edges of the oval, and put 1/8 portion of meat and potatoes on one longer half of the oval. Fold the dough over, and seal by starting on the left (for a right-handed person) and turning an inch of the edge, pressing a sort of pleat, turning another inch of the edges, pressing, and repeating to the end of the half oval.
Place on an oiled cookie sheet, and repeat for the other seven pasties.
Bake at 400°F for 45 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks.
Serve hot or room temperature with ketchup.


19 thoughts on “Pasties: food in dough, food in memories

  1. Making pasties was a generous thing to do, Tess; nourishment for the body as well as the soul for both you and your father.

    I’ve never had a Cornish pastie, but for some reason I know quite a bit about them. Too much reading perhaps, as if there could be such a thing. Most old recipes call for rutabaga or swede as it was often called, but I expect the originals contanied whatever may have been available.

    Your pasties are most attractive, too, and I’ve no doubt they were delicious. :)

  2. Tess of the Durbervilles is included in your reading?
    Oh, when she was so down on her fortune, forced to dig swedes, that was so hopeless; I could hardly bear it! Thomas Hardy certainly made hers a very sad story. Oh: adulterous women! How brave was Hester Prynne! How much more kind was Nathaniel Hawthorne! ?

    I’ve never had a Cornish pastie either! I grew up on U.P. pasties and there is some/much argument about including rutabaga in pasties or not. I agree that “authentic” pasties included what was available. Meat was no doubt scarce in Cornwall, as well as in Northern Michigan, so I think potatoes and other root vegetables were included. In fact, a Yooper would expect a pastie to be more potato than meat.

    And I’ll admit to stealing rutbagas from my mother’s refrigerator when I was 4 and 5. They had wax on them to keep them from drying out. I kept one at a time in the bottom drawer of my dresser, under my underwear. I’d scrape off the wax and skin with my teeth. Then the crisp innards were exposed: juicy, savory, bitter and sweet. And I’d be hiding under the bed covers!

    Once rutabagas or turnips are cooked though, they taste like, well, excuse the description: puke. To me.

    • As a matter of fact, Tess of the Dubervilles was included in my reading, though it’s been such a long time, I don’t remember her digging swedes. I do remember our son read the book in high school and was highly indignant about Tess’s treatment. He was of a very different era, and could NOT understand. Hardy is just downright depressing.

      Your childhood love of raw rutabagas is interesting, and they are still waxed, you know. Oddly enough, a few weeks ago in a local market, I saw plactic bags of peeled and cubed rutabagas labled “wax turnips”. That was a new one to me.

      My mother enjoyed cooked rutabagas and I’d try them when she cooked them, which was not often. Dreadful tasting as well as smelling things…I think your description quite apt.

      • I read “Tess” in high school, but when I read it again in the last year or so it struck me as a melodrama—a tale with exaggerated consequences, a tear jerker. Almost a tabloid story. I don’t know: was it a serious cautionary tale when it was written? It seems a parody now.

        At any rate, I remember them digging the swedes from way back then: my secret rutabaga pleasure no doubt. Even then though, I couldn’t image a huge field of rutabagas—how many do people actually eat?

        I like that: “wax turnips!” Don’t they sound so much more appealing? Like dried plums…

    • You make me smile when you say such things, you a room away.

      But then, why come in here to start an argument about the line numbers I copied with the little speech which Cressida made in my dumpling post…
      Yes, I know it’s not a sonnet, but a director might tell the actress,”Start again at line 5.”

      <3 to u

  3. Okay I’m back from making my yeasted pays-tree for my past-tees, still in my apron, flour on the nose and laughing still at the image of Mr Tess, basket over his arm, stalking the local grocers for wax turnips of his own!

    And a less learned literary question occurs. Did the Moomins ever eat pasties? I don’t remember them eating much other than pine needle soup. But Moominmama was always busy in the kitchen and always laying the table for the extra guests the young Moomins brought home. And then there’s the long Finnish winter – so it stands to reason that Tove Jannson would have had them eat something as delicious and sustaining as a pastie. I didn’t say before but amongst the more edifying moments of our cherry blossom hunt we made a pilgrimage to the Moomin Cafe in Tokyo – sat blissfully eating Finnish pastries surrounded by all kinds of Moomin books. Heaven!

    And Tess your Dad may not have been able to articulate his joy but I’m sure your pasties were the perfect Proustian medicine!

    • You always cheer my day! I’m picturing you with flour in your hair and over all your counters and shoes!

      I’m thinking you could make pasties with kangaroo meat: could be similar to using venison—which I’ve known dedicated deer hunters (their wives, actually) here in Michigan who do just that.

      One of these days I’ll try that “giant rabbit w/pocket” meat in some sort of recipe! LOL

      A few years ago there was a woman named Mercedes (don’t you just love that name?) who had a business selling pasties to local stores and doing catering. Her baking facilities were on the next street over from where I work. A warehouse/commercial district: not retail. if one was in the know, then she’d sell some to you! She had a talent to make chicken, turkey, vegetarian, even ‘ethnic’ combinations of foods taste like pasties.

      She expanded or moved. I’ve lost touch with her. That is how the internet is. But consider, is that so different from ‘real life?'”

    • Oh! and the Moomins? Did not know about them!

      I admit ignorance. Perhaps a vague memory of the name(?), but I don’t have any brain-emotion-connection with them.

      Googled to see who and what they are:

      It could be that my mother did not know about them? Maybe she was too old to be interested in children’s stories when they came out. And my grandmother was born in Finland even longer ago.

      Interesting though. Maybe like elves or gnomes in Iceland? Or like other Nordic mythical creatures?

  4. Tess now you have sent me to my old Time Life The Cooking of Scandinavia – (never happier than hunting down some suddenly imperative food fact)! And in the wonderful stream of consciousness that is book browsing, (called in my family “messing” as in The Wind in the Willows “messing about in boats), I’ve travelled from piirakka – learning on the way that some are no longer than your thumb, whilst others can be the size of a briefcase – to a custard made from “beastings’ – the thickly creamed milk of a just calved cow.!(Terrible sentence construction – sorry).

    As to Moomins, Tove Jansson wrote a whole series of wonderfully endearing books about their antics. I was raised on them and in turn raised my boy on them. In one of those twists of fate the Japanese have become a bit obsessed by them, hence our pilgrimage to the cafe in Tokyo. It’s always been on one of my imaginary itineraries to travel to Finland and see the Moomin museum. Jansson wrote adult books too, some of which have been translated into English – one, The Summer Book, is a classic about her summer life on a tiny Finnish island with her artist lover and her granddaughter.

    There is to be a Moomin cookbook released this year in Britain – (it’s going on my list). The publisher’s blurb has it that it is a “wonderful introduction to Finnish Cuisine….includes over 150 forest recipes for drinks and dishes…plus all the delicacies of Finnish life, from breakfast at the end of a sunny Nordic summer night to garden parties, campfires and birthday celebrations.” Traditions you may have grown up with and already know.

    And full circle – your pasties were delicious! My family heartily approved and nodded appreciatively in your direction. We have a glut of green apples at the moment and more on the way so I made a spicy apple chutney to go alongside. Which reminds me, (brain like a butterfly), that Ming has a recipe for Fuji apple chutney which is mixed with sour cream and scallion greens and served with potato cakes. Do you know this recipe? It’s a good one!

    How’s Mr Tess going with his rutabaga search? Tell him to turn to page 151 of Time Life The Food of Scandinavia for a rutabaga casserole which he can cook in secret on a moonless evening.

    *sigh* It’s mid afternoon and turning crispy.
    Carolyn xxx

    • Carolyn—

      The only Time Life The Cooking of … I have (and now that is only the spiral bound book with the recipes—I don’t know what happened to the hardbound book with the pictures and information) is ‘China.’ And that I ‘stole’ from my mother-in-law. She had lots of those Time Life books—so fascinating. I don’t know if her husband kept them or not; she died in 1998 and life goes on.

      hmm. I’m thinking, if S. no longer has them, it might be nice (on your recommendation) to find a used copy (set? pair? of Scandinavia)

      My grandmother came to the U.S. around 1899 (?) as a girl, probably from a poor family, but gusty. Probably not well educated. She went to the U.P. (which is the northern peninsula of Michigan, odd place) and had 4 children very quickly. Her husband died, so she didn’t have much money, she kept to the Finnish community, didn’t learn much English, a hard life. I suspect “relying on the kindness of strangers” to raise 3 children (mom’s twin died) alone made “cuisine” out of the question.

      She pretty much “made do” without being able to make her own choices about what to eat. Sure, piirakka can be cheap, but when I was a child she had a very small apartment and the freezer was tiny. Who would make things like that for one?

      The Wind in the Willows:
      The BBC broadcast a radio performance, mmm, sort of recently. Reminded me of us reading it to the daughter.

      The BBC also had a performance from “The Summer Book” not so long ago. Very moving, but I didn’t think to Google (investigate) the author.

      I very much doubt the Moomin would have eaten pasties. They are only vaguely related to piirakka. In the U.P. (and in Butte, Montana) they were learned from Cornish immigrants. Finn immigrants thought that pasties were a Finnish dish, so took up the tradition.

      I’m glad you and family enjoyed them. (that crust is more of a Finnish version than pasties one can buy here. And it’s certainly not what you’d find in Cornwall.)

  5. By the way – yes I do find the name Mercedes fascinating and I agree Paris is a man’s name! I always felt sorry for Helen though – launching a thousand ships with your face must hurt some! ((-‘

    • Aye: “launching a thousand ships with your face must hurt some!”
      But I wouldn’t mind being beautiful once in a while.

      Or, “If you’re so smart, then why aren’t you rich?”

      One or the other, maybe just a test drive: rich or famous, famous or rich, or heck why not both?


      “Poor and content is rich, and rich enough.”

    • “lihapiirakka!”
      So are you telling me that there are recipes similar to this in Finland?
      There are so many reasons that I have not learned so many things about Finnish culture! I appreciate any information/stories/corrections you know about…

  6. Rich and thin – smart and rich… well it suits some but happy and in good company, in good health with simple delicious things to cook and a stack of books and I’m as happy as a pig in muck. As to fame – I don’t think that would do for me. But I know what you mean. I did laugh when I read your comment. I’m rich in apples and feijoas at the moment and having a good time thumbing through books and thinking about what I can do with them. I made some chutney and now my mind wanders back to an apple jelly perfumed with geranium leaves..what do you think?

    Do try the kangeroo. I not sure how it would go in a pastie – just that it can be tough if more than shown the surface of a hot pan. And yes I think the Time Life cooking series is a great investment if only as a snapshot of an era. The Scandinavian one was published in 1969 so the descriptions of the way people live and cook are fascinating, (well to me anyway). That particular book reads like an epicurean travelogue and recounts a lot of the authors personal eating adventures. If you can’t find a cheap second hand one let me know and I’ll get one here from the op-shop, (thrift shop to you) and post it on. I was interested in the Finnish Russian overlap having had a Russian grandma.

    Ah well now I’ve dusted the flour from my nose and swept the kitchen floor – time to visit your recipe for ribs. Something else I have never tried to cook. They have really only recently appeared here in the Butcher’s shop.

  7. I looked on Amazon and they have T-L Scandinavian books for 1¢ plus shipping! But they appear to be only the hardcover w/o the spiral bound recipe book. J. found some copies on another site which will be fine.

    You had a Russian grandmother? Where was she from? My father’s family came from Karelia. His father, one brother and sister went back after my grandmother died in 1939 to “fight the Russians.” My uncle was allowed to visit the U.S. in the ’80’s before the S.U. fell apart—most exciting.

    You in Australia have not had the pleasure of pork spareribs? Goodness. They are on sale now around here and I’m thinking to get me some. Messy things meant to eat only with best friends and family… yum.

  8. In Indonesia, we call that kind of meal as PASTEL :P
    and there are many ways to fill it up. You can fill it with beef, fish, chicken, seafoods, beans, coconut shavings, vegies, noodles, vermicelli, etc. You name it, you’ll get it.
    Anyway, the basic fillings you have here is also yummy.

    Thanks, I like this post!

    link removed —tess

  9. Pingback: Kangaroo for dinner « Tess's Japanese Kitchen

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