Hometown Hungers: Michigan Pasties

Get the low-down on these beef-stuffed pockets of perfection.

Michigan’s mining boom of the 1800s unearthed more than just metals. It also led to the discovery of a beloved culinary treasure: the pasty. 

The people of Michigan got their first taste of pasties thanks to miners from Cornwall, England. When the men arrived to work in the copper and ore mines of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, they brought their hometown recipe for these hand-held meat pies with them. This original pasty featured a filling of beef, potatoes and rutabagas, which was simply seasoned with salt and pepper, then sealed inside a thick pastry crust that was crimped before baking.  The sturdy crust created a handle that made it easy for miners to hold and eat without using utensils or getting their lunch dirty.

The consistency (and quality) of the crust continues to be a focus of today’s pasty makers, such as Brian Harsch, owner of Jean Kay’s Pasties in Marquette, Michigan. “When the pasties come out of the oven, you can’t hold them because the crust is extremely tender. You have to let them cool to toughen up a bit,” he explains. Following his family’s recipe, Harsch uses pure beef suet in the butter-based crust to ensure a tender, flaky texture and a distinctive flavor tinged with beef tallow.  

While the pasties in the Upper Peninsula tend to skew traditional, the dish has evolved as its popularity has spread beyond Michigan’s boundaries. These days, you can find pasties stuffed with all sorts of different fillings and paired with condiments on the side — Yoopers (natives of the Upper Peninsula) generally prefer ketchup, though some kick it up with hot sauce. British-leaning variations of the dish are typically served with gravy (or HP sauce).

Can’t make it to Michigan? Check out Food Network’s gallery of top spots serving pasties worth pocketing.

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