The History of an Up North Staple: Pasties

When you think of the Upper Peninsula’s favorite food, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Pasties, right? The “pot pie without a pot”, pasties have become a northern Michigan staple. Not only are they a flavorful handheld pastry but are also rich in Michigan history.

The pasty came to the United States when Cornish miners immigrated here in the 1840s. The dish can be dated all the way back to 1150 in England. The pasty gained popularity with miners because it was easy to bring into the mines, kept them full throughout the long work days and could stay warm up to 10 hours. If the pasty did become cold, miners could easily heat them up by placing it on a shovel and warming it up over a heat-lamp candle. A pasty once started a mining fire when a miner forgot about his pasty warming and the lard caught fire.

The crust of pasties were often initialed so the workers would know which pasty belonged to them. The cook could customize each one based on the miner’s preferences. Miners would leave the crust for the mine ghosts and goblins they believed inhabited the mines, which saved workers from consuming the arsenic dust on their hands.

Once mining ended, the pasty lived on through the Finns and Italians. When the Mackinac Bridge opened in 1957 allowing tourism to the U.P. for Lower Peninsula Michiganders, pasties started to be sold in restaurants. Governor George Romney made May 24 statewide National Pasty Day in 1968 to celebrate the bridge between the Lower and Upper Peninsula cultures.

While the pasty spices differ between recipes and nationalities, something they all have in common is potatoes and onions. The traditional Cornish pasty has sliced vegetables while the evolved Yooper pasty has diced vegetables. The correct way to eat a pasty is from the top down, so if you don’t finish the two pound pastry you can save it for later. The U.P. pasty is eaten with ketchup only, but if you want to identify yourself as a tourist you can ask for gravy.

Looking to get your hands on a pasty? Check out one of these pasty shops around Michigan:

Want to make your own pasty? Try our healthier version below. Did we miss any good pasty places? Share with us in the comments.

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For the pasty dough

  • 3 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold butter
  • 1 cup water
  • pinch of salt

For the filling

  • 12 ounces cooked chicken, cubed – try using leftovers from a rotisserie chicken
  • 3 shallots, diced
  • 1 large Yukon potato, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • Black pepper
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, taken off the stem and roughly chopped (or you can use ¼-1/2 tsp. of dried rosemary and dried thyme)
  • 1 large egg, whisked

A Healthier Pasty Recipe Inspired by Jamie Oliver's Recipe

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Pour the flour into a large bowl and add a pinch of salt. Cut the cold butter into slices and put it into the bowl. Using your hands, rub the butter together with the flour until the floured butter is crumbly and in shape of small peas. Add the water. Mix the batter up until the dough is just moistened. Don’t overwork the dough. You’ll get a crumbly dough. If the dough looks a bit dry, add 2 more tablespoons of water. Pat the dough into a ball shape.

3. Prepare the filling by mixing the chicken, shallot, potato, carrots, parsnips, and celery together. Make sure the diced vegetables are cut small, roughly 1/4-inch cubes, so it all cooks thoroughly. Mix the nutmeg, salt, rosemary, thyme, and pepper with the chicken and vegetables.

4. Divide the dough into 6 pieces. On a well-floured surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll out the dough to an 8 ½-inch circle. As you are rolling out the dough, make sure to turn it frequently to prevent the dough from being stuck to the surface. You can prepare all the dough at once, or work one pasty at a time.

5. Take a small handful of filling (about 1 cup or less) and place it in the center of the rolled out dough. You want to make sure that there is about an inch of clear space around the edge of the dough. Brush the egg along this empty space before folding over.

6. Fold the dough over the vegetables to create a semi-circle shape. Seal the pastry. You can crimp the edges with a fork or fold it. Brush some egg along the edge so the folds stay put. Brush some of the egg wash over the entire pasty. Repeat these steps for the rest of the dough. It will make about 6 pasties.

7. Place the prepared pasties on the baking sheets and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until the pasties are golden brown. Best served immediately! Enjoy!

Nutritional information per pasty:
Calories: 659
Total fat: 34.9 g
Saturated fat: 18.5 g
Sugar: 6.4 g
Protein: 27.2 g
Carbohydrate: 59 g

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Read 21 Comments

  1. Jean Kay’s Pasties in Marquette was forgotten from your list. They are the more traditional Cornish recipe, while Lawry’s on your list is more of an English pasty.

  2. I make Cornish Pasties as taught me by my grandma who lived in the mining country in the UP and was from Cornwall, England. Diced stew beef, diced potato and onions. Rutabaga was also added if it was one’s taste. If you add carrots, celery or anything else, it becomes a Finnish pasty. They are so yummy!!

    1. Carol,
      It’s wonderful that you can carry on a family tradition. We wouldn’t be mad if you wanted to share the detailed recipe with us but understand if you want to keep that deliciousness to yourself.
      – Julie

  3. Wakefield Bakery has the best pasty in MI. Another great pasty shop is Lehto’s with two locations in and near St. Finance.

    1. Thank you! Have you ever tried a pasty? If so, do you prefer ketchup or gravy with your pasty? – Candice

  4. Mackinaw Pasty and Cookie Co. in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace (summer only). In addition to the traditional beef, potato, onion and rutabaga, they offer several other fillings such as Italian, stroganoff, taco, chicken, cheesy vegetable and breakfast. We’re traditionalists, so we always go for the beef. So good.

    We’re from SW Lower Michigan, but are Yoopers at heart, having attended Michigan Tech and vacationing up north almost every year. Any time we are near Mackinaw City, we always pick up one or two dozen to take home with us. But if you travel in the spring or late fall, like we do, be sure to get there early, they sell out fast!!!!

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