Pasties! A Historic Food and Present Day Treat

In the light of all this recent rain and heat we have so many veggies that we can barely keep up with them and the constant rain means some, especially the broccoli, are rotting in the fields. To deal with this sudden vegetable overload I've decided to the make a double batch of history's favorite convenience food: the pasty! God only knows why I decided this was a good idea today when it was 80 degrees F in the shade. But alas, as I was toiling over the stove, I began to think upon the millions of other people who had toiled for their pasties. I decided to do a little research on the history of pasties, but if you have less time than interest scroll down to the bottom of the page for my pasty recipe!

Pronounced pass-tee, this pan-less pie has been around for a very long time with the first written record of them dating back to the twelfth century. Although the residents of Cornwall, England claim they invented the pasty, the true origin is unknown and most likely dates back much farther and in several locales separately.  

Like many of our cherished dishes today, the pasty is a food borne of necessity, cherished by commoners and countryfolk for a multitude of practical reasons. First off, you can put literally any foodstuffs into a pie crust and make it taste good. In hungry times, the pasty was a great way to stretch what little meat was available (if any at all) to make a filling meal. Plus, you do not lose precious fat in the cooking of this dish as it is all contained in the pastry. 

The Cornish claim that a true traditional pasty contains only potatoes, onions, rutabagas, and a little seasoning  and nothing else. Of course, the real tradition here is using whatever you have on hand. I'd bet a good bit of money that any food that can be put in a pasty has been put in a pasty if that sort of thing could be known. In fact some pasties had savory filling until the last couple bites, which were sweet. It is thought that this is not only a convenient meal and dessert in one, but that the starches would give hard workers slow released energy while the sugar at the end would give them an instant boost. 

Not only do pasties make it easy to stretch ingredients, but they can be conveniently slipped into a pocket or paper bag and eaten anywhere without needing a plate or utensils. The dense lard filled crust also means that pasties stay warm for hours, but even if they do get cold, they are also easy to heat up. 

Although the Cornish may not have "invented" the pasty per say, their great fondness of this simple dish has popularized it greatly in the last several hundred years. Back in the days of tin mining in Cornwall, pasties were especially popular with the boys and men who worked in there. Their wives and mothers would bake a pasty for each mine worker in the household in the morning and write their initials in the corner so each man would know which was his own. Some mines had massive ovens for the men to keep their pasties warm in while they worked, while others preferred to simply heat their lunch up on a shovel over a fire or candle lamp. Either way, each man could tell which was their own. They had to be careful what they did with it though, as there are stories of men leaving their pasties on a shovel only to have it ignite from its high lard content and start the timbers of the mine ablaze. 

The traditional way to consume a pasty is not with a fork and knife but to hold it by the initialed corner and hold it upright so none of the contents fall out leaving that corner to be eaten last so as to be able to identify it later if a portion is saved. Some miners would throw away this last bit that their fingers were touching, claiming that the pastry scraps thrown to the ground would appease spirits in the mine, which in turn would not cause mischief like collapses or fires. This may actually have protected the miners, not from spirits, but from consuming the arsenic that came off of their grimy hands. 

The pasty made its debut in the New World when cornish miners went immigrated the the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to work in the copper mines. They brought the pasty with them and their fellow Swedish, Finish, and Italian quickly followed suite (although they may have already had their own similar versions). Ever heard of a calzone, anyone? In fact, the Finns have several similar foods, including kalakkuko, which is stuffed with fish and pork, and the karelian pasty filled with potatoes, rice, or millet. 

Once the pasty hit the U.P. it became popular not only with miners, but with other hard working folk, including the many loggers and traders in the North. In his book Gourmet Cooking for Free, author Bradford Angier shares a recipe for what he calls "Trading Post Pasties". He writes:

"A hearty meat pie is hard to beat- and they know this at the fur trading posts spotted throughout northern Canada where this receipt, adaptable to many different game birds, has been handed down by generations of bewhiskered cooks. It hasn't lost a bit of flavor in translation. The following pasty, geared in this instance to partridge, is one of the reasons.

         Sift together 2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Cut in 1/2 cup shortening, using two knives or a pastry blender, until the mixture resembles corn meal. Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped beef kidney suet. Gently stir in a small amount of water, preferably ice cold, 3 or 4 tablespoons, depending on the absorbency of the particular flour. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill. 
        Mix together 3 cups of boned and chopped partridge, 1/4 cup diced onion, 1 cup raw potato, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and finally a teaspoon of salt. 
       Roll the pastry out on a floured surface. Then cut it into 4 large squares. Spoon 1/4 of the filling on 1/2 of each square, filling a triangle. Moisten the edges with water, fold the empty triangle over the filled portion, and crimp with flour-powdered fork tines to make a tight bond. Prick the tops with a fork to allow the steam to escape. 
      Place the four pasties on a cookie sheet or shallow pan and bake in a preheated hot 425 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the crust is an appetizing brown. These are best direct from the oven. If any last that long, they are also memorable with cold lunches."


Heard enough of my historical jib jab yet? Okay here's the recipe- have at it! 

Stone Axe Herbals Pasties
  • 1 Potato (chopped small)
  • 1 Carrot (chopped small)
  • 1/2 Onion, chopped
  • 2-3 Cups Chopped veggies of your choice (I used broccoli, swiss chard, and green beans)
  • 1/2 Cup Lard and a bit extra for frying the veggies
  • 2 Cups Flour (whole wheat preferably)
  • 3-4 TBS Ice Cold Water
  • 1 Egg, beaten
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 3/4 lb Ground beef or other meat (I prefer canned meat for this recipe)
  • A Handful Flour or Cornstarch to Thicken
1. Chop all of your veggies into small pieces so they fit into your pastry later without ripping through the dough. 
2. Stir fry the veggies in lard or other oil until slightly browned. 
3.Add your ground or canned meat to the pan and brown. Add salt and pepper to taste. If your meat was canned it will already have liquid in it, if not add about 1/2 cup water. 
4. Allow veggies and meat to simmer on medium-low until potatoes are fully cooked.
5. While your pie fillings are simmering you will need to make the pastry dough*. Combine flour, a pinch of salt, and lard (or substitute butter) and mix with two knives or a pastry cutter until it has a graham cracker like consistency. 
6. Beat one egg and pour it over the flour and fat mixture. Mix in completely with a fork.
7. Add cold water one tablespoon at a time until dough will form into a nice ball. You will need to knead it for a couple of minutes until it sticks together well. You do not want to fall apart like pie crust tends to do. 
8. Once your potatoes and meat are fully cooked, add a couple of tablespoons of flour at a time, stirring constantly until a very thick gravy forms. 
9. On a heavily floured surface, roll out balls of dough until they have reached the size you desire, fill with the vegetable mix, and pinch edges shut.

10. Once you have filled all of your pasties, bake them on a cookie sheet at 375 F for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

* I used this recipe from King Arthur Flour to make the dough for this recipe. Check it out HERE.

That's all I've got for now. Let me know if you've made pasties before or what you put in yours in the comments below! And as always, thank you for supporting Stone Axe Herbals by using the affiliate links below at no extra cost to you!

Disclaimer: This blog is just my own opinion, nothing more. While I try my hardest, everything may not be completely accurate or complete. Sorry, I'm only human, so do not hold me accountable for anything you do to harm yourself or the world around you. I do make money from this blog (seriously not very much at all guys). If you click on any of the links in my blog I may make money from it, at no extra cost to you. I'm not sponsored by any of these people I just honestly love these products and want to give you the resources to find them. I am not a medical practitioner; consult a health professional before using any herbal remedies. I am not claiming to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any ailment.  

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