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No, I’m not talking about what women wear to cover their delicate parts. I’m talking about the quintessential Yooper food. It’s a pastry made by filling a circle of uncooked dough with meats and various vegetables. The dough is folded over the meat to create a semicircle, then crimped close to seal the filling inside. My dad was born and raised in the UP, and after a little over a decade of living in other places he has returned to live there again. With that kind of past, it’s no wonder the pasty has always had a place in our family’s menus.

My parents favor a simple pasty – venison, sausage, carrots, potatoes, rutabegas, garlic, and onions. While I will never turn down this plain fare, I have been experimenting with different fillings. My latest experiment has been deemed a tremendous success by my little family. Even the picky 4 year old ate an entire one… without ketchup! Here is how I made them, and am still making them. I had so many veggies to use up that I’ll probably be making pasties long into the night tonight. They are excellent from the freezer, and the perfect meal for my husband to take to work since he can eat them without a fork.

First, collect some vegetables. Any vegetables. (Please note that a tomato, pepper, ect is a fruit… not a veg.) For this batch I used 4 small turnips, 2 parsnips, 1 rutabega, 1 pound of multi-colored fingerling potatoes, 2 large onions, 2 heads of garlic, 6 big carrots, a slice of a purple cabbage, and whatever seasonings I found in my cupboard that smelled good. Is that strange? I never follow a recipe or measurements for seasoning. I think over the years I have just learned what to use by smelling spices, adding them, then doing taste tests. I use A LOT of spices in my cooking. If you aren’t familiar with spices, maybe you could toss in some salt, pepper, and a tablespoon or two of some premixed concoction you buy at the store. Or just salt and pepper. Whatever you like.

I feel like such an artist when I put together so many colors in a dish!

Set the veggies aside and brown up some meat now. Any meat. Combine different meats if you want to. My parents won’t make pasties unless they have venison to use, but I’m not so fussy. For this batch I used ground beef and a little Italian sausage. You could use steak chunks, chicken, rabbit, pork, squirrel… go wild with it! Some people just toss the meat in with the veggies raw and cook it all in the oven, but I’m a bit paranoid about the meat cooking all the way so I brown it before on the stovetop. I won’t tell you which way is better or healthier because I’m certainly not an expert. Use your own discretion with the meat.

Make sure you get small enough chunks to be easily manageable. Too big, and your pasty might be hard to crimp.

You’ll notice a lack of glistening on my meat. I tossed in a bit of flour to soak up the excess grease. When it cooks and the veggies start releasing some of their juices, it makes just a bit of gravy inside that is so flavorful. If you are counting calories, you might want to drain and rinse your meat.

With the meat and veg all prepared and waiting for a new home, I then preheated the oven to 350 degrees F and started making the pastry dough. This is where I do stick to measurements… sort of. Okay, so I just eyeball it… but hey! At least I use the ingredients it says to. Sometimes.

This dough recipe is THE BEST pasty dough out there, folks. I know, I know. Everyone says that about theirs. But I’ll do a taste test challenge with anyone to fight this point, because I really like this dough. It’s from Betty Crocker, and it’s the one that my parents have always used. Along with perfect flakiness and ease of rolling out, this dough is also so simple that any beginning home chef will be able to conquer it.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup shortening (I used half butter, half lard)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1  1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup cold water
In a bowl, mix the flour and shortening with a fork or pastry mixer until the shortening is in pea-sized chunks throughout the flour. Then toss the rest of the ingredients in and mix it with a sturdy spoon. Turn the dough chunks out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to catch all those loose bits. If the dough is too dry, add a bit more water. If too wet, add a bit more flour. You want dough that isn’t so sticky that you can’t roll it out, but isn’t so flaky that it won’t stick to itself. Roll the dough into 2-3″ balls and set aside. Take one ball at a time and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until you have the shape you prefer. I generally use an oblong shape then fold it in half hamburger-style (not hotdog-style). Put a scoop of veg and a bit of the meat  in the center of the dough, then add a small pat of butter on top. Without the butter, it will turn out a bit too dry for my tastes. Fold the dough in half and crimp the edges together however you please. If the edges won’t stick to each other, dab on some water with your fingertip and press together.
I line them up several to a sheet and bake them for 45 minutes. And since I’ve done such a big batch this time around, I’ll be up until the wee hours cursing my horde of vegetables. The dough recipe stated above is only enough for 6-8 medium sized pasties. I estimate I’ll go through six or more batches of dough tonight with that huge bowl full of veg.

Cut some slits in the top if you don't want your pasties bursting from the pressure. Nothing fancy necessary - just a slit or two.

I hope you decide to try this recipe someday. It really is a great way to use up old vegetables and make meals ahead of time. What’s easier than tossing one of these into the microwave or oven to reheat? Tradition dictates that we eat them plain, unadorned, but I can’t seem to even taste one without smothering it in ketchup first. I’ve seen some people eat them bathing in gravy, too. Any way you eat it, it’s a healthy, homemade meal. Enjoy!

October 2011

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