Sunday, September 25, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Michigan I - You look a little pasty

Now I am heading back into the Great Lakes, and asking myself what makes Michigander munchies unique in their own right. But which Michigan will I investigate: the mitten part of the Southern Peninsula, or the forests of the U.P.?  You all can guess the answer: both.

Official Name: State of Michigan
State Nicknames:The Wolverine State; The Great Lakes State

Admission to the US: January 26, 1837 (#26)
Lansing (5th largest)
Other Important Cities: Detroit (largest); Grand Rapids (2nd largest); Ann Arbor (6th largest)
Midwest; Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Wild Rice
Bordered by:
Lake Michigan (west and southwest); Indiana & Ohio (south); Lakes Erie & Huron (east); Ontario (Canada) (north and east); Lake Superior (north); Wisconsin (northwest)

Official State Foods and Edible Things: brook trout (fish); whitetail deer (game mammal)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: immigrant cuisines, especially German, Irish, Welsh and Middle Eastern/Arabic; Coney Island dog; pasty (in the Upper Peninsula); morel mushrooms

Michigan, like much of the Upper Midwest, has strong Native American and immigrant food traditions.  Wild rice is fairly important here, as are the foods that various immigrant groups brought with them.  In her Heartland cookbook, Marcia Adams discusses various waves of immigration into the Wolverine State, and how they shaped the cuisine there.  The first wave, with the Erie Canal, brought New Englanders, along with German, Irish and (with their Cornish pasties) Welsh settlers and their traditions; the second wave swept in more immigrants to work in logging.  The third wave was the most diverse, bringing not only African Americans during the Great Migration but also Eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners - especially Arabs (As will be noted in a future post, Detroit has the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States). [Adams 1991: 94]

As noted above, there are two peninsulas to Michigan: the southern one plastered with farms, and the upper one, with pine forests and trout [Adams 1991: 93].  Many immigrants settled in both areas, and their immigrant traditions took a strong hold.  Look at the Upper Peninsula, for example.  UPers (as they like to be called) have been influenced by their Welsh foremothers and forefathers with that most British/Welsh/Cornish of pastries, the pasty (pronounced PASS-tee, not PACE-tee).  Pasties are very common not just in the Upper Midwest - Minnesota has its own version, for example.  Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson give some background on the pasty in their book Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, a most thorough cookbook for the Upper Midwest.

The Cornish who came to work on the Iron Ranges of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and northern Minnesota in the late 1800s introduced the pasty..., a meat-and-potato-filled pastry turnover, to their Finn, Czech, Irish, Italian and Yugoslavian co-workers, who made it their standard noon meal.  A miner's lunch pail held hot coffee or soup in the bottom to warm the pasty in the top compartment.  Early pasty makers would bake a whole meal into the crust, filling one end with meat and the other with apples or cherries.  Made with a firm, lard dough that would not crumble, a good pasty was supposed to hold up if dropped down the mine shaft. [Dooley and Watson 1994: 180]

There are local variations: the Minnesotan one can be made with all beef, and eaten with ketchup.  But to make a truly Michigander pasty, it more likely than not should include pork and beef.  And do try to track down some actual suet for your pasties if you can.  I didn't, but the Michiganders seem to love it.

The recipe: Pasty (Upper Peninsula Version)

For my pasties (again, read that as PASS-tees - PASS-tees!!!), I consulted Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson's Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, the only Upper Midwestern cookbook I have ever found down here in the Mid-Atlantic.  While their recipe for Ellen Ostman's Pasty (on page 181) clearly comes from Minnesota, the authors (and probably Mrs. Ostman) give some important tips on turning this into a Michigan-style pasty: instead of using all beef, use equal parts of beef and pork.  Marcia Adams' recipe, again in Heartland, calls for ground pork and chunks of beef, so I went with that.

* equal parts beef and pork (you will cube the steak, and here I used ground.  I used flank steak because it was on sale, and I didn't need as much - in fact, I only needed one of these steaks).
* equal parts turnip, potato, onion and carrots (I had only the carrots on hand, from the garden.  I don't usually buy turnips so I was surprised at how cheap this one was.)
* thyme and nutmeg (had them)
* garlic (same)
* salt & pepper
* two pie crusts (the amount you would need for a covered pie - I had planned for the longest time to make a pie crust, but I have been very busy these last few weeks, and eventually I just gave up and bought ready-made pie crusts at Giant.  Don't look at me that way.  Store-bought is fine once in a while, even if it doesn't taste as good)
* butter (Mrs. Ostman's recipe calls for this - as she says [Dooley & Watson 1994: 181], her mother "was a great believer in butter.  Others add suet.")

The assembly is actually pretty easy: first, peel the veggies and dice them into small cubes.

Do the same to the steak.  I found it easiest to use cooking shears.

Mix the meat, vegetables, smashed and chopped garlic, and spices together.  I was also surprised at how little meat there was, but I shouldn't be: the Welsh and Cornish miners that brought the pasty into the field wouldn't have had a lot of money to buy meat anyway).

Roll out your pie crusts on a floured surface, and put a massive mound in the center of one side of the pie crust.  Dot the filling with butter. (I ended up with enough to make a third pasty, but didn't have an extra pie crust.  Pasty filling stir-fry anyone? It was actually quite good.)

Fold over and crimp the edges.  If holes form, patch them with little pieces of leftover dough.

Bake the pasties in the oven for about an hour at 375°F.

They should look like this.

The one thing pasty lovers agree on, according to Dooley and Watson [1994: 180], is that the pasty is correctly made "'when the juice runs off your elbow as you eat it'".  I didn't have a lot of juice - not enough butter or meat? - but since I ate it on a plate, that didn't seem to matter.  This is definitely comfort food that is an easy way to pack a bunch of leftovers - in fact a whole meal - inside a pie crust.  Many sources point out that dessert would be packed into one corner for the original Welsh TV dinner-slash-pot pie.  It is filling and rich, and is something I will try with an actual homemade pie crust next time.

Sources:  "Arab Americans".  Much information contributed by Rosina Hassoun, (Arab Americans in Michgan, 2005). Copyright, 2011.  All rights reserved.

Adams, Marcia. Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens. Clarkson Potter: New York, 1991.

braniac (eHow user).  "How to Make a Detroit-Style Coney Island Hot Dog".  eHow article, post date unknown.  Copyright 1999-2011 eHow.

Dooley, Beth, and Lucia Watson.  Savoring Seasons of the Northern Heartland.  Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1994.

Farah, Madelain. "Falafel: Chickpea Patties".  Featured on the episode "Late Night Sandwiches" of the show Sara's Secrets (Sara Moulton, host).  Food Network, 2004.

Farah, Madelain.  Lebanese Cuisine: More than 200 Simple, Delicious, Authentic Recipes.  Twelfth edition. Self-published: New York, 1997.

Magnier-Moreno, Marianne, with Frédéric Lucano (photographer).  Middle Eastern Basics: 70 Recipes Illustrated Step by Step.  From the series "My Cooking Class".  Firefly Books: Buffalo, NY, 2010.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Michigan" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Michigan".