Editor's note: This story was originally published Nov. 20. We're bringing it back today in observance of Miners' Day.
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (CIRCA) - Paula Nelson did not know what a pasty was before meeting her husband Karl, and most people who have never stepped foot in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula probably haven't either.
A pasty is best described as a meat pie, and Karl’s family recipe for the dish came from his grandparents who migrated to Michigan from Sweden. His grandmother would make it for his grandfather to take down into the copper mines for work.
But though the Nelsons' fourth generation pasty recipe is unique to them, the overall story of how the recipe became part of the Northern Michigan family’s tradition is not unlike others living in the region.
“A lot of the miners took those down there because it was an easy, well-balanced meal to take down into the mines, with their vegetable and meat and crust and all,” Karl said.
Pasties were originally brought to Northern Michigan by Cornish immigrants. The dish is a hearty, portable meal that was good for miners working 12 hours a day, NPR reported.
Finnish immigrants in the area eventually caught on and adopted their own pasty recipe, and they are especially known for including rutabaga in the pie. The dish became so popular with Finnish immigrants working in the mines that it is often believed the recipe originated with them.
Pasties are also known for their thick crust. Now, it's just part of tradition, but when they were made for miners’ meals it was out of convenience.
“They also used that large rim around the pasty, and that was because there were toxins down in the mines and dirt and they didn’t want to digest that. So they would hold that pasty by the handle and eat it and then they would discard the handle,” Paula said.
There are a variety of pasty recipes, but Karl said what makes their family pasty recipe different than many others is the type of meat.
“Most people use ground meat in theirs, and our family recipe called for pieces of sirloin. So we actually take a sirloin, a good grade of sirloin, and we slice it up,” Karl said.
“It has to have good lines of marbling in it so it has a little bit of juice that will stay into the pasty and make it moist. I think it’s the best way to eat it.”
Then chopped carrots, potatoes and rutabagas are added to the mixture with seasoning and butter before folding it into the crust and baking and serving it with a side of gravy.
Anyone visiting Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan can have a chance to try Karl’s family recipe at Karl’s Cuisine, Winery and Brewery.
“We opened Karl’s cuisine 12 years ago and one of the things we knew absolutely positively that would be on our menu would be our fourth generation pasties,” Paula said.
During the busy tourist season in the summer, Paula said they can make up to 300 pasties a week.
“It’s a tourist town. We have our great Soo Locks here, there’s a lot of history, we are the third oldest city in the country and we actually just celebrated our 350th anniversary this year,” Paula said.
“The upper peninsula is known for their pasties, so a lot of people have never tried them so they’re excited to come up and enjoy food that is part of our heritage.”