OK, I’ll tell you. According to legend, the fire spread to the
support timbers and caused a collapse. I’m not sure what transpired thereafter,
but mining disaster stories rarely end well. A mining story with a happier
ending brings you today’s dispatch, how to make the Finnish Pasty.
The Finnish Pasty is a regional specialty of northern Michigan
and the surrounding environs, derived from the traditional Cornish pasty, which was
imported by miners who emigrated from Cornwall to the Upper Peninsula during
the 18th and 19th centuries. The art and skill of
homemade pasty fabrication have been passed through generations of American
Finns, with recipes honed and optimized over time, but never departing too far
from the original.
Not all American Finnish families participate in the passing of
this cultural tradition, but your faithful editor is happy to hail from one
that does. Normally, conventional gender roles and all that, cooking traditions
pass through the maternal/female line of a family. Not so here – the otherwise
excellent but questionably Finnish sister of Bruck (OEBQFSOB), who is
incidentally one of the more prominent ribs chefs in the family, has declined
to carry the pasties standard, therefore it must be borne by yours truly.
As this is a proper technical dispatch, I must make a couple of
points about scope and nomenclature.
1) The singular form of “pasties” is “pasty,” not “pastie.”
This, and its pronunciation, distinguish it from the tassels attached to the mammary
organs of burlesque dancers: the “a” in “pasty” is short.
2) Pasties are not part of European Finnish cuisine. This is
strictly a tradition of American Finns.
3) The Finnish pasty is composed of an outer pastry filled with
beef, pork, potatoes, onions, carrots, rutabaga (yellow turnip), butter, salt,
and pepper. The traditional Cornish pasty does not contain carrots, and is
seasoned with parsley. There may be other variations that I’m not aware of.
There are some construction differences as well, but that’s outside the scope
of today’s dispatch. And to clarify things for the pasties tourist, here are
some things that do not appear in a proper Finnish Pasty:
Chicken or other meats
Hamburger or other ground meat and
Peas or other vegetables
Pretty much anything not listed
Now I’m fully cognizant of the loose tolerances that have been
placed on the definition of pasties over the years, particularly by restaurants specializing in same, and I’m also aware that quibbling over
esoteric details does not get you invited to the after-party party, therefore
instead of taking up arms in the matter, I would encourage pasty purists to
simply deal with the matter by forming air quotes in their heads when someone purports
a non-conventional pasty, and keep the eye rolling as discreet as possible.
For my faithful readers not currently engaged in the debate, I
would say this: if a nuclear physicist apprises you of the contents of reactor
fuel, you wouldn’t debate it, right? You wouldn’t think, well, can’t we save a
few bucks by substituting copper for uranium, would you? All I’m asking is that
you afford the same respect to the Finnish Pasty chef.
Here’s the recipe from the archives of the Ancestors of Bruck:
Well, obviously not directly from said archives - we put it into a doc file. If you are over 40, you may need to blow this up: right-click on the image, select "view image," and hit ctrl-plus or command-plus as needed.
If this were all there was to it, we could stop here, but
critical aspects of the all-important technique are not specified. There are
three main steps: pastry dough, filling, construction, and cooking (okay,
that’s four steps, just seeing if you’re paying attention).
If you’re still reading by now, I figure there’s some chance
you’re thinking about trying to make some yourself, so let’s discuss timing.
Working backwards from meal time, pasties take about an hour to cook. Prior to
that, they take an hour to assemble (budget more for your maiden voyage); and
preceding that, it takes about an hour to cut up the meat and vegetables. The
pastry dough is best made the day before – it should sit in the refrigerator at
least four hours but ideally overnight, and then it needs to come to room
temperature. If you’re making the pastry dough and the pasties the same day,
budget about an hour to make it. It’s best to cut the meat while it’s partially
frozen, so it should also freeze overnight, then thaw about a half hour to an
hour prior to cutting.
Step 1) The Pastry Dough
Note about ingredients: “oleo” is also known as “margarine.” Fleischmann’s
margarine is recommended, if your grocer carries it. In addition to the
ingredients, you’ll need a pastry cutter, a large bowl, measuring cups and
spoons, other utensils, and nine raisins (nuts, candies, or shots of tequila may
be substituted for raisins).
Measure out nine level cups of flour into the bowl, eating one
raisin after each, to help you keep count. Add the salt and mix evenly.
Next, cut in the shortening and margarine, in approximately tablespoon-sized
chunks. Agitate with a mixing spoon, but not too thoroughly – stop when the
granularity looks to be about 1/2” to 1/4” on the average, and no tangible
amounts of shortening remain. Be sure to scoop from the bottom up, so as to mix
in all the dry flour.
Meanwhile, prepare about two cups of ice water. To complete the
dough, form a depression in the flour/shortening mixture, add a few tablespoons of
cold water, and mix it in until a portion of the flour/shortening turns into
firm dough and push it to the side. Repeat until all the flour/shortening is
converted to dough, which will consume about two cups of ice water. Make the
dough a little drier than your instincts would advise – it will cure in the
Form the dough into a ball as shown, wrap it in a few layers of
waxed paper, pressing out as much air as possible, and put it into the
refrigerator. Overnight works best, but at least four hours are required.
Step 2) The Filling
At this point, you should take your dough out of the fridge, to
let it come to room temperature by the time you’re ready to use it.
Note, the actual number of individual items shown may differ
from the recipe shown above – onions and potatoes don’t come in standard sizes.
This is where the judgment of the inestimable mother of Bruck (IMOB), with her
experience making thousands of pasties comes into play. In my more limited
experience on the order of dozens, I’ve always ended up with extra filling. The
important part is the ratio of components, and we’ll talk about how best to use
the leftovers later.
Peel the carrot, onions, and potatoes, and cut the rutabaga into
quarters. Retain and peel one quarter of the rutabaga. Notwithstanding all that
talk about starving children in India, the IMOB discards the rest. I have a favorable
alternative that I’ll share later. Cut all ingredients into 1/4” to 3/8” cubes
and mix. This includes the meat. As noted above, it helps to freeze the meat
and then allow it to partially thaw before cutting. I also recommend an
electric knife if you’ve got one (and if you don’t, they’re only about $20 on
Step 3) Construction
You’ll need a rolling pin, a rolling sheet, small bowls of flour
and salt, and a shaker of pepper. You’re going to be placing the constructed
pasties on cookie sheets for baking, so line two full-size cookie sheets with aluminum
Cut your dough into approximately 12 equal pieces. Take one
piece out, form it into a ball, and roll it into a squarish circle (or circlish
square), about 1/8” thick. Be sure to lubricate the rolling board and rolling
pin with plenty of flour, and roll from the center of the ball outward.
Place one cup of filling on the bottom half of the circle (not
all the way to the edge), then sprinkle it with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a
couple shakes of pepper, and top it with a 1/4” pat of butter or margarine.
Carefully fold the upper half of the pastry over the mound of
filling and press its edge into the bottom edge. Remove any bits of filling
that find their way between the edges. Trim off any edges exceeding 1”. Crimp
the edges by gently squeezing approx. 1” sections and twisting (to this day I
can’t make crimps like mom’s, so I’ll show you one of hers). If there are any
gaps or splits, you can roll out a small piece of pastry to patch them – make
sure there are no openings in the edge or they will leak while cooking. Poke
three 1” slits in the top of the pasty, about 3/4” apart.
Very carefully, put the pasty on a cookie sheet. It’s best to cup
it in both hands, then slowly roll it off of the board from one hand into the
other, and place it onto the cookie sheet. Arrangement: ideally, you will want
to put six pasties on a sheet, four in parallel on one side and two in the
remaining space of the other side, and not touching each other. If circumstance
preclude this, or if you end up with more than 12 (this is not always an exact science), put
the extras on a third cookie sheet and cook them separately.
Step 4) Cooking
Preheat the oven to 375F. Your oven racks should be in the
middle two positions. Put one sheet on each rack, close the door, and lower the
temperature to 350F. Bake for a half hour, then swap the sheets’ positions
(upper to lower, lower to upper) and bake for another half hour.
Serve and enjoy! A popular side dish with pasties is “chow
chow,” aka mustard pickle. Beverage pairings are the same as for red meat,
which for most American Finns means beer. I tend to deviate from tradition by
eating mine with ketchup, which never fails to elicit a sidelong glance from
1) What to do with extra filling: make a pasty pie.
2) Rather than discard 3/4 of a perfectly good rutabaga: make
mashed potatoes/rutabaga, with about equal parts of each.
3) The pastry doesn’t like humidity, which is why winter pasties
tend to turn out better.
4) Commercial pastry: you can save a lot of time and effort by
using it, but there are a few downsides:
- It doesn’t taste as good.
- It’s expensive.
- You’ll feel cheap and tawdry, having compromised your
principles in the name of expediency.
5) Pasties are not health food. If you attempt to make them
“lite,” by recklessly using leaner/less fattening ingredients, I can’t be
responsible for the results. Full disclosure: the Finnish great-grandmother of
Bruck who spoke no English (FGGMOBWSNE) used lard for shortening.
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page if you have any questions or run into trouble. And please leave a comment
if you would like to share your experience and/or success stories.