The all-locally-sourced pasty is coming in October for the first annual Iron Range Pasty Festival! The pasty is a staple of Iron Range cuisine, having come originally from the tin mines in Cornwall, England via Michigan’s copper mines and then to the iron mines starting up in northern Minnesota. The pasty tells an immigration story: when Cornish miners migrated to Michigan’s upper peninsula in the 1840’s to help open copper mines, they brought their lunchbox staple with them. When Minnesota mines recruited experienced miners from Michigan to open the iron mines in the 1880’s, the pasty came with them. Historical records show that pasties were present in 13th-century England, but mostly consisted of cuts of meat wrapped in pastry dough. The Cornish pasty had to be more nutritious—fueling the hard-working miners for the rest of a long day after lunch. They contained potatoes, rutabagas and onions as well. Some say that the Finns here were the first to add rutabagas, and others claim that the Finns often substituted carrots for the rutabagas. Whatever the case, all of the ingredients could be produced locally, right on the Iron Range. Today, pasties tend to be sold “with” or “without” rutabagas. And traditionalists claim that a real pasty must have rutabaga. I’m in that camp.
The story about pasties in the Cornwall mines includes the notion that pasties allowed miners to eat them without washing their hands (a tough feat underground). They held the braided crust and threw that away. In my opinion, the braided crust is the best part! The story also refers to the Cornish pasty as the Cornishman’s harmonica or mouth harp. Whatever it was called and however it was consumed, everyone agreed that it kept well in a lunch box and packed a wallop of warm nutritious ingredients for hard-working miners. When served in the home, pasties were topped with ketchup or gravy, or, in some cases, cut in half and buttered so that the butter melted into the meat and veggies. There are, of course, still diehards in the ketchup vs gravy vs butter camps.
Pasty makers today have improvised gluten-free and vegetarian pasties as well as breakfast pasties with eggs and sausage, chicken and wild rice pasties, scotch egg pasties and many, many more. There are even dessert pasties: pumpkin pasties, berry pasties, apple pasties….you can bake pretty much anything into a crust I guess. In whatever form you eat a pasty, it seems to represent regional comfort food. And on the Iron Range, the traditional pasty honors the history of iron mining and the hardworking folks of the Range.
In preparation for this fall’s first annual Iron Range Pasty Festival, a fundraiser for the work of the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability, board members and friends will make 800 pasties from completely local ingredients. A real “grown on the range” pasty! The beef and pork are being raised right now by Jane Jewett on Willow Sedge Farm in Palisade. The onions are growing at Janna Goerdt’s Fat Chicken Farm in Embarrass. The carrots will likely come from Bob Byrnes (Byrnes Greenhouse) near Zim. The potatoes are growing in Amy Loiselle and Tim Wallace’s large garden also near Zim. The rutabagas are in the ground at Sherry Erickson’s Elm Creek Farms in Orr. And for that delectable crust, Homestead Mills of Cook will grind the flour and Mary Ann Wycoff of Bear Creek Acres in Embarrass will provide the lard. The pasties will be served as a meal with coleslaw made by Natural Harvest Food Coop with cabbage from Craig Turnboom’s Skunk Creek Farm in Meadowlands and a beverage (we’re thinking locally roasted coffee from Miller Mohawk roasters in Aurora and Dahl’s Dairy local milk). Talk about farm-to-table….this is it!!!
The entire festival will happen at the Mt. Iron Community Center off Hwy 169 which is handicap accessible and has lots of free parking. Daytime activities for kids and families (3-7pm) will include rutabaga bowling, a taconite pellet scavenger hunt, the first ever Mrs. Rutabaga Head contest, play-doh pasty making, storytelling by the Virginia Historical Society, live music by local musician Sara Softich and Friends, and s’mores over an open fire. A “people’s choice” pasty contest will feature pasties from a dozen local pasty-makers on display and voting by $1 tickets happening all day/evening for your favorite pasty. We’ll draw tickets from the votes for each pasty and the winner will get five frozen pasties from that maker. Booths will display the work of the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability in our area and there will be an opportunity to contribute to that work.
To top it all off, an evening beer garden (6-9pm) will feature locally-brewed craft beers. And we’ll be playing Green Cheese, the region’s favorite original call-in trivia show from KAXE radio, truly local radio. Julie Crabb will host the show from the KAXE studio that evening and the questions will all be about iron mining history and Iron Range food traditions. Whether you’re a Green Cheese regular or totally new to the game, it’ll be great fun! Tickets for the festival will be available from Brown Paper Tickets online and at the door. $10 for a pasty meal, $8 for a frozen pasty (limit 5 frozen).