The pasty, perfect food above ground or below

In Cornwall, pasties even run 5Ks, something you can’t do if you’ve just eaten a pasty. (PHOTO: Vic15, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Minnesota’s Iron Range gets plenty of attention for its ethnic foods. Melting pot. Immigrants. Grandma’s kitchen. Yada yada. But you’ve got to reckon with the fact that it’s a lot easier to nosh on a can of pizza-flavored Pringles at the gas station than it is to get your hands on some halfway decent krumkaka. Someone’s got to keep this stuff rolling out of the oven or we’ll be stuck with potato salad from the grocery store.

Today’s Iron Rangers find themselves five generations removed from the old country. They’ve intermarried and signed up for Pinterest. Who knows what we are, other than befuddled rural Americans with Canadian accents who feel different but can’t explain why.

For almost 100 years, Rangers have been comparing what’s in our lunch pails with what’s in our neighbor’s lunchpail. Lutefisk? How about a porketta sandwich instead. My stepmom is Italian and my great aunt literally married sausage king Leo Fraboni, so thanks but no thanks to the lye-soaked cod of my forbearers. If you’ve got a Slovenian friend whose family makes authentic potica at Christmas time, you need to treat this friend right. They’re your best friend, unless of course they’re stingy with the loaf.

My name, Brown, is common as dirt and colored the same, but even this mundane moniker comes from somewhere: in our case, Cornwall, also known as “the squiggly bit” that sticks out from the southwest of England. Though I might be jealous of the culinary delights from other nations, I nevertheless find an old, oft-baked recipe in the back of our family history book, the Cornish pasty.

Pasties are a sort of meat and potato pie with a very buttery crust, crimped into a unique half-moon shape. Proper pasties include rutabaga, or “swedes” as they are called in Cornwall. That’s rather ironic as my great-grandfather would go on to marry a Swede who would bake his pasties for him. I’m pretty sure she called it a rutabaga.

When Cornish miners brought the pasty to communities in Northern Michigan and Minnesota, their fellow miners quickly adopted the meal for the same reasons they became so popular in the copper and tin mines of Cornwall. Pasties are portable, easy to heat, and require no utensils. If your hands are dirty, you just toss away the crispy crimped crust, which doubles as a handle.

Cornish pasty. (PHOTO: Rachel Boyne, Flickr CC)

We served up pasties for dinner the other day (Fraboni’s no less!). At first, the boys balked. They held the incorrect assumption that something baked with vegetables inside was a “health food.” One bite of the crust, however, revealed the pasty’s secret weapon: calories stuffed inside calories. In keeping with family tradition, another generation adopted a love of pasties before the previous one succumbs to heart disease.

It’s a sacrifice to modernity that we ate our pasties more or less at ground level, instead of a mile beneath. But the pasty has now achieved new heights. No, literally! On Sept. 20, a Cornish bakery and local high school, joined the twin causes of publicity and education by sending a pasty into space. Attached to a heavy-duty weather balloon, the pasty took off from the school’s football field and rose to the stratosphere.

The pasty reached an altitude of 35,482 meters, or about 22 miles, before the balloon burst and the delicious meat pie tumbled back to earth. Fittingly, the bakery publicist and school principal then baked the now-frozen pasty and devoured it on the spot. They reported it none the worse for wear, proving that the Cornish pasty is perfect whether a mile below the earth or 22 miles above.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. Jim Curtis says

    Tasty article der Mr. Brown. You got da facts down pretty well and you were smart to steer clear of the ever contentious ketchup vs heavy debate. Holy Wah!
    Well, so long from da Copper Country Upper Michigan.

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