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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cornwall's Gift to the Midwest: The Pasty

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Certain regional foods seem to have such universal appeal that it's surprising they aren't more widely available. The pasty is a classic example. A staple of the Cornish diet that came to America when Cornish workers migrated to the country in the 1800s, pasties are hearty, pie-crust-like pockets of meat (usually ground beef) and vegetables (typically potato, onion and rutabaga, and sometimes carrot). They're cheap, portable and very filling, yet they're impossible to find throughout most of America.

Luckily, they're available sporadically throughout Wisconsin. The state hosts one of the country's pasty hotbeds: Mineral Point, a town that attracted a large Cornish population during the 1830s mineral rush. Pasties were a popular lunch for Cornish miners, since they could be taken into the mine and eaten by hand (they also retained heat well, so they stayed warm until lunchtime). Mineral Point has retained its Cornish traditions, and pasties remain a top-seller at several restaurants around the city.

“There are, of course, variations in pasties according to family preferences or regional differences, but the ones made in the Cornish belt of southwestern Wisconsin are the best,” explains Dorothy Hyde, a Viola, Wis., resident who was raised in Mineral Point, where she grew up eating pasties. “Nearly every Cornish woman can make a great pasty, and many of the churches and Masonic groups in this area raise money selling pasties. Folks have standing orders for their pasties.”

For Milwaukeeans who aren't up for the two-hour drive to southwestern Wisconsin, there are several pasty options closer to home. The oldest is Reynold's Pasty Shop (3525 W. Burleigh St.), a North Side fixture that's been serving the meat pies since 1956 and still does brisk business. There's often a line of customers, especially around the lunch hour. The carryout-only shop also sells a line of frozen pasties.

Honeypie (2643 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) in Bay View offers a rotating selection of pasties, typically one meat option and one vegetarian option a day, and at just $5 (or $7 with a side salad), they're one of the restaurant's best values. Honeypie's nontraditional ingredients showcase how versatile the pasty can be; vegan chorizo pasties have been a recent specialty.

The Genesee Depot Café in Waukesha County also began selling pasties around two years ago. Jason Heinonen, who co-owns the café with his wife, Tina, was raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, another Cornish hub in the Midwest, and he created the pasties based on his grandma's old recipe.

“I describe them to customers as a meat and vegetable calzone,” Tina Heinonen says. “Ours are made with ground beef, ground pork, potatoes, carrots, onions and rutabaga, then wrapped in a homemade pie crust. We fully bake them and then freeze them, so customers can purchase them to take home and reheat.”

And for those who want a little bit of culture with their pasty, the Cornish Society of Greater Milwaukee hosts an annual pasty lunch at the Christ United Methodist Church in Greenfield. This year's will take place on Saturday, April 28, and will feature a brief program. The lunch functions as the society's annual meeting, but it is also open to non-members.
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