Food is portable, saved miners from eating arsenic
by BETH ALTENA
The Rockford United Methodist Church held its 33rd annual pasty sale last week from from ? to ? and baked and sold nearly 6,000 of the “pies” filled with beef, pork, rutabagas, onions, carrots, potatoes and secret seasonings. The tradition is a long one for the downtown church, but the history of the pasty itself is much longer.
Pasties bring to mind Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where they are an established regional fare. Miners in the 1800s established them as the preferred lunch because they were easy to eat, carry and kept warm for a long time. The miners brought the food when they emigrated from Cornwall, England after mines there were depleted. It is speculated they may have been a variant of “star glazed pie,” which was a fish-filled pie with the head poking through the crust.
It is also possible Vikings introduced the pies to the British Isles when they invaded. The earliest reference to the pasty is in Cornish writing dating back to 1150 and 1190. Author Chetien de Troyes wrote romances for the Countess of Champagne, and referred to the food, “Next Guivret opened a chest and took out two pasties.” The pasty is mentioned in Robin Hood ballads as well.
When the wave of Cornish miners immigrated to the Upper Peninsula, their expertise was much admired and emulated, including their preference for pasties as their midday meal. Individual family members could request their own fillings for the versatile food, and to identify each pasty, the miner’s initial was stamped on the end. In eating the pasty, miners would start with the end without the initial so the correct pasty could be identified later if they didn’t eat the whole thing at once. Miners had a superstition that it was bad luck to eat the initial end of the pasty and should be thrown on the floor of the mine for the mine gremlins to eat. This tradition also is said to have come from the Cornish mines and, like many superstitions, had a basis in truth. The Cornish mines had high levels of arsenic and, by not eating the part of the pasty they touched with their hands, saved themselves from consuming amounts of the poison.
The pasties baked up by members of Rockford United Methodist Church are free of poison, arsenic or otherwise, and freeze well. According to church member Kris Hassan, the sale was a huge success, with 6,400 pasties made and sold out in four days! At least 10 percent of the new proceeds of the sale leaves the church and is returned to the Rockford community. This year, as in the past, the 10 percent is being gifted to North Kent Community Services.