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The Butte Pasty
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 Posted: Mon Apr 11th, 2011 10:53 PM
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TasunkaWitko
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In the latter years of the 19th Century, and throughout most of the 20th, Butte, Montana was the center of hard-rock mining in the USA. The tremendous deposits of gold, silver and other minerals mined from deep within "The Richest Hill on Earth" were impressive enough, but they were completely eclipsed by the copper that was subsequently discovered there at a most opportune time in world history, when advances in invention and technology created a huge demand for copper, a prime conductor of electricity. Wiki enumerates an impressive hoard taken from the area's mineral wealth:

From 1880 through 2005, the mines of the Butte district have produced more than 9.6 million metric tons of copper, 2.1 million metric tons of zinc, 1.6 million metric tons of manganese, 381,000 metric tons of lead, 87,000 metric tons of molybdenum, 715 million troy ounces (22,200 metric tons) of silver, and 2.9 million ounces (90 metric tons) of gold.
 
 

 
In order to rip this cornucopia of resources from the earth, hard, physical labour was needed in the form of miners, who flocked from many key areas to work in the young, booming city. Immigrants arrived from as near as the gold, tin and lead mines in Colorado and Michigan, and as far as Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Wales, Cornwall....and Ireland.
 

 
And it was Ireland in particular that contributed most to the ethnic character of Butte. Making up the largest single percentage of Butte's population - nearly all "straight off the boat" - Irish Catholics, and their culture, heavily influenced Butte's growth and tone on all levels, from the hard-working miners toiling (and sometimes perishing) beneath the ground, to the unimaginably wealthy and influential giants of industry, including the Copper King himself, Marcus Daly of the mighty Anaconda Company, who almost single-handedly put Butte on the map with a ranking not far below much-larger cities such as Chicago.
 


 
Here are a couple of interesting views of Butte, looking uptown circa 1908:
 

 
and nearly the same view in more modern times - if you look carefully you can see some of the same buildings:
 

 
As the 20th century began, Butte was as much an Irish enclave as Boston, and whole families flocked to a place where they would be accepted and welcomed at a time when most of America treated the Irish with derision. Comfortable in a community of friendly, like-minded people, Irish Catholic traditions flourished and became an integral part of the landscape. The conditions for miners were indeed harsh, but considering "the norm" of the time, Daly took very good care of his workers and was revered as a benevolent father figure by most, if not all of his "children." From all the counties of Eire, Irish families emigrated to work there under the safe assumption of sponsorship, good wages and opportunities for their children. The huge importance of Butte to the Irish is underscored in the admonition given by one Mary Hagen to her daughter, Lizzie, as Lizzie and her father were boarding a ship at Liverpool:
 
Now don't forget, Lizzie - When you get to the New World, don't stop in America. You go straight to Butte, Montana.
 
Young Lizzie never saw her mother again, but she did make it to Butte - she survived and prospered and went on to become the grandmother of two of Butte's most famous sons, the famous daredevil, Robert "Evel" Knievel and Montana Congressman Pat Williams - and it is from Congressman Williams that we get a recipe for a truly interesting meal, the Butte Pasty.
 
The Butte Pasty (pronounced so that it rhymes with "nasty") is the culmination of eating traditions of miners from Ireland as well as Cornwall and Wales, and is a perfect example of a kind of "peasant food" that is a little different from what we have normally discussed here. Usually, we are talking about farmers using what they get from the land; however, here we are talking about the working class making the most of what they can afford in the mining towns - wives preparing for their men something substantial and nutritious as they send them into the depths of the earth, possibly never to return. Pasties were made with as much love and care as one could imagine and indeed were revered by their hard-working recipients as "letters from home" and reminders of what was waiting for them when their shift was over.
 
Wiki provides a brief description of a traditional pasty:
 
A pasty...is a filled pastry case.... It is made by placing the uncooked filling on a flat pastry circle, and folding it to wrap the filling, crimping the edge to form a seal. The result is a raised semicircular package. The traditional Cornish pasty...is filled with beef, sliced or diced potato, swede (also known as a rutabaga) and onion, and is baked....[O]ld Cornish cookery books show that pasties were generally made from whatever food was available. Indeed, the earliest recorded pasty recipes include venison - not beef....Pasty ingredients are usually seasoned with salt and pepper, depending on individual taste. The type of pastry used is not defined, as long as it is golden in colour and will not crack during the cooking or cooling, although modern pasties almost always use a short crust pastry. The use of carrot in a traditional...pasty is regarded as a "no-no...."
 
 

 
Wiki also provides a fair amount of historical and cultural information on the pasty, specifically on its importance to miners:
 
The exact origins of the pasty are unclear....miners and other workers adopted it due to its unique shape, forming a complete meal that can be carried easily and eaten without cutlery. Traditionally, tin miners would keep their pasties hot in large ovens at the surface, each marked in pastry with the miner's name before baking. The miner could then eat the pasty holding the thick edge, which ensured that his dirty fingers (possibly including traces of arsenic) did not touch food or his mouth. Any excess pastry was left for the Knockers, capricious spirits in the mines who might otherwise lead miners into danger. There is also a traditional belief that the pastry on a good pasty should be strong enough to withstand a drop down a mine shaft.
 
The pasty's dense, folded pastry could stay warm for 8 to 10 hours and, when carried close to the body, could help the miners stay warm. Traditional bakers in former mining towns will still bake pasties with fillings to order, marking the customer's initials with raised pastry. This practice was started because the miners used to eat part of their pasty for breakfast and leave the remainder for lunch; the initials enabled them to find their own pasties.
 
In 2006, a researcher in Devon discovered a recipe for a pasty tucked inside an audit book and dated 1510, calculating the cost of the ingredients. This replaced previous oldest recipe, dated 1746, held by the Cornwall Records Office in Truro, Cornwall. The dish at the time was cooked with venison, in this case from the Mount Edgcumbe estate, as the pasty was then considered a luxury meal. Alongside the ledger which included the price of the pasty in Plymouth, Devon in 1509, the discovery sparked a controversy between the neighbouring counties of Devon and Cornwall as to the origin of the dish. However, the term pasty appears in much earlier written records, for example the 12th century romance, Erec and Enide, written by Chrétien de Troyes, mentions pasties - eaten by characters from the area now known as Cornwall. Cornish historian, Les Merton, states that evidence could be found that the pasty was eaten in Cornwall as far back as 8,000 BC, passed down without written records.
 
"There are caves at the Lizard in Cornwall with line drawings of men hunting a stag and women eating a pasty. At that time it was wrapped in leaves and not pastry, but the leaves were crimped, so I would say there is positive evidence of pasties in Cornwall from primitive times." — Les Merton
 
Other early references to pasties include a 13th century charter which was granted by Henry III (1207–1272) to the town of Great Yarmouth. The town is bound to send to the sheriffs of Norwich every year one hundred herrings, baked in twenty four pasties, which the sheriffs are to deliver to the lord of the manor of East Carlton who is then to convey them to the King. Around the same time, a 13th century chronicler Matthew Paris wrote of the monks of St Albans Abbey "according to their custom, lived upon pasties of flesh-meat" A total of 5,500 venison pasties were served at the installation feast of George Neville, archbishop of York and chancellor of England in 1465. They were even eaten by royalty, as a letter from a baker to Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour (1510–1537) says ...hope this pasty reaches you in better condition than the last one...
 
Pasties have been mentioned in cookbooks throughout the ages, for example the earliest version of Le Viandier has been dated to around 1300 and contains several pasty recipes. In 1393 "Le Menagier De Paris" contains recipes for pasté with venison, veal, beef, or mutton.
 
[As stated above,] pasties in...mines [were] associated with "Knockers", spirits which create a sounds similar to a knock to indicate the location of the veins of ore. Although they were supposedly helpful to the miners, they would also be mischievous when a miner was caught whistling or swearing. To appease the Knockers, and encourage their good will...miners would discard the crimp of the pasty within the mine, for the Knockers to eat. Sailors and fisherman would likewise discard a crust to appease the spirits of dead mariners. These crusts were usually snapped up by seagulls, popularly held in West Country superstition to be the souls of dead mariners.

 
With the heavy Irish influences in Butte, the pasty was a natural shoe-in as a chief association with the mining city; from The Butte Heritage Cookbook:
 
Old-timers claim the pasty arrived in Butte, Montana along with the first housewives who followed their husbands into the mining camp. Long favored in the copper miner's lunch bucket, the pastry-wrapped meal was an ideal way for "Cousin Jeannie" to provide a hearty meal for the hard working "Cousin Jack." As the miner unwrapped his lunch, he would refer to the pasty as a "letter from 'ome." Its popularity spread quickly throughout the camp, and today the pasty is as much a part of Butte as the Berkeley Pit.
 

 
As I mentioned above, the Butte Pasty is a unique derivation of the traditional pasty, simplified by necessity to a humble pastry shell filled with beef, onions and potatoes, with a modest seasoning, usually consisting merely of salt and pepper. While the exact recipe and method varied from house to house, the one introduced by Congressman Williams is fairly typical, although i would consider the parsley something that was probably not normally used:
 
The Butte Pasty
 
Pastry:
 
3 cups flour
1/2 -1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups lard or shortening
3/4 cup very cold water
 
Measure flour and salt. Cut in lard until dough resembles small peas. Add water and divide into 6 equal parts.
 
Filling:
 
5 or 6 medium potatoes (red are best)
3 medium or 2 large yellow onions
parsley for flavoring
2 pounds of meat (loin tip, skirting or flank steak)
butter
salt and pepper
 
Roll dough slightly oblong. Slice in layers on dough, first the potatoes, then the onions and last the meat (sliced or diced in thin strips). Bring pasty dough up from ends and crimp across the top. Making the pasty oblong eliminates the lump of dough on each end. Bake at 375° for about one hour. Brush a little milk on top while baking.
 
Recipe contributed by: Mrs. Robert (Philips) Walsh

NOTE: Butte residents still remember when Mrs. Walsh, her sister and sister's daughter, Mollie, made pasties for sale in their home, then later opened a shop on Amherst street. This recipe has been handed down through their English ancestry (not for commercial baking). A true Cornish home-baked pasty.

 
Bringing the dough up into the middle, rather than folding it over on one side, is also a little unusual, but as i said, individual households did differ and so of course there were many "right" ways to do it.
 
I have recipes for Butte Pasties from at least three other sources, and will be posting them here so that readers may choose what they like. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I will prepare a tutorial and post pictures of this unique and truly historical meal, along with other pictures of Butte and the surrounding area from my recent visit there.



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 Posted: Tue Apr 12th, 2011 03:51 AM
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Yep, had pasties in the upper peninsula of Michigan in the copper mines there. Welsh, supposedly, and IIRC lamb or mutton originally. Good food.



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 Posted: Tue Apr 12th, 2011 06:53 AM
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steel13
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TasunkaWitko, I love it when you do these. A little history lesson, and a good recipe. Thank you. I want a copy of the cookbook when you do one.
Justin



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 Posted: Tue Apr 12th, 2011 05:02 PM
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TasunkaWitko
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thanks, guys! i found a few other notes on the hsitory and traditions of the butte pasty, as well as a couple-three other butte recipes - i posted it all here if anyone wants to take a look:

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/forum_posts.asp?TID=1247&title=the-butte-pasty

enjoy!



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 Posted: Wed Apr 13th, 2011 06:02 AM
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after getting a concensus of all the recipes i found with butte ties (in the above link), here's how it went down - here are the goods:
 

 
left to right: potatoes (a little more than one per person), shortening (or lard), butter, round steak, black pepper, onions, flour and salt. what could be easier or more basic?
 
first things first - it's time to get some prep work done. i started by trimming the round steaks and cutting them into small cubes, maybe half an inch square.
 

 

keep in mind that montana is beef country, and buttle came of age at a time when cattle barons were just as plentiful and propserous as copper kings. beef would have been a plentiful and relatively inexpensive ingredient, particularly the cheap, tasty cuts such as loin tips, flank, skirt and round steaks. this particular beef came from our own grass-fed cattle and was quite good!
 

 

some recipes cut the steak into strips, but i figured a hand-held meal would be easier to eat if you didn't have strips of meat pulling out now and then, so i went with the small cubes. alternately, some families did use a coarse-ground beef that served very well also.
 
next, we peeled and sliced the potatoes, which would have been very plentiful either in backyard gardens or from idaho, which was (and still is) right next door. as stated above, you're shooting for a little more than an average-sized potato per pasty, give or take:
 

 
at first, we simply sliced them, as pictured above; however, while assembling, we found it easier to use them when the potato "disks" were cut into quarters. based on this, i will most likely simply dice the potatoes next time i am making this.
 
after the poatatoes were prepared and soaking in a fresh bowl of cold water, we gave the onions a good dicing:
 

 
some recipes call for turnips, rutabaga, even carrots, depending on geography and individual tastes. this is all well and good; and should one choose to add those, there is no problem. i suppose one could even add peas if they like, but i found this to be unnecessary. potatoes, beef and onions are a wonderful combination!
 
the prep work finally done, i was unable to put off any longer that which i had been dreading: the making of the pastry crust. however, thanks to dave's outstanding suggestion above to use a food processor, it was actually pretty easy. my main concern after that was how much of each ingredient to use. the recipes were all different, so it was a bit of hit and miss.
 
after much inner debate, i finally settled on a formula that seemed to work very well. one key decision was to make the pasties crusts one-at-a-time, crust first, then filling and assembling them in a sort of assembly line. after i settled on this, things were fairly easy.
 
for the crust (per pasty): 1 cup flour, 3 tablespoons shortening and 1/2 teaspoon salt. i whirled them together in the food processor:
 

 
i found out through trial and error that you want to put the shortening in first when using a food processor. i also tried two tablespoons of shortening at first, but it didn't quite seem to work, so i settled on 3.
 
once these components are well-blended and starting to ball-up, you add a quarter-cup of cold water and get your dough started. then you turn it out onto a floured surface and gather it into a ball:
 

 
knead the dough for just a moment or two, long enough to get it all into a coherent blob, then roll it out flat:
 

 
you want it to be about "yay" thick, maybe one quarter of an inch, and you want it to be at least 8 inches across. once this was achieved, i cut out a circle of dough, using a saucer as a guide:
 

 
to be honest, this step really wasn't that necessary, but for my first attempt i wanted to follow some sort of uniform procedure. it would have worked just as well to roll the dough out carefully into the approximate size, thickness and shape - however, this also worked pretty well! the trimmimgs were kept and re-used when enough accumulated to roll out into the desired size.
 
now the fun part - assembly!
 
lay a handful or so of potatoes on one side of the circle of dough, keeping away from the edge:
 

 
then top the potatoes with a handful or so of beef, salting and peppering it:
 

 
then add a handful of onions and top with a couple of dots of butter, each a quarter of a pat or so:
 

 
looking good, i'd say!
 

 
now comes another tricky part: what you want to do is fold the bare side of the crust over the top of the filling, meeting them together with the bottom edge out just a little bit:
 

 
this maneuver might entail a little stretching of the pastry dough, so you do want it to be a little flexible.
 
once you get it folded over, you want to fold/roll up the edges (tucking in the ends so they aren't sharp/pointy). this action will most likey require a little poking of the filling back into the pasty, but no worries. when the edges are together, seal and crimp the seam:
 

 
as you can see, after doing a few of these, the dough has picked up a little pepper (and presumably salt) here and there, but no worries ~ it just adds a little to the flavour!
 
after crimping, you can cut any manner of small slits or whatever into the top as desired:
 

 
and then the pasty is ready for the oven. we laid them out on foil-lined cookie sheets, but forgot to grease or spray the sheets. LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKE! it makes it much easier if you grease or spray the cooking surface a little; otherwise, some of them will stick!
 
and then it's into the oven. in spite of the different baking methods above, we elected to go with a temperature of 425 degrees for 45 minutes, and this seemed just about perfect. i suppose a person could also go at 375 for an hour, but no matter. also, some recipes call for adding a tablespoon or so of water into the pasty (via the slit in the top) during the last 15 minutes or so of baling, in order to keep it from drying out inside. we did not do this, but on reflection, it might not be a bad idea at all - it certainly wouldn't hurt.
 
here's how they looked coming out of the oven:
 

 
not bad at all, i think - especially for a very fist attempt. i would have left them in the oven for another 5 minutes or so, in order to develop the golden-brown crust, but the family was hungry and the smell permeating the house was driving us all crazy, so i pulled them out of the oven. brushing a little egg yolk on the top of the pasties before baking would also develop the golden-brown crust, but i decided not to do this on the grounds that, back then, a working-class family might not have eggs to spare for something as "frivolous" as developing a little colour. one other thing i hadn't thought of was that using milk rather than water in the crust might have achieved similar results - being a complete novice at pastry-making, i have no idea, but if anyone with some experience thinks it would work, let me know. browned or not, however, the things looked and smelled wonderful!
 
here's another shot:
 

 
aren't they nice? and the aroma filling the house was really something. very good combinations from the simplest and most humble ingredients - it really must be experienced to be appreciated!
 
you might be thinking that it doesn't look like much when it is sitting there on the plate:
 

 
but boy, oh boy, when you cut into it, you find a treasure that is truly to be treasured:
 

 
the sights, the smells - even the steam coming out all work together to take you back to another time, another place and a whole other life.
 
i served them as shown above, so that people could decide whether to use a fork or to simply pick them up and eat them hand-held, as the miners did a century ago deep in the caverns. i tried mine both ways, and actually found it easier (and simply more AUTHENTIC) to just hold it and eat it.
 

 

the taste really was something that really called to me. beef. onions. potatoes. a little salt and pepper. a hint of butter. that was it and that was all it needed.
 
being an historian, i tried to imagine what it was like, down in the mines, and the words of an old johnny cash song came to my head:
 
O, come all you young fellas, so young and so fine
Seek not your fortune in the dark, dreary mine
 
Where it’s dark as a dungeon, damp as the dew
Danger is double, pleasures are few
Where the rain never falls, and the sun never shines
It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mine

 
i tried to imagine that i was eating this still-warm "letter from home" made by the loving hands of a wife i may never see agian, should some accident befall me.
 
it really made an impact. we talk about peasant eating here all the time, but as the world transitioned into a modern era and the cities became home to hard-working people powering industry for corporate masters of the universe, it seemed to me that this was right in the same category. perhaps it was because butte is right here in my home state, or perhaps it was because i had just visited there and read about the people who settled, lived, worked and died there, but i found this to be a veritable trip into the past.
 
the beautiful mrs tas, and the younger kids, found this meal to be a little plain, but for myself, and i think the older boys, it was a real pleasure that will hopefully be repeated soon.
 
here's the condensed recipe, which will be a staple in our house from now on:
 
per pasty:
 
dough:
 
1 cup flour
3 tbsp shortening
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cold water
 
filling (in this order, bottom-to-top):
 
1 handful of diced potatoes
1 handful diced (or coarsley-ground) round steak, or other cheap beef
salt and pepper to taste
1 handful diced onons
half a pat of butter, cut into two small cubes
 
preheat oven to 425 degrees. prepare dough, roll out into a flat circle at least 6 inches across add fillings and fold over. seal and crimp edges, then cut slits in the top. bake on a lightly-greased surface for 45 minutes, adding a tablespoon or so of water through the slits during the last 15 minutes of baking.

 p.s. - i don't have to tell you guys that this would work very, very well with deer, elk, antelope or any other big game!



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 Posted: Wed Apr 13th, 2011 09:12 AM
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GarethM
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TasunkaWitko,

Another brilliant recipe, we sometimes use cubes of lamb as the main meat, and brush some egg-wash over the pastry before cooking.  Just gives it a little more colour and an added flavour.

Another way of folding (which might be easier), is to bring the pastry up to the middle.  The photo on this post should explain things better than I can :wink: (BBC Good Food)

I always enjoy your posts on both forums.

Gareth



 Posted: Wed Apr 13th, 2011 03:28 PM
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TasunkaWitko
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hey, gareth - i'm glad you liked this one. as you can see, it is something that ties us together across the oceans and also the centurries.

lamb in the market is not too common here, except during fair time, but some friends of the family do raise them, and i jsut may have to try it with lamb. also, your suggestion of folding up into the middle is one that was definitely practiced in butte; in fact, when i had a pasty in butte, this was how it was done. thanks for the photo!

drop in over at FOTW sometime, and see what we've been up to!



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