Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pasties—Home Made

It’s always news when a batter brought up from the minor leagues hits a home run on his first at bat. So I thought I ought to let everyone know that the other day I made my first pasty, and it was, well, fantastic. 

As is often the case, I was inspired by the presence of a few stray ingredients—parsnips and potatoes. Then I noticed the chunks of butternut squash in the refrigerator, leftovers from the spicy pork stew that took shape last Sunday.

On my way back from the barber shop I picked up a pound of what looked like high-quality stew meat. I was set.

There are plenty of variations in the standard recipe for pasties. In fact, people enjoy disputing whether a pasty should have rutabagas or not, and indeed, whether meat should be included in the mix. There are Cornish pasties, Upper Peninsula pasties, and Mesabi pasties. In some corners of the world they’re even served with gravy! 

Such variations lead to good-natured disputes like the ones that once consumed the peasants of southern France as to which ingredients make up the “true” cassoulet or bouillabaisse.

Freud classified such issues under the rubric of “the narcissism of small differences,” arguing that people who resemble one another in many ways need such trivialities to provide them with a sense of identity.  But Freud was sort of a killjoy, don’t you think?

My mom, who grew up on the Iron Range, made her pasty dough with lard (it came in a waxy green cardboard box, like a pound of butter) and wouldn’t think of doing it any other way, medical research be damned.

I used Pillsbury roll-out crusts. They ended up pretty thin (something I might improve on in the future), but I avoided the problem so often encountered with commercial pasties—a too-thick crust.

But the key to the greatness of my pasties, I think, lies in the unorthodox ingredients. One cup each of butternut squash, parsnips, beef, onions, and potatoes, all of which must be cut into cubes about 1/8th of an inch thick. (Ground beef just won’t cut it here.)

Hilary’s mom used to make pasties that the family took out on their houseboat on the St. Croix, wrapped in newspaper. But Hilary agrees, the ones I just made are out of the ballpark.

This one’s for you, Mom.

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