Food of the gods.

“Breakfast for me,” said Shadow. “What’s good?”

“Everything’s good,” said Mabel. “I make it. But this is the farthest south and east of the yoopie you can get pasties, and they are particularly good. Warm and filling too. My specialty.”

Shadow had no idea what a pasty was, but he said that would be fine, and in a few moments Mabel returned with a plate with what looked like a folded-over pie on it. The lower half was wrapped in a paper napkin. Shadow picked it up with the napkin and bit into it: it was warm and filled with meat, potatoes, carrots, onions. “First pasty I’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s real good.”

“They’re a yoopie thing,” she told him. “Mostly you need to be at least up Ironwood way to get one. The Cornish men who came over to work the iron mines brought them over.”

“Yoopie?”

“Upper Peninsula. U.P. Yoopie. It’s the little chunk of Michigan to the northeast.”

The chief of police came back. He picked up the hot chocolate and slurped it. “Mabel,” he said, “are you forcing this nice young man to eat one of your pasties?”

“It’s good,” said Shadow. It was too, a savory delight wrapped in hot pastry.

—Neil Gaiman, American Gods

I’ve got to give Mabel credit for not putting rutabaga in her pasty. Nothing ruins a good pasty like rutabagaThe citizens of Cornwall (and maybe a few Yoopers) might be dismayed to learn that the second sure-fire way to ruin a pasty is to serve it with gravy. Pasty should only ever be served with two condiments: butter and ketchup..

The Cornish may have brought the pasty to the U.P. (maybe they really do pronounce it “yoopie” in Minnesota WisconsinFor some reason I had it in my head that Shadow was in Lakeside, Minnesota. It’s actually Lakeside, Wisconsin., but that seems a little lazy for the Yooper in me), but it was the Finns who kept it there. Today, the pasty is closely associated with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as lobster is with Maine, cheese with Wisconsin or cheesecake with New York. On arriving in the U.P. by way of the Mackinaw Bridge, the billboards advertising are omnipresent in St. Ignace and points west.

When Laura and I visit my parents in the U.P., pasty is almost invariably the first meal we have at their house (though I haven’t eaten pasty for breakfast in many moons). There are probably a dozen or so places to buy pasties in South Range, Houghton and Hancock, and only one place to buy a Big Mac. That’s the way it should be.

4 thoughts on “Food of the gods.”

  1. Cold pasty for breakfast works better than cold pizza. Rutabaga in pasty…must have been REALLY tough times when they started that. Rutabaga is only good in… well, nothing.

    Gravy on pasty? Must’ve run out of ketchup and butter, ey?

    ‘Yoopie’?!!? Please tell me it hasn’t come to that.

  2. “‘Yoopie’?!!? Please tell me it hasn’t come to that.”

    Well, I don’t know how exhaustively Gaiman researched the locale, but he got it right with the pasty. It’s possible that his interpretation of the pronunciation is a bit off. For me, U.P. is two separate “words.” When I read “yoopie,” it’s a bit like pronouncing CD as “seedy.” The vowel in the first syllable is lazy and you’re not hitting the consonant in the second hard enough.

    But that’s just me.

    I’m pretty sure you’re right about the rutabaga, too. Maybe the rutabaga will grow in soil that is inhospitable to more palatable roots, or perhaps it will survive a late frost that kills most other plants. It’s just disgusting enough that it would be so stubborn.

    Toivo planted the rutabaga where corn and carrots wouldn’t grow not because he liked rutabaga, but because he couldn’t stand to see the land go to waste. The potato harvest was a little light that year, so when it came time to make the pasties, Toivo told Ilta to use the rutabaga to stretch the filling.

    “But Toivo,” Ilta no doubt protested, “the pigs won’t eat those awful things! What makes you think they’ll be good in a pasty?”

    Toivo was perfectly aware that the pigs turned their noses up at the rutabaga, and that it was the one thing he grew that no wild animal ever tried to steal, but he was quite the stubborn Finn and determined to make use of the damn things somehow.

    “Just put ’em in the pasty, Ilta,” Toivo said, and she did.

    Toivo was the first Finn ever to eat rutabaga in a pasty, and it was such a shock to his system that every single taste bud in his mouth shut down immediately. Stubborn as ever, Toivo insisted that the rutabaga made a good addition to the pasty filling, and — despite Ilta’s protests — grew rutabagas every year after that, just for his pasties.

    Since then, Toivo’s recipe has been adopted by stubborn, masochistic Finns with no sense of taste and soil in which only the vile rutabaga will grow. Certainly not a shining moment in the history of the pasty.

  3. Thx for the history lesson. Always great to learn sumpin’ ’bout my ‘roots’. I’druther have no roots in ‘bagas, tho.

    Sometimes you gotta tone down the sisu. It wants to master you, but you must control it.

  4. Rutabaga? Ewwww! Oh, where is my ‘Calvin grimacing’ emoticon/gravatar?. Pasty filler, I say. Hasn’t been required in pasty since the Great Depression.

    OTOH, one of the culinary treats of a run to the U.P. is pasty. We should be indulging in approximately one month.

    Enunciation in Finn, as I recall, puts the emphasis on the first syllable. ‘Seedy’ and ‘Yoopie’ then would seem to be phonetically correct, but not true to local dialect. But then again, it’s actually a slow day in the Propulsion Laboratory, so I get to pick nits.

    I thoroughly agree on mastery of the Sisu. Add some French-Canadian to the mix and you’ve got a bronco to break. Thank goodness My Favorite Canadian is aware and in agreement. We are managing to keep things at a dull roar with The Broodlings.

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