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Not-So-Traditional Pasties have a gravy-rich filling of meat and root vegetables. They create perfect portable meals in a pocket. Photo by Sue Doeden

Pasties: Fill your pockets with flavor

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The sign read "Pasties For Sale." It was 1988 and I was in Ely, Minn. My husband was a sports writer at that time and we were there for the state American Legion baseball tournament. I wasn't very interested in the games, but I kept eyeing that sign at the concession stand advertising pasties for sale.

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Pasties for sale? Ummm. I'd never heard of edible pasties. And, at a ballpark concession stand?

Finally, my curiosity got the best of me. I gingerly approached the snack stand, thinking I'd just take a peek. No such luck, though. They were sold out of pasties.

It wasn't long after that visit to Ely that I learned what an edible pasty was. So years later, when I was on a trip through Michigan's Upper Peninsula, signs for pasties dotting the small towns I drove through did not take me by surprise.

A pasty (PASS-tee) is a little bit dumpling, a little bit pie, and can be eaten out of hand. In fact, it seems pasties first appeared in Cornwall, England. Housewives formed pie crust around a filling of beef and root vegetables and then baked them, creating a convenient meal for the men to take down into the damp tin mines. The pasty, a hardy meal nestled into a crust, could be eaten by hand and was tasty hot, warm or cold.

Eventually, immigrants brought the pasty to America. It's likely you will find pasties wherever there are mines. In Minnesota, they've become a traditional part of the food scene on the Iron Range.

A new little shop opened not far from where I live: Turtle River Pasties. When I first drove by, I slowed down to check it out. "All Butter Crust. Made With Our Own Smoked Brisket." Oh, yes. Edible pasties.

I was able to visit with owner and pasty-maker Mark Schultz as I watched him create pasties filled with brisket prepared in his own smoker. He shared some pasty-making tips with me as well as a taste of the finished product -- buttery and moist filled pastry pockets.

I brought his tips home with me and created my own very non-traditional pasties. Traditional pasties are filled with uncooked ingredients. I had some leftover cooked beef in my refrigerator with no gravy, and a few root vegetables.

I used my favorite buttery pastry crust. Ready-to-use pie crust from the refrigerated case at the grocery store also will do the job. After a short sauté and a little bit of simmer, I had a gravy-rich filling ready to create perfect meals in a pocket.

These convenient grab-and-go snacks are not just for miners. Tuck them into your pocket as you head out for some snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Wrap them up and pack them for a lunch to eat while fishing out on the ice.

Make them ahead and refrigerate for a day or two, or seal each one up tightly in plastic wrap, zip them all up in a freezer-strength bag and store in the freezer to eat at a later time.

These tummy-filling, eat-out-of-hand portable meals may not be made in the traditional pasty fashion, but they are certainly proper.

Not-So-Traditional Pasties

For the pastry:

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt or garlic salt

2/3 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces

5 to 6 tablespoons ice water

Sift flour and salt into a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into flour until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add 1 tablespoon of ice water at a time, gently tossing with a fork between additions, until the dough begins to come together. Shape dough into a ball, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For the filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 medium red potato, peeled, cut into small cubes

1 very small rutabaga, peeled, cut into small cubes

1 medium carrot, peeled, cut into small cubes

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups beef broth

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

12 ounces cooked beef, cut into small chunks

Salt and pepper added to taste

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon milk

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for about 10 minutes, until they are soft and just beginning to turn brown. Add remaining vegetables and sauté another 10 minutes. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon flour over the vegetables in the pan and stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer mixture for 15 to 20 minutes, until much of the stock has cooked away and thick gravy remains. Vegetables will be crisp-tender. Stir in beef. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set mixture aside to cool. Filling can be refrigerated at this point.

When you are ready to make the pasties, divide chilled pastry dough in half. Return one half to refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll remaining half of dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Use a plate or bowl turned upside down (6 to 8 inches in diameter) to cut out two circles. Refrigerate scraps. Repeat process with remaining half of dough. Roll out scraps to get two more circles, for a total of 6 rounds of dough.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spoon a heaping 1/2 cup of filling on half of each dough round, leaving a 1-inch border at the edge. Moisten the edges of the dough with beaten egg mixture. Fold the pastry over the filling and crimp edges, using any technique you like. Just be sure each pasty is well sealed. Cut three small slits in the top of each pasty. Brush each one with egg mixture, covering completley. Bake pasties on lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 pasties.

Tips from the cook

--Do not use filling that is still hot. It should be at room temperature or right out of refrigerator.

--Baked and frozen pasties can be warmed in 350-degree oven until heated through.

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