Pasty – A Miner’s Savory Lunch

Recipes

I lived in Butte, Montana for a short time. Butte was home to the largest open-pit copper mine in the world, and America’s principal source of copper for 100 years. Many of the miners were Irish immigrants.

The miners needed a simple but nutritious lunch that they could easily carry to work. The pasty1, or more specifically, the Irish Butte pasty, filled that need. A savory meat pie, shaped like a half-moon pocket, this traditional miner’s lunch consists of pastry dough wrapped around beef, potatoes, carrots, and onion and baked until crisp and golden. The Irish pasty differs from the traditional Cornish pasty in England in that the Irish version uses beef cubes. Cornish pasties use sliced beef.

There is absolutely nothing fancy about a pasty. It originated as a miner’s noon meal – taken in his tin lunch pail down into the mines. The crimped edge of the pasty acted as a buffer between the miner’s blackened fingers and his lunch. He ate the pasty down to the handle of crust and then discarded the remainder.

irish pasty
Photo Credit: The Daring Gourmet

As with many local traditional dishes2, the pasty has found its way into most restaurants in the area3. Restaurants usually bring you a knife and fork if you want to eat your pasty daintily.

Pasty Dough

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt (preferably kosher)
  • 7-9 tablespoons ice water
  1. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold butter pieces and work it in with your hands by pinching the butter and breaking it apart. Continue this until you still have some larger pieces of butter and the rest of the flour looks like meal.
  2. Add the ice water in 3-4 parts, using a spoon or dinner fork to cut through the crust mixture several times. After about the first 6 tablespoons of water, add 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to hold together.
  3. Test the dough by squeezing it with your hand. If it holds together, it’s ready. If not, add a little more water until it holds with a squeeze. Don’t worry if you need a few extra tablespoons of water.
  4. Divide the dough ball into four pieces. Pat out each piece into one inch thick disks. Wrap each disk in plastic and chill the dough while you prepare the filling.

The Filling

  • 4 medium potatoes, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
  • 2 cups beef round, trimmed, cut into 1 inch cubes 
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or beef suet)
  1. Roll out one piece of the pie dough to about dinner plate size (10 inches). Keep the others refrigerated until you are ready to work with them.
  2. Mound ¼ of the potatoes, beef, carrots and onion on one side of the pie dough leaving at least a one inch edge. You are putting raw ingredients in the pie. It will all cook together.
  3. Dot the filling with ½ tablespoon butter. 
  4. Fold over the dough and pinch the two edges to seal it. 
  5. Repeat these steps with the three remaining disks. 
  6. Place the pasties on a baking sheet about one inch apart. Brush the tops with milk or cream.

Bake the pasties at 375°F for about one hour. Don’t cut vents in the top. Leaving the pasty closed holds in some of the steam which assists in cooking and keeping the filling tender.

Serve with beef gravy.


A Montana Native’s Comment

One of my long time friends, Jerrilea Hawkins Archer, is originally from Dillon, Montana, about 60 miles from Butte. She had this to say. 

“Pasties are my favorite & I make them often. I put steak, potatoes, carrots & onions. Serve with a gravy or ketchup, my favorite. Definitely a Butte dish, but Dillon, also!  My kids prefer those at a Thanksgiving.”

I agree, although I prefer them with gravy.


Have you ever tried pasties? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

NOTES

  1. Pronounced pass-tee, not paste-tee
  2. See my previous posts on Boise’s Finger Steaks and Louisville’s Hot Brown
  3. I first had a pasty at Gamer’s Cafe in Butte. It remained my favorite place to get them while I lived there.
Mike Worley

Mike is retired and lives in Louisville, KY, USA. He writes about lifestyle issues, particularly those affecting senior citizens. He also enjoys photography and works part-time as a college volleyball official.