I’ve always loved my mom’s cooking. It’s a cliché to say that my mom is the best cook but I seriously dread the day I am forced to go more than a few weeks with out it. I had to survive off frozen dinners and chewy chicken for two weeks because my parents went on vacation. Not fun for my taste buds.
Growing up, I thought a plate with fried cabbage or gravy beans were the norm in every household. Of course the kid down the street had the same sort of things every night, why wouldn’t they be enjoying the same delicious delicacies.
Oh, to be young and naïve.
Around the age of 10, I started paying attention to the kitchen banter between my parents and I realized something. It was a break-through of sorts: I was the daughter of a Yooper.
Any Michigander knows what this means. For all those living outside the Great Lakes State, a Yooper is a person that hails from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or the “UP” as we call it (not to be confused with the word “up.” We pronounce both letters). Across the Mackinac Bridge lie our eccentric statesmen with their own unique dialect and food. My mom grew up in Escanaba, a lakeside town in the UP with a population less than 13,000 in 2012, which was the setting of Jeff Daniel’s Escanaba in da Moonlight.
One night a couple of weeks ago I remember waiting in my parent’s kitchen for dinner to be ready. A meat and potato rich aroma was permeating throughout the house. As my mom would say, it was the “smell of her ‘yoot’”.
Allow me to be the stereotypical daughter translating for her mom. Her “yoot” is her youth. I wasn’t kidding when I say they have a dialect of their own and it sometimes charges out of my mom when talking, in this case smelling, something from her days spent in the UP. This particular night, one of the UP’s greatest comfort foods was in the house.
Pasties were in the oven.
For all the “trolls” (people that live below the Mackinac Bridge), a traditional pasty is a mix of potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, onions and ground beef all encased in a crust. Most places toward the south of the state don’t have them on the menu but once you cross the bridge there are shops boasting the delicious dish.
The UP was originally a popular place for immigrants looking for work in either the mining or logging industry. Immigrants from England brought the love of Cornish pasties to the locals and were made even more popular by Finnish immigrants. Pasties became so popular that they are not only a go-to meal for locals but also a tourist attraction.
The small town of Calumet, Mich., is home to the annual Pasty Fest every summer. Pasty Fest includes a 5k walk/run called “The Great Pasty Chase”, a parade and a pasty bake-off. Yes, these meat pastries are that popular.
Growing up eating these dishes in the wrong peninsula makes you feel like you’re a member of an elite society. I’m technically not a troll because my mom is from the UP but I’m not a Yooper because my dad is from southeast Michigan. I’m hybrid; I eat in with the northerners but live with the southerners.
I guess I get the best of both worlds.
Images obtained via Google Images