Sunday, March 2, 2008

My Way Sunday
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Michigan food anomalies
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What do you do during Lent that is traditional? ...and maybe a little different?
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I was reflecting on Lent and some of the customs that surround it. There are various approaches to honoring the pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Some people traditionally 'give-up' certain foods and activities during Lent. Some people pray certain specific prayers during Lent. Some people have special foods they associate with Lent. Some people have special charitable acts they initiate during Lent.

All of that reflection caused me to remember a traditional food I observed, but never had the courage to eat, when we lived in southeastern MI for several years. Every Lent there were the traditional fish fry dinners at many churches. Some parishes featured something other than fish, though. They featured muskrat.

The area of southeastern Michigan was settled originally by French trappers and their families. There are many, many, many French names in the telephone directory, and on street names, and on towns and villages. One of their favorite meats was to be found in the low water areas of the rivers and streams and ponds and marshes - muskrat.

Muskrat meat is said to taste like rabbit or duck. In the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, there is a longstanding dispensation allowing Catholics to consume muskrat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent when the eating of meat, except for fish, is prohibited. Because the muskrat lives in water it is considered a fish in this case

To this day, many Muskrat Dinners are held during Lent in many of the towns and villages in southeastern Michgan.

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That got me to remembering another unusual food we encountered in the extreme other end of the state - the Upper-Peninsula of the state, most affectionately referred to as the U P. The inhabitants are sometimes referred to as yupers.

The first time I ventured across the Mackinac Straits and visited the U P, I saw signs up and down the highways, and at restaurants in every town, "Pasties served here". I had no clue what a pasty was. You are about to find out.
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Be sure to check out the links.
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"What is a Pasty?".The Cultural Context of the Pasty (yes, the pasty is that important) tells of the history of the pasty:

The pasty came to the Upper Peninsula through Cornwall England. When tin mining started going bad in England during the 1800's the Cornish miners immigrated to America hoping to earn their fortunes in newly developing mines … When the Cornish came to the copper mines of the Upper Peninsula, they brought with them a lot of mining knowledge which the other ethnic groups did not have. The other ethnic groups looked up to the Cornish and wanted to emulate their mining successes. Many Cornish practices were then copied by the other ethnic groups, including the pasty as the standard lunch for miners. The pasty became popular with these other ethnic groups because it was small, portable, was very filling, and could stay warm for 8-10 hours.

This site from Michigan Tech has a number of pasty recipes as well and you can get even more pasty recipes from Tony Wesley. While traditional pasties usually contain potatoes, carrots and meat, you can fill them with pretty much whatever you want.
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Happy eating!
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3 comments:

Melody said...

Um, I believe I will skip the muskrat, and go to a fish fry.

uncle jim said...

we always skipped the muskrat, too
but the frog legs and fish were great

Adrienne said...

I just can't handle that muskrat thing. Bleh!