Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Soon There Will Be No Reason To Ever Go Back North

It wasn’t all that long ago, if you wanted to eat an authentic pasty in the United States, you had to drive a very long way north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to get one. Getting up there was a very time consuming ordeal, even if you lived in the southern part of Michigan. 
The pasty is thought to have its origins in the mining communities around Cornwall England.  Miners needed a simple but nutritious food which they could carry into the mines, and so, through time, the pasty was developed.  Eventually, as Cornish miners made their way across the Atlantic to work in the copper mines of Michigan, they brought their knowledge of this portable food with them.  And, it's a good thing for all pasty lovers in North America, both past and present, that they did. 
Immigrant miners from other countries, most notably Finland, made the pasty a part of their own diets, and soon it became a staple in the Michigan mining communities.  The copper mines are now deserted, but the Cornish influence lives on each time a pasty is made and consumed in Michigan’s northern most reaches.
The pasty is a self-contained meal.  It is essentially a pie crust which is wrapped around a combination of meat and vegetables, crimped and sealed around the edge, and then baked.  The filling of a pasty varies depending upon the specific recipe, but most include meat, potato, onion, rutabaga, and salt and pepper.  Sometimes turnips and carrots are added, and meats can include beef or pork, or, a combination of the two.  The pasty is often eaten with ketchup or gravy, but some people eat it without either one.
Since I was a young boy, I’ve visited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan more times than I can count, and I've always bemoaned the long travel time to get there.  But I also knew that at the end of a very long automobile ride, I would be rewarded with many great things to see and do, including, eating a delicious pasty.  And, that always made the long trip worthwhile.
The world is getting smaller, due in large part to technology and engineering, but sometimes it gets smaller because of the vision, hard work, and dedication of entrepreneurs who are not necessarily focused on technology, physics, or mathematics.  One such entrepreneur who has made the world much smaller is a man named Allan Gower.
Ye Olde Miners Yooper Michigan Pasty Shop, owned and operated by Allan Gower, is just like many similar shops found across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, except for one very important fact.   Mr. Gower’s pasty restaurant is not located in Michigan at all.  It’s located in Zephyrhills, Florida, a city best known for bottled spring water.  And while Allan Gower is originally from Maine, not Michigan, it is interesting to note that Maine’s coast along the Atlantic Ocean looks very similar to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s coast along Lake Superior.  Other similarities include cold and snowy winters, and often, very cool summers.  Perhaps these similarities are among the reasons why Mr. Gower appreciates the history of Michigan's pasty so much.  Whatever his reasons, he has perfected pasty making to a fine art.

Allan Gower
 Allan Gower’s day begins early.  He makes two batches of pasties each day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Making and selling over 200 pasties a day in peak season keeps Gower a very busy man indeed.  Florida’s “snowbird” season during the winter is when he is the busiest, and the summer is when he is the slowest, but whatever the season, he keeps serving up delicious pasties day in and day out.  And, if you are eating inside the shop instead of grabbing a take-out order, you’ll enjoy looking at the old photographs of Michigan copper mines which line the walls.  These photographs, along with some mining artifacts, give the place some real character.

The good citizens of Zephyrhills, many of whom originally came from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, provide a loyal local clientele for Gower’s pasty shop.  Many come in weekly to get the food which reminds them of a home up north which they left long ago.  But they are not alone.  Other Michigan transplants, living throughout Florida, also make their way to Zephyrhills every couple of months to buy frozen pasties.  Bringing ice chests in the back of automobiles, trucks, and minivans, they take advantage of the shop’s discount on large frozen pasty orders.  But, there are others who frequent the shop as well.
“Sometimes,” Gower says, “people come in and think I sell something else.”  Apparently, there are some folks, who drop by, because they think they can purchase those other “pasties.” Pronounced differently, but with the same spelling, they are looking to buy those little adhesive nipple coverings worn by some female employees in gentlemen’s clubs.  Most troubling about this, perhaps, is the fact that the sign on the front of the shop clearly indicates that the name of the place is “Ye Olde Miners Yooper Michigan Pasty Shop.” There is certainly nothing wrong, I suppose, with a gentlemen's club employee with the appropriate job title to be looking for a place to buy pasties. But, you have to wonder, at least a little bit, about someone who is looking to buy them from a place called “Ye Olde Miners."

As you would expect, Gower sells the beef pasty with all of the traditional ingredients, but he also sells a non-traditional chicken pasty as well. And, every Friday, he sells vegetable pasties.  On the day I visited, I ordered and enjoyed a beef pasty.  Gower’s pasties are very thick with generous fillings, and I split the difference by eating mine with both gravy and ketchup, and it was delightful.
If you go, Ye Olde Miners Yooper Michigan Pasty Shop is located just a few miles east of Interstate 75 at 35201 State Route 54 in Zephyrhills, Florida.  The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m to 5 p.m on Saturday. 
Allan Gower is a man who has successfully shrunk the distance between Florida and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan without a lot of fancy technology, or, some science fiction time machine.  Without him, there would be many people in Florida who would otherwise have to travel well over a thousand miles back to Michigan to get something very historic, authentic, and, delicious to eat.  It now seems to me, that with the availability of pasties in Zephyrhills, Florida, that soon there will be no reason to ever go back north.

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