August 3, 2010

Pasty, Poutine, Cipialle – Time for Dinner!

Food history. Food stories. I’d hazard a guess that many foods have an interesting, but little-known history. We’ve tried a few local favorites recently. Here they are in the order sampled.

Pasties. The pasty (rhymes with nasty) is a firm meat pie you can pick up and eat by hand, a staple in Michigan’s U.P. (Upper Peninsula. See the previous Michigan post.) The filling is beef, pork or vegetarian, with potatoes and bits of carrot, turnip optional but more authentic. Everyone has a favorite place to buy their pasties for a quick lunch or dinner. We tried our first when we saw so many signs along Highway 2. Dobbers, a local chain, also fills mail orders – by Fedex if a distant UP’er is so homesick they’re willing to pay big bucks for a quick dozen. Order online!







                                                              Good with wine!Pasties on Table

The U.P. hills are rich with copper and iron. European immigrants came to this wild country to work the mines, and founded the many little towns that simply sprang up around mine shafts. The Cornish came first, in the early 1800’s, bringing their mining skills and traditions from  the old country, including a miner’s staple lunch, the pasty. This lightly seasoned meat pie was portable, and could be eaten cold or heated on a shovel over a miner’s headlamp. No tools required, it’s eaten by hand or with a fork, gravy or catsup optional.

It’s dark as a dungeon…and dirty and dangerous.

When the mining slowed in mid-century, the Cornish went home. Finns, Swedes and others remained, and continued to make pasties. The mines boomed again late in the 1800s, the timeframe my grandparents settled in the U.P. He was a miner, and I imagine my grandmother fixed pasties for him and made little ones for the children, including my mom.

02 Grandma Autio

01 Grandfather

01 Grandmother Audio                                                                     


It’s Finn country – and we missed a Finnish festival by one week!

Finnish flag in the Iron Mountain museum.




Poutine. Frankly, when this Canadian dish was described and recommended to us, I thought it sounded awful!

What you see here is french fries topped with fresh cheese curd and covered with brown gravy, with an optional item, diced chicken. There are many favorite additions to the basic recipe. Hamburger’s favored. Another variation is to use pizza sauce. It seems that the sky’s the limit! 


Poutine appeared in the late 1950s, and quickly became popular. We first saw it at a fast food chain located inside a Canada Visitor Welcome Center! It’s a staple nationwide, even served in school cafeterias. I was told we’d like it.

It’s sold at most fast food joints, in greasy spoons and in family restaurants, where we found it in Gaspé and I finally dared to try it …and I DO like it! The gravy does make the fries stay warm longer. This one’s easy to make, so here’s the basic recipe:

The French fries should be of medium thickness and fried so that the inside stays soft, while the outside is crunchy. Use a light gravy - chicken, veal or turkey, mildly spiced with a hint of pepper. Sprinkle cheese curd over all. I don’t know where you get this, but it must not be more than a day old. To substitute, use little chucks of an extremely mild cheese. To maintain the texture of the fries, the cheese curd, then gravy must be added immediately prior to serving.

Variations are apparently endless. Poutine made Mexican-style is called “carne asada fries.” Consult Wikipedia for  high and low class variations, and a couple of political jokes. Or this fine site:

Cipaille, or Sea Pie (which is how it is pronounced). We walked the wharf at Rivièr-au-Renard, a small fishing town  near the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. Couldn’t find any restaurants near the harbor, so we went to a supermarket for readymade salads. We also picked up two cipailles in small square bread tins to have for dinner.


When we reached the fishing docks, we found the town restaurant! And watched fishermen offload their turbot catch. It’s a slow process, using a shovel to empty fish from the icy hold into the bucket, which is lifted ashore, weighed and emptied into a shipping box! Three boats can be simultaneously unloaded at separate weighing sheds along the pier.








Back home in the RV, we stuck the cipaille in the oven for dinner. It’s a slightly juicy meat pie with delightfully crispy pastry and funny name. The ingredients label: porc, boeuf, pataters, oignon, poiure, epices, mélangees, pate, farine, griasse, poude a pate, sel. can’t provide a translation for cipaille, but an online source notes a similar dish in Hannah Glass’s 1747 The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, a valuable info source for culinary practice in England and the American colonies. The recipe is for ‘Cheshire Pork Pie for Sea’ with layers of salt pork, meat and potatoes.

Though every Canadian province claims the dish, it probably originated in the Gaspesie region. It also  resembles the English dish “six pies” made with four kinds of game, such as duck, moose, elk, hare and partridge. Cipaille is definitely old, and is still popular in households where there’s a hunter.

The Cipaille was the best! I call it yummy.

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