Pasties, Taco Bell, Starbucks: Where did you travel for food as a student?

By Emily Riippa | University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections

woman making pasties
Preparing a batch of mouth-watering pasties. Undated photograph from the Harold Putnam Collection (MS-050) in the Michigan Tech Archives.

If there’s something you take seriously in college, it’s food. Whether it’s driving to Marquette to get some Buffalo Wild Wings or strategically planning a day around which presentations or campus orgs are offering free meals, you don’t get between a college student and food. At Michigan Tech, sometimes that meal takes on a special local flavor. You’ve seen them around town; you’ve eaten them at your desk, on the beach, or maybe even in the dining halls. How much do you really know, though, about the famous pasty?

A good old song from the English region of Cornwall proclaims, “There’s something about a pasty that is fine, fine, fine!” Huskies and friends know the truth of those words. The delicious dish nourishes the body and warms the spirit with its blend of meat, potatoes, and rutabaga, all nestled inside a flaky crust. It’s the kind of meal that gets you ready for a day of cross-country skiing on the Tech Trails or a hike up Mount Baldy. Nothing is quite like the smell of a pasty baking; nothing tastes quite like that first bite. But how did a meal synonymous with Cornwall become a staple of the Upper Peninsula?

Let’s take a quick peek back into history to answer that question. Cornwall’s long track record with copper and tin mining led the rest of Great Britain to remark wryly, “Wherever you find a hole in the ground, you’ll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it.” Life in the mines of England often meant low wages and back-breaking labor, but it also cultivated a skill and knowledge of the work that made the Cornish miners a gold standard. When Michigan’s copper mines–the very ones whose ruins now lie in Houghton, Keweenaw, and Ontonagon counties–were first being opened for industry, their founders looked to Cornwall for able laborers, and the people of Cornwall, whose mines were tapering off, looked to Michigan for a new hope. One scholarly article on the history of the pasty noted that twenty Cornishmen were already at work in the Copper Country in 1844, just one year after industrial mining began here. With them came their favorite workday meal, which was subsequently adopted en masse by colleagues of all backgrounds.

One of many variations on the pasty recipe held at the Michigan Tech Archives.

We don’t know for certain who invented this tasty pocket of joy, which has seen considerable changes over the years, but we do understand why it was so appealing to the men who worked in the mines and the women who prepared their dinners each day. The pasty’s hearty fillings can be prepared in a large batch and energize a person for a day of hard work; the meal can be held in the hand and eaten without utensils; and it’s easy, relatively speaking, for a miner to reheat a pasty over his candle far underground. By the time the mines of Michigan closed, the pasty had become a staple that the Copper Country was determined to keep. Nowadays, you’ll find them around the local lunch table, sold at community fundraisers, eaten at picnics by the shores of Lake Superior, or on parade at places like Calumet’s annual Pasty Fest.

Let’s raise a pasty toast to the Cornish who brought us a meal worth celebrating!

people eating pasties
Alfred Nicholls and his family show the joy of pasties at the Central Mine Reunion, undated.

What food brings you back to your college days? Was a special meal in particular that you drove to Marquette (or further!) to enjoy? Who makes the best pasties in the UP? And, do you like ketchup or gravy with your pasty?



12 responses to “Pasties, Taco Bell, Starbucks: Where did you travel for food as a student?

  1. When I worked in the training room and took athletes to Marquette, not only did I get the opportunity to see some really cool “procedures” at the hospital down there, I would always stop at Wendy’s for a frosty before heading back to Tech.

  2. Since I’m from Iron Mountain, I grew up on pasties made by my mother. They, of course, were the best. Now that I live in Ohio, I still make pasties and we make sure that we have a new, full bottle of ketchup! I’ve never even tried them with gravy, yuck!

    The food that I remember is a raw milk cheddar cheese sandwich with alfalfa sprouts and tomato, that we used to get at the Union. That was in the late 70s and I’m sure you can’t even get raw milk cheese now. It was the best!

    As I continued at Tech in grad school, my roommate and I would drive over to Ripley to the Dog ‘n Suds to get a burger and tater tots. Those were the days!

  3. In the fall of 1984, the Union cafeteria served vegetarian pasties with mushroom gravy. I look for them whenever I visit campus.

  4. Jim’s Foodmart on the West end of campus had fresh pasties every morning. Individually packaged in a just to fit white bag, closed with a staple. Just the right size for lunch between classes.
    Currently, when traveling to Houghton, I take orders from friends to bring home frozen pasties from Krupp’s in Twin Lakes.

  5. During my freshman year in 1982, the nearest McDonald’s was 100 miles away, in Marquette. I remember asking friends who were going to be traveling home (down state) to bring us Big Macs on their way back to MTU. The burgers would eventually arrive, in those styrofoam containers that McDonalds used to use. They would be cold, and somewhat soggy, but the tastiest Treat to a home-sick freshman grinding through Calc problems!

  6. Never had pasties until I attended MTU. So my first pastie was at West Coed Hall . Loved it and ketchup for me! Gut busters yum!
    Tried to introduce pasties to some of our California friends and they weren’t impressed .
    Their loss. In the late 70’s we had to drive to Marquette for McDonalds . Loved the Hancock A &W. Drive to the opening day of A&W on a first nice spring day .

  7. Hilltop cinnamon rolls! I have been so hungry for them lately and thinking about trying to make my version of them.

  8. There were several times that we would make the 200 mile round-trip to the Taco Bell in Marquette. The Houghton Taco Bell finally opened my senior year.

  9. Being from Detroit, my first pasty was in the DHH cafeteria. I don’t remember if gravy was an option then. Today I vacation near Munising and love the pasties from Muldoon’s. And now I am a ketchup + hot sauce fan. As for other foods, back in the late 1970’s, the closest McDonalds was in Marquette. Although I wasn’t a huge fan, something about the distance made them appealing. So our road trips home frequently required an early stop at Micky Ds.

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