Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the UP

Summer Dinner, 2007

I haven’t photographed a lot of food. Shooting food well is a real art. Someday I’ll do more. In the meantime, here’s a food story.

Two of my work associates and I once had to make a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Frank, the creative director, and I were both Southerners. Bob, the account guy, is a native Michigander. None of us had ever been to the Upper Peninsula. We were headed for Marquette, once a thriving port in iron ore mining country up on Lake Superior, where I was to do a research study for a bank.

What little we knew about the Upper Peninsula was that it is sparsely populated by humans, but full of wild animals. Winters are ferocious there, too. They say snow piles up so high along the road that you can’t pull over or see anything but sky.

The other thing Bob told us was that the Upper Peninsula is famous for its pastys. [This is the accepted plural spelling. A single is a pasty.] Frank and I were initially dubious about this. Pastys? Was he referring to those little tassel things topless dancers wear on their….well, you know where, so they can say they’re “clothed”?

No, Bob assured us. Michigan Pastys are a meat and vegetable pie you can hold in your hand. (Think Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies in Sweeney Todd.) The miners who came from Wales in the 1800s to work in Michigan’s iron mines brought pasty cuisine with them.

As we drove north, we had to stop in Mackinac City so that Bob could go to the go-kart track. (Apparently something he could only do when his wife wasn’t around.) That scratched off the list, we crossed the majestic Mackinac Bridge and headed into the forest of the Upper Peninsula. Even without snow it’s so heavily wooded that about all you can see are dark stands of trees on either side of the road and sky above. It’s woods like these that must have inspired Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood.

About twenty miles up the road, we came to a diner that served pastys. Frank insisted we stop and try one. I was more attracted to the giant sweet rolls in the window. Bob’s face began to turn red.

“It’s like this, guys. I don’t really know how you’re supposed to pronounce ‘pasty,’ and I'm too embarrassed to ask.” Was it a short a, as in “past,” or a long a, as in “paste”? We didn’t know, either, and as three advertising guys loose in the north woods of Michigan, we really didn’t want to stick out any more than we already did.

So of course when the waitress came over to take our order, we pronounced it the wrong way, whereupon the waitress, all the other patrons and residents, bears, badgers, moose and loons for miles around, I’m sure, fell into gales of laughter on our account. They’re probably still telling the story of those three ad guys who came by one day looking for pasties.


  1. That's a riot. Great story. So....--how DO you pronounce it!!? I knew what they were, and have actually had them before. Depending on who makes 'em, they're good. My older sister and her husband (who's originally from Michigan) just got back from Mackinac Island. I've never been, and have always wanted to see the Grand Hotel. They had some gorgeous photos--my brother-in-law is an excellent photographer, and he had me drooling over all the Victorian architecture and the horses/buggies, and fabulous gardens, etc.

    I think I'd have wanted a sweet roll, too. ;))

  2. ps
    I forgot to say that your photo's making me drool--is that feta cheese? That looks great. My younger sister used to work for Nabisco, and she got involved with food shoots a lot--she used to tell me all the substitutions for the real thing in photos--it's definitely an art in itself.

  3. How funny. When I was a kid, one of the ski areas we went to often in Colorado had a cafeteria with a cook who made pasties. I remember liking them. When I discovered Jamaican meat pies years later I was reminded of them.