A good story needs a strong sense of place. And that place — the story’s setting — must be honest. This means the reader has to buy in and believe in the place. So when “Escanaba in da Moonlight” opened in Berkeley, Calif., last month, The San Francisco Chronicle reviewed the odd-ball comedy about Michigan deer hunters and offered keyhole-size peeks into its fictionalized hunt camp:
The woodsy hunting cabin looks so real and the men’s eagerness for the opening of deer season is so keen that you can almost taste the venison in Jeff Daniels’ odd rites-of-passage comedy “Escanaba in da Moonlight.” As recipes for meat pasties and other concoctions pile up (moose testicles are among the tastier ingredients), you’re bound to lose your appetite.
There was a passing moment when a recipe for moose testicles seemed like the way to go with this article, but once the amusement (or repulsion) passed, then what? It’s not like scads of people will be motivated to cook such a thing. It seemed more appropriate for this story to focus on the meat pasty instead.
The Pasty: A Food for the Ages
Pasties are beloved in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where “Escanaba in da Moonlight” is set. By some accounts — it’s hotly debated — immigrant miners from Cornwall, England, introduced pasties to the area. The pasty looks similar to an apple turnover but, obviously, features meat, not apples. If you trace the pasty back to Cornwall, you’ll learn the first pasty recipe on record was written in 1746 and is currently held in the Cornwall Record Office in Truro, Cornwall.
Yet, the pasty isn’t limited to the working man. In 1465, according to The Telegraph, 5,500 venison pasties were served at the installation feast of George Neville, archbishop of York and Chancellor of England. So versatile, the pasty!
Recipe: Venison Pasty
What you’ll find here is a recipe from London’s Blueprint Café. It’s hearty enough to appeal to deer hunters — like the guys featured in “Escanaba in da Moonlight” — while capturing the imagination of foodies. And, as Blueprint Café head chef Mark Jarvis notes, the pasty makes a great choice for cold months, when a warm, filling meal tastes best. When warmer days interrupt winter’s chill you can wrap a handful of pasties in newspaper, find a patch of grass and have an early-season picnic.
Ingredients: (enough to make 6 to 8 pasties)
Note: Measurements have been converted to US Standard Units. Original measurements as provided by Blueprint Café can be found here. 1 cup red wine ¾ ounce carrot, diced into small cubes ¾ ounce potato, diced into small cubes 1 ounce white onion, diced into small cubes 1 pound venison haunch or shoulder, minced ½ ounce capers, roughly chopped ½ ounce gherkins, roughly chopped ½ ounce parsley, picked and roughly chopped salt and pepper to taste 2 ¼ pound all butter puff pastry* 1 egg yolk, lightly whisked
Reduce the 1 cup of red wine to ¼ cup and place to one side. Blanch the carrot and potato cubes in separate pans of boiling, salted water. Fry the onion until soft in a separate frying pan. Now, take a large mixing bowl and stir all three of these ingredients into the raw venison mince along with the reduced red wine, then the capers, gherkins and parsley. Now, fry the mixture off a little in a frying pan to brown the meat and, very importantly, taste to test the seasoning. Once the flavor is perfect, take it off the heat. Leave to one side until cool. At this point you can place the mixture in the fridge until required or carry on and make the pasties. Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF. Roll the puff pastry to a thickness of 6mm and, using a side plate as a template, cut it into 6-8 discs. Depending on your number of discs, place a sixth or eighth of the mixture in the middle of each pastry disc. Use a pastry brush to brush the edges with the egg yolk to help the pastry stick and seal together. Now crimp between fingers and thumbs. Place on a couple of baking sheets, and brush egg yolk all over each pasty. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes or until golden. Rest for five minutes and serve immediately. * If you prefer a pastry type more typical of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, checkout this recipe provided by Lawry’s Pasty Shop, via National Public Radio. If you’re an archer and would like to bowhunt white-tailed deer to source your own venison, a first step is to learn how to track and recognize the clues animals leave behind. Check out an excerpt from Explore Bowhunting’s Student Handbook.