The Family Table: A Hearty Meal From a Mining Town

Readers share their treasured recipes
March 19, 2021 Updated: March 19, 2021

Submitted by Pat King, Seattle, Washington

In 1900, my grandmother Maud Olive Medsker came to Butte, Montana, from Indiana and married Martin Setzer, who was from Kentucky. In all the years of their marriage, they never quit arguing about who won the Civil War. Meanwhile, my grandmother learned to make pasties from her Welsh neighbors.

pat king family photo
Pat King, 1 year old, with her grandmother, grandfather, and mother in front of her grandparents’ log cabin in Butte, Montana, in 1935. (Courtesy of Pat King)

Butte was a mining town and every man who worked in the mines carried his dinner in a bucket. Their meal had to be hearty because those hard-working men, many who eventually died of the “con,” worked 12 hours a day in the mines. My grandmother taught my mother to make pasties, my mother taught me, and I taught my daughters.

I am old now, 86, but back when I was in my 60s, they were the most favorite food of all for family gatherings. We didn’t make them often. They were a lot of work to make for a crowd. Nevertheless, the work was worth it to keep that contact with generations gone by.

Maud Olive Medsker’s Pasties

The recipe the way my grandmother made them:

Take two large handfuls of flour, add salt and a large dollop of lard. With fingers, cut the lard into the flour until it feels soft. Add a sprinkle of water to the dough until it can be handled easily.

Roll dough out on the kitchen table. Unlike pie crust, it should be somewhat thick. In the middle, add a small handful of cubed round steak and a smaller handful of cubed pork steak and a plentiful handful of cubed potatoes. My daughters said that Grandma added a small bit of cut-up onions. In hard times, pasties were made with potatoes only and the free trimmings from the butcher. Add salt and pepper generously. Dot with butter. Fold dough over the meat and potatoes and pinch sides and top.

Place pastie in a pan and bake in a hot oven (about 375 degrees F) for an hour. Remove from the oven and wrap pastie in a flour sack to soak for a half hour. It can be eaten cold, or one of the boys could carry it to the mine to his dad.

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