Learn your food traditions now; they’re powerful ‘medicine’

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

LAUGHTER may be the best medicine—even my colleague Dr. Bernie Siegel, who graciously endorses my book, says laughter has healing power. But, the power of a favorite recipe? Well, that certainly ranks with laughter for raising our spirits—and our overall well-being.


I just saw this happen in my home. My father-in-law arrived at my door last Saturday to catch some sporting events that my kids were participating in that day. I was happy to see him, but I didn’t know he was coming.

“You came a day early,” I told him, “I am making pasties tomorrow.”

The sound that he uttered in response was someplace between a moan and a groan, followed by a coherent explanation: “It’s been a long time since I have had a pastie. I’ve been out for a while now.”

I proceeded to tell him that I had gotten a bunch of turnips in my CSA box that week so I decided to take that as a sign and make some.

Century-old postcard from Cornwall celebrates the local delicacy: pasties.

Century-old postcard from Cornwall celebrates the local delicacy: pasties.

“Oh they sound sooo good,” he replied. “Let’s not talk about it anymore. All this talk makes me want them even more.”

My husband’s family has Cornish roots. They came from Cornwall, England, to work the mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Eventually they were wooed downstate to work in the automotive industry. This is textbook Michigan history, complete with the tradition of pasties. My father-in-law grew up eating pasties on a regular basis. After he married, his wife learned how to make them and the tradition continued.

I only learned how to make pasties five or six years ago. My mother-in-law cooked all the time, but I never saw a recipe. Although I asked a few times how to make them, I knew the only way for me to really learn was to actually do it. We picked a Friday after Thanksgiving and I told her I would bring anything that we needed. My sister-in-law decided to check it out as well. It took the entire day, but by the end I felt confident that I could replicate her pasty.

I have made pasties a couple of times a year since I learned how to do it. It always surprises me how time consuming it is. And how much my husband loves them! I don’t care for them myself, especially eaten with ketchup as the family eats them—but I will never stop making them.

Being able to make a pasty matters even more since my mother-in-law passed away in 2012. I am so glad I can continue the tradition and pass it on to my children as well. I must say I find it interesting that my biological child doesn’t care for pasties, yet my adopted one (whose roots are definitely not Cornish) devours them right along with his father. I think that more than anything for me it is what they represent.

Pasties are years and years of love on a plate.

Oh, and yes, there is a bunch of them waiting just for my father-in-law in the freezer.


COME BACK to ReadTheSpirit next week! My reference to Bernie Siegel, above, was not gratuitous. A new interview with Bernie will be the cover story in ReadTheSpirit on November 4.

CHECK OUT our FeedTheSpirit department in ReadTheSpirit. Every week, food columnist Bobbie Lewis brings readers a fresh story about the relationship between delicious recipes—and family, faith and culture. (And, for those of you wanting to know more about the traditional Cornish pasty right now, Wikipedia also has an extensive page on the tradition.)

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