Randall Bakery (Wakefield, MI)

Way back in the early days of Offbeat Eats, I discussed the issue of “Pasties” at length. While originating in Cornwall (which still has an extremely active Pasty culinary scene), during the late 19th century, the rapid decline in the Cornish mining industry resulted in Cornwall’s major historical export over much of the last century was… Cornish people, who settled in all sorts of pockets of around the world, with major settlement waves primarily in those regions with mining interests: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Minnesota’s Iron Range, Pennsylvania and West Virginia coal mining, and even notable pockets in Mexico, Australia, and Spain. And they brought their culinary traditions with them, adapting them to local ingredients, traditions, and conditions. In the case of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the pasty was particularly embraced by the locals, especially with the mining crowds, and got quickly adapted. In particular, the other major expatriate group in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula mining community, the Finnish, adapted it to their own tastes based upon the Karelian Pasty. Tthis is where much of the substitution of carrot for the more Cornish-traditional turnip or rutabaga (a.k.a. ‘swede’) came from, along with some different preferences for crusts. The result is still quite popular; indeed, I remember driving US-2 between The Bridge and Wisconsin, and encountering over 4 dozen places selling pasties along the shore. And there are almost as many varieties: I’ve had flaky crust and firm crust pasties; pasties ranging from ‘moist’ to ‘dry’, spicing between mild and “black pepper bomb”, and everything ranging from traditional Cornish ingredients (hanger steak, rutabaga, potato, onion), to Finnish (either substituting carrot for rutabaga, or omitting it), or even “new” pasties with interesting ing . And the crimp? It ranges from the Cornish side crimp, to a Finnish- or Devon-like top crimp, to even the baseball like “tuck-under”, resulting in a more spherical-like pasty.

With that in mind, it was important during our crossing of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to make sure we stopped at least a few times, and try out a local pasty. In this case, our first stop was in the Western UP, in the quiet town of Wakefield, for pasties from Randall Bakery.

Open since 1944, and kept in the Randall family since, Randall Bakery is basically a combination bakery and coffee shop: they’ve got a good variety of baked goods available for takeout (buns, breads, cakes, and cookies… indeed, they had some particularly good-looking hot dog buns that would go great with the spicy “Michigan”-style hot dogs from Vollwerth’s), and a modest coffee shop counter shown here, but really, the item that most of the customers are coming from is… a pasty.

Served between 8 am and 5 pm every day, aside from an occasional special, Randall has five varieties of pasty: traditional (in the Yooper style, with meat (a 60/40 beef/pork mix), potatoes, onion, and spice), Cornish (the same, but with added rutabaga and carrot; primarily available on Thursdays), Jalapeno (the traditional with added jalapeno for kick), veggie, and, in the mornings, a breakfast pasty (with pork sausage, cheddar cheese, and egg). Ideally, I probably would have gotten both a Cornish one (it was a Thursday) and either a breakfast or jalapeno one to try out some varieties, but it was getting later in the day, and we opted instead for just a pair of Cornish pasties fresh from the oven.

The pasties came out quickly. As mentioned above, many places, especially with Finnish ties, seem to eschew the crimp in favor of tucking the crust under the pasty (I can already hear some of the extended family with Cornish ties making comments about the lack of a crimp), but aside from not giving that “edge” of crust to the resulting pasty, it actually works here: the pastry itself (go ahead, try to say “pasty pastry” 10 times fast) had just the right amount of flakiness and crumb that it was like eating a really good pie crust: savory but not sweet, just a hint buttery, and a really nice golden brown toast.

It’s also really good at sealing in the moisture and flavor of the filling: a lightly-spiced blend of beef and pork, tender diced bits of soft potato, rutabaga, and onion, and just enough moisture to keep everything savory and filling without giving it too much liquid, this was a thoroughly enjoyable pastie. Indeed, while being fairly mainstream with its fillings, this was one of the more flavorful fillings and crusts I’ve had on a pasty in a while.

So, a stop at Randall Bakery was a nice reprieve from driving, and I can see why most of the customers are getting the pasties: they are a good example of Michigan’s long culinary history. I’ll happily stop by again given the chance, and perhaps try one of the jalapeno ones.

2 Responses

  1. Gail Miller 22 Sep 2021 at 10:17 #

    Truly enjoyed your story and learning about Randalls Bakery. We visit the Bakery regularly for their famous pasties. Another popular feature of Randalls Bakery is their Polish paczkis (ponch-kee) day on Fat Tuesday,the beginning of Lent. Paczkis are fried rounds of yeast dough with sweet fillings of blueberries, lemon, etc., plus the traditional prune filling.

    This small Bakery puts out thousands of paczkis. You will need to order ahead to guarantee your order as they are so popular. You won’t be disappointed!There is NO equal to Randalls paczkis in the northwoods.

    • kaszeta 22 Sep 2021 at 19:25 #

      Good to know. I always enjoy a great paczki.

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