Two pastie shops cling to tradition
Five years ago, at least five shops in Grass Valley and Nevada City were selling pasties, a traditional Cornish miner’s meal of a meat and vegetable filling inside a crust of dough.
Now only two shops are left: Marshall’s Pasties and Cousin Jack Pasties in Grass Valley.
Gone are Mrs. Doublebee’s and King Richard’s – both of which were on South Auburn Street in Grass Valley – and the Cousin Jack Pasties shop on Broad Street in Nevada City.
And only one person entered a pastie this summer in the Nevada County Fair.
So, are the pasties’ days numbered? Are we losing a local culinary tradition that dates back to gold mining days? Are Grass Valley’s two remaining pastie merchants battling for an ever-shrinking market?
“Pasties are as popular as ever. As far as pasties going out of style, we sell as many as ever,” said Marie Marshall, manager of Marshall’s Pasties, a 34-year-old business at the corner of Mill and Neal Streets in Grass Valley.
Ditto for Cousin Jack’s Pasties, which has had a shop at the corner of Main and South Auburn streets for 13 years.
Sales are “up, as a matter of fact,” said Arlene Rice, who co-owns the shop with husband Richard Rice. “We’re certainly not hurting.”
Marshall’s will crank out about 200 pasties on a slow day and 800 during busy times, such as around Christmas, Marshall said.
Marshall’s sells pasties retail and also wholesale to about 20 businesses, including supermarkets and cafes.
About five years ago, teenagers seemed to really start buying pasties, Marshall said.
“We’ve gotten more of the younger (crowd),” she said.
Rice said “lots of tourists” eat pasties. She also thinks confirmed pastie-lovers may be buying more pasties to save themselves the trouble of making them.
“There’s a lot of labor in a pastie,” she said.
So what’s a traditional pastie?
“In my family, it’s beef, potatoes, onions and parsley,” Rice said. “This is how we made it for generations.”
But the shop also sells nontraditional pasties such as those with Greek- and Mexican-themed fillings.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – where Cornish miners worked in copper mines – is the only other place Rice knows of where pasties are popular.
Elsewhere, “Pasties are hard to (sell). It’s not like a taco or a hamburger. People don’t know what it is,” she said.
As for the other shops closing, Rice and Marshall thought that wasn’t due to the pastie market but for other reasons.
Rice said she closed her Broad Street outlet in Nevada City because the building’s lease expired and she wanted to expand the Grass Valley operations.
The pastie contest will return next summer at the Nevada County Fair, said Fair Manager Ed Scofield. He predicts more people will enter due to the publicity when only one person entered the contest last summer.
“I’m thinking we might end up with eight to 10 pastie (contestants) which would be pretty nice,” Scofield said. “I’d hate to see us lose (the pastie contest), because my mother has been known to judge it.”
The pastie’s past
– The pastie is a symbol of Cornwall, England. Some Cornish families can trace their ancestry through their pastie recipes.
– Some think that the Vikings may have brought the pastie to the British Isles when they invaded.
– Pasties are spoken of in an Arthurian romance written in the mid-1100s and in the Robin Hood ballads of the 1300s.
– Source: Ken Anderson, Pastie History
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