Potatoes and Pasties

By Victorian Tilley

Potatoes are a necessary ingredient in a dish that I had never heard until moving to Butte, Montana: the Pasty. A pasty (pronounced pass-tee) is a savory hand-pie typically including a red meat of some kind, usually beef, onions, and potatoes. I have been informed that there are two kinds of people in this world when it comes to pasties: those that eat them with gravy, and those that eat them with ketchup. Just about everyone in Butte knows what a pasty is, since it is a pretty big part of the town’s mining history. This warm dough pocket that is pretty cheap to make was really convenient for miners, not to mention satisfying. The crust of the pasty was particularly important to the miners, as it served as a handle to hold onto while you ate the rest of it. To avoid arsenic and other toxins that could potentially contaminate the meal, the crust handle was essential. Also, it was crucial that you threw a bit of your pasty up to the tommyknockers, dwarf-like creatures that lived in the mines and were easily offended if the miners disrespected them. To stay on their good side, men would leave some of their crust behind for the tommyknockers. While these particular mining settings no longer exist, the pasty is still very popular. Several restaurants in town specialize in filling bellies with pasties and many families have their signature recipe and preparation technique.

And every family and restaurant each claim to have the best pasty in town. So, who’s got the best?  This year, community members and commercial producers of pasties entered into the first annual Great Pasty Throwdown, a healthy competition to find out who makes the greatest pasty in town. There was a commercial category and an individual category, where individuals could be traditional with their recipe or get creative with different ingredients. The Throwdown was part of a larger festival hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology: Summer Sosten Festival. The goal of the festival is to celebrate Butte’s resiliency, spread knowledge on energy saving, sustainable and local food, and importance of community. At the festival, several booths attended that represent this focus, including EcoMontana, a provider of compostable dinnerware, The Good Seed Company, Western Montana Grower’s Co-op, several Butte businesses, local food trucks, and many more. Energy and agriculture specialists were there to give mini-workshops and provide general information on what NCAT does. During the festival, we had a Butte Bloom Plant Sale, where myself and the Farm Manager of the SIFT farm sold plants starts that do particularly well in this climate. At our first annual Summer Sosten Festival and Great Pasty Throwdown on June 8th, 2019, our hope was to remind people of the strength of this town and engage them in conversations of building an even stronger community and contributing to a healthier future.

And as far as spuds go, potato-planting time is upon us here at the SIFT farm. We just planted several varieties of Russet potatoes, and now we patiently wait for them to develop and grow. This crop is particularly easy to grow, since potatoes do not ask for much in regards to soil nutrition and can also survive off little water.  If you have a little garden space and some mediocre soil, and love potatoes like I do, grow some of your own! Planting potatoes simply requires taking a piece of potato, ideally with two to three “eyes” on it, and putting it in the ground. You can get seed potatoes from any nursery and some hardware stores. If you don’t have much space, research potato towers. It’s worth the little effort to construct and lots of fun!

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