We’re in Yooper Country!

Tom and I have recently escaped to the Keweenaw Peninsula, the upper-most point on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). More specifically, we are in Keweenaw County, a 5,966 square mile forest surrounded on three sides by the crystal-clear waters of Lake Superior. Happily, there are fewer than 2,200 inhabitants in this part of the peninsula to mar its beauty. The people who are here appear to take great pride in keeping this incredible outdoor playground as pristine as possible. It’s inspiring and spectacular at the same time.

The house we’ve rented sits right on the shore of Lake Superior, giving us a front-row, south-facing seat to the ever-changing interplay between lake and sky, treating us to both sunrises and sunsets. Here’s a great example of just one brief moment Mother Nature shared already. The view off our deck yesterday morning shortly after the sun came up:

And no, that’s not a painting (as our son-in-law initially thought). It’s a picture I, an amateur photographer, took with my phone through half-closed eyes after leaping out of bed in a stupor and racing out onto the deck in my slippers. What I’m saying here is the place is that beautiful. Even a rube with a camera phone can’t miss. Don’t believe me? Check this out:

Again, a camera phone picture. This is the Copper Harbor Lighthouse in Copper Harbor, MI, literally the very northern tip of the state. After viewing this lighthouse from across the bay (visitors aren’t allowed), we went to Eagle Harbor (shown below) where you can go into the lighthouse to see what life was like for the lightkeepers back in the day. We couldn’t climb all the way to the top of the light tower because it’s still a working lighthouse, but we did get to tour the attached house and see what it would have been like for the lightkeeper and his family. It’s abundantly clear that those folks were made of tougher stuff than I am. Inside, the home looked much like other recreated homes of the late 1800s/early 1900s that I’ve seen in museums in other parts of the country. From any or all of those examples, it’s safe to say that life at the turn of the last century was no domestic cakewalk. Have you seen their toasters? Their ovens? But the striking difference (terrifying difference, actually) between those homes and this home/lighthouse is that it sits on a giant granite boulder jutting out into Lake Superior where the average snowfall is over 200 inches and the wind blows so hard the snow freezes in horizontal striations. Not for sissies. Thankfully, it was a beautiful fall day, and we enjoyed our visit immensely. We would highly recommend stopping here the next time you’re in the neighborhood!

Besides the breathtaking water views, we’ve been treated to eye-popping fall colors since driving into northern Wisconsin two days ago. Still, being gluttons for fall colors, we decided to drive across Brockway Mountain Drive, which meanders across the ridge of the mountains that run parallel to the shore between Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor. The road was rough, but the views down into the valley to the south and out across Lake Superior to the north did not disappoint. Here’s one of our favorites of the valley:

Before calling it a day yesterday, we pulled into The Hut Restaurant near Calument, MI, to check one more must-do/must-see item off our list: eating a pasty. For those non-Yoopers in my reading audience, pasty is pronounced PASS-tee. And for those of you who don’t know what a Yooper is, a Yooper is a resident of the UP and a designation—I’ve been informed by a Yooper herself—that residents wear proudly. But I digress. Back to the pasty.

Pasties are very specific to and very much a part of the UP culture. They were brought to the UP by Cornish miners who came to work the copper and iron mines that put this part of Michigan on the map in the 1800s. While some describe a pasty as a hand-held pot pie (not entirely wrong), I think a better description (at least appearance-wise) is an empanada. Best yet, an empanada stuffed with pot pie filling, and I do mean stuffed. Pasties are enormous and HOT! Hot temperature-wise, not hot spicy. Back in the day, the hot part was one of its greatest charms. The miner (or more than likely, Mrs. Miner) would make the pasty in the morning for the miner’s lunch, and it would still be warm—thanks to the insulating qualities of the crust—when the miner stopped to eat. Better yet, the thick edge formed when the crust was folded in half over the filling and crimped together created a handle for the miner to hold while eating the pasty. Since his hands were typically covered with arsenic from digging in the mine, the miner avoided ingesting the poison as long as he didn’t eat the crimped edge. Ye gods! I don’t know whether to be awed by the ingenuity or horrified by the working conditions. Clearly, pre-OSHA. YIKES!

Anyway, a traditional pasty is filled with a coarsely ground mixture of potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, onions, and beef (sometimes mixed with pork) and–from what I could tell–no seasoning other than salt and pepper. It is typically served with gravy which can be poured over the top or used for dipping, but pasties can also be served with pats of butter which are inserted into a slit you cut across the top of the pasty. In any case, they are tasty and warm you from the inside out. No wonder Yoopers love them (I refer you back to the mention of over 200+ inches of snow). Enough said…for now. There’s so much I look forward to sharing with you. And we’ve just gotten started!

5 responses to “We’re in Yooper Country!”

  1. Reading your blog entry makes me want to be there too! Your pictures of the beauty are fantastic! How about Tom and I bring Dudley and we join you guys! 🥰

  2. I think one of the worst parts of being gluten free is missing out on delicious crusts. Pasties sound delish! I’m so glad you all are able to enjoy this time-it looks so beautiful!

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