The Question that Separates Yoopers from Trolls
Gravy isn't always the answer
In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, one question says it all: Ketchup or gravy?
If you’re a Yooper, you probably recognize that I’m asking which of the two condiments you prefer on a pasty (past-ee, not paste-ee), a handheld meat pie that came to the Upper Peninsula with Cornish copper miners in the 1840s. You probably also know that the answer you choose could define you as a true Yooper or a wannabe.
A pasty is a pocket of pie dough typically stuffed with ground beef, rutabaga or potato, onion, and carrots. It’s baked, not fried, but the crust is buttery and crisp. It made an ideal pocket lunch for nineteenth-century miners working long shifts underground, dense enough to stay warm for the duration and rich enough to satisfy a workingman’s appetite in just a few big bites. You’ll find pasty traditions in and around nearly every former mining hotspot in America, from northeastern Pennsylvania to Minnesota’s Iron Range to Gold Rush country in California.
“…If you want to look like the kind of downstate-living, slack-jaw vacation goober who wears socks with sandals and makes fun of the way Yoopers talk, then, by all means, use gravy.”
Pasties stuck around in the Upper Peninsula even when most of the copper mines closed down, and after the completion of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957, they spread into the northern tip of the Michigan mitten, where they reached tourists en route to Mackinac Island.
The miners who brought pasties to the Upper Midwest ate them plain. Michiganders go two ways today. If you’re up in the Keweenaw Peninsula, you’ll get ketchup. If you’re by the Mighty Mac, you’re more likely to get gravy, or at least the option. Just beware: If you ask for gravy anywhere other than down by the bridge, you may be labeled a tourist, a wannabe, or a troll—a Michigan resident from below the bridge.
Yoopers have a vocabulary to describe the kinds of people who like gravy with their pasties, demonstrated by Andrew Heller in a pro-ketchup editorial for The Alpena News: “…If you want to look like the kind of downstate-living, slack-jaw vacation goober who wears socks with sandals and makes fun of the way Yoopers talk, then, by all means, use gravy.” Choose wisely to make the right impression in the U.P.