Mineral Point, Wisconsin literally started as a hole in the ground. The original Wisconsin badgers (European frontiersmen in the early 1800’s) moved into this south-central area of Wisconsin to mine for lead. Like Badgers, they dug their homes into the sides of the steep, lush hills rising up from the picturesque Pecatonica River. By the 1830’s news of the hills’ rich lead veins reached Cornish miners in Cornwall, England. The Cornish brought their families and mining expertise to the area and transformed the rough Wisconsin semi-wilderness into a thriving city. The Cornish built impressive, limestone homes along the river, some of which have been beautifully preserved and can be toured with the local historians dressed in period garments.

But Mineral Point, Wisconsin is not a small town of the past. It thrives today as an arts and cultural center of south-central Wisconsin. The downtown area is peppered with artists’ studios in which visitors can find hand-crafted pottery, wood and glass sculpture, and fine-art paintings. The Mineral Point Opera House hosts theater groups and the Mineral Point Film Society. Mineral Point’s diverse restaurant scene can please any palette and mood. 

The natural beauty of the town, its historic architecture, and its vibrant art community draw tourists from around the state. It is a must-see site for visitors to Wisconsin. Mineral Point has won numerous awards and is now in the running for America’s Coolest Small Town. Click on the link to vote for Mineral Point, and do it this week because voting ends April 3, 2009!

But one award that Mineral Point truly deserves and I’m afraid it has never been honored with is the award for “most-improved food”. Times were hard in the 1840’s and the variety of foods the Cornish people ate was unappetizingly small, -tubers and potatoes mostly. The Cornish women were challenged to pack an easily-portable lunch for their husbands. These women perfected the pasty, which is essentially a meat pie, except if you’re poor you substitute a lot of potatoes and rutabagas for the meat. Savory seasonings to flavor the roots were non-existent for the Cornish, -if they had salt they were lucky. Thus, pasty perfection was not measured by flavor but rather by a substantial density of crust. A pasty had to remain intact while carried off to the mine in a man’s coat pocket. It should not crumble when he swung his pick ax hour after hour. The Cornish miners had contests to see whose wife made the best pasty. The winning pasty was the pie that stayed intact when thrown to the bottom of a mine shaft.

Click on “continue reading…” for a very old Wisconsin recipe for a Cornish pasty.

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