Monday, April 8, 2013

A Miner’s Lunch

Among the many ethnic groups that came to Butte were miners from Cornwall, England. These miners brought beliefs and traditions with them. They feared the Tommyknockers, who were the spirits of departed miners. Their ghostly knocking warned of cave-ins. Like all miners, the Cornish carried their lunches on their shifts underground. Terry Beaver of Helena has a collection of lunch boxes and has made a study of them. Often they were oval shaped and usually contained two inner trays, dividing the lunch pail into three separate compartments.

The men poured their coffee in the bottom of the pail. The first tray fit over the coffee. This level contained a pasty, or meat pie. Made with bits of leftover meat and potatoes enclosed in a pastry envelope, this culinary staple had a tender nickname. Miners called it a “Letter from Home.” A second tray on top of the pasty made the third and final level for pie or cake. The lid fit on top of it all, and a coffee cup fit on top of the lid. Miners would light a candle, stick it in the tunnel wall, and hang their lunch pails over the flame to heat their coffee and warm their pasty. Miners would never eat the crimped edges of the pasty. This they crumbled and dropped on the ground to pacify the Tommyknockers and feed the rats that lived in the mines. The rats, they believed, deserved their respect and the miners took good care of them. Always present underground, rats sensed when a cave-in was imminent or if poison gas began to fill the tunnels. They would run out of the mine in droves, warning the miners of danger.

P.S. A traditional (and delicious) Cornish pasty recipe
P.P.S. Remember these cute little miners?


  1. Great to hear of yet another part of the US where the Cornish took the pasty! I already knew that pasties were taken to Michigan and parts of Pensylvania but I didn't know they were taken to Montana too!

    I’m currently writing a book about Cornish pasties (mix of history and recipes) after winning the World Pasty Championships for the last 2 years running. If you’re interested take a look at


    1. Thanks so much for this great recipe. Folks in Butte are very proud of their pasties, and it's fun to know that others like this Cornish treat too!

  2. Cornish miners also left their mark all over Nevada County, California when they came to mine gold. Pasties are still very popular there.

  3. There are still a lot of pasties made in Colorado. Some great and some not so good. Fortunately I learned from a Cornish cook!