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King the pasty queen
Bonnie King puts a pan of pasties in the oven to bake. The New York City-based Food Network camera crew filmed Bonnie and her husband, Wayne, as they worked in their pasty shop, where they produce 150 to 300 pasties daily to fill orders for grocery and convenience stores in South Dakota and Wyoming. Bonnie King says she has rolled out nearly two million pasties. (Seth A. McConnell, Journal staff)

LEAD -- Bonnie King is the queen of the pasty. The Lead woman mixed, prepared and baked her first million pasties a decade ago and is now close to the 2-million mark.

It's no surprise, then, that the Food Network recently sent a camera crew to film her and her husband, Wayne, as she made the culinary favorite of former gold miners and new fans.

Last summer, the "Emeril Live" film crew followed King as she went through the steps of preparing the pastry, peeling and dicing the onions and potatoes and cutting up the meat for a half-dozen pasties.

The camera crew stood outside of her pasty workshop, filming through her storefront window as she rolled out the dough at her worktable and added filling before sealing the pasty's edges.

"They had asked that I have a pan of pasties ready to come out of the oven as I put the other ones in to bake," she said.

The switch was flawless, displaying the golden pasty with hot steam drifting from

the vents made at its top. The tender pastry parted to reveal the hearty meat and potatoes lunchtime fare for viewers of chef Emeril Lagasse's cooking show.

Although the Kings haven't had any contact with Lagasse, they filled out release forms and were told that the episode would run sometime in November. The Kings are still somewhat bewildered how they became a feature for the New York City-based cable network.

"We don't watch the Food Network, so we really didn't know who Emeril Lagasse was," Bonnie King admitted.

But sample one of her fresh, handmade pasties, and it isn't a surprise that the food show producers would come calling.

Over the years, the store at 622 E. Main St. has evolved from a food market to Kings Pasties, which supplies 150 to 300 pasties daily to area grocery and convenience stores in South Dakota and Wyoming.

Opened in 1959, Wayne and Bonnie King's grocery store, Kings Grocery, served the community. More than 23 years ago, a newly widowed matron, Bessie Harrison, walked into the store offering to make pasties to supplement her income.

The Kings hired Harrison, a first-generation American with English roots, to come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays to make pasties at the grocery. Harrison's relatives came from the mining communities of England, where pasty-making was a traditional meal.

"It was a mining traditional food for hard-working people. When her family moved to America, they brought their traditions with them," King said of Harrison's signature dish.

Usually, a pasty was made with a barley crust, steak, potatoes and onions. Along with a bit of salt and pepper, a pat of suet was used to add taste.

For the most part, she follows that recipe except for the beef fat. For that, she substitutes margarine. Sometimes, carrots, rutabagas, other vegetables and even fish were added for a change of pace in other mining communities.

King said if people request gravy with their pasty, they're probably from Butte, Mont., where copper mining was once its biggest industry.

"Bessie used to serve hers with a chili sauce. I've seen people use ketchup, too," King said.

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But requests from a few regular customers inspired King to invent recipes for two breakfast pasties that include ham and cheese -- a personal favorite -- and link sausage and eggs. She also has incorporated Polish sausage and sauerkraut in another hometown favorite.

In 2000, the Kings closed their grocery store. At that time, they decided to go into business making pasties fulltime. State and federally inspected, they run a pristine workplace where they use the freshest ingredients. They add no preservatives to their pasties, which limits the pastries' shelf life. But the demand for their pasties keeps the couple busy.

Arriving at their workshop at 6 a.m. weekdays, they begin mixing dough in a huge Hobart mixer that makes enough dough for 75 pasties at a time. Wayne King does the meat cutting for the day's orders. By noon, they've completed their work and shut down for the day. The long hours at their modest store helped them raise their four children, buy their business and keep plenty of gold miners happily fed.

A good life, she said. Yet her children aren't interested in making pasties for a living. "We need to pass the tradition on to someone else," King said.

Miners fed on pasty folklore

According to Bonnie King, miners created plenty of folklore to feed on while enjoying their pasty. One superstition miners adhered to was a practice of breaking a portion of the crust from the pasty and leaving it at the mouth of the mine to appease the evil spirits. "The spirits ate first," she said. As miners had big appetites and were apt to eat anything, it kept the devil away because he was afraid he might be cut up and baked into a pasty.

The miners also knew that they had a good pasty if they could drop it down a mine stope (an excavation made in a mine) and it landed in one piece. "If the crust didn't break apart, it was a good pasty," King said.

Contact Jomay Steen at jomay.steen@rapidcityjournal.com

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