Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Portable Comfort Food and Mining.

San Juan County’s geological makeup encompasses finds of precious metals such as gold and copper to deadlier elements of uranium and vanadium.  Depending on who is spoken with, there is either praise of the industry and the monetary gain to many; or those who would rather it hushed up due to the illnesses and deaths caused.  Personal feeling is, hiding history does not mean it never happened, or will prevent it from happening again.

So, I’m going to be drawing attention to the old Cottonwood Mill’s short history, and its contribution towards Monticello Mill becoming the main processing plant of radioactive materials.

The history of the millsite will be a combination of information from two sources; a verbal history from Grant Lee Shumway in the book, The Family of Peter and Mary Johnson Shumway by Ruth Shumway Robinson and Gary Lee Shumway, and the mining series published by Blue Mountain Shadows (“Mining in San Juan”, "Cottonwood Mining", “Cottonwood Mining #2 and #3”).  The first millsite, located along South Cottonwood Road aka County Road 228, was built in 1937.  The high temperatures needed to "roast" the ore caused the building to burn down the same year.  In 1938, the millsite was rebuilt, plus additional buildings containing a blacksmith shop, laboratory, assay office, boarding house for the workers, and a few cabins.  In 1942, the mill burned down once again; it was rebuilt, with a loan from the Defense Plant Corporation, in April 1943.  The mill, however, was forced to close its doors in July 1943; poor processing methods created few profits and loans could not be repaid.  In 1942, the millsite in Monticello had been built and working in full force, so all the ore, and tailings, from the Cottonwood area mines and millsite, were shipped to Monticello for processing from then on.  Remember, at that time, the dangers of uranium and vanadium were still unknown.

The Atomic Energy Commission, with help from the BLM and National Forest Service, cleaned up both mill sites.  In 1997, it was determined that travel along CR 228 had increased dramatically with hikers, campers, ATVers, 4 Wheel Drive enthusiasts.  The BLM went through the area to close off any open mines that would pose a danger, and made sure the millsite was still safe from the effects of uranium and vanadium. 

By the way, I initially expressed some concern about the radiation contamination to my good friend, Amy Watkins Kensley, a teacher at the elementary school down in Monument Valley.  Her response was, "Honey, you live in San Juan County; we all glow in the dark!" That made me feel way better about it.

Alright now, mining history class over, let’s get to the next topic, food miners ate.  Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, miners in Cornwall, England needed meals that could be hand held, eaten warm or cold, and not take time away from work.  The test of a good pasty?  Drop it down a mine shaft and see how well it held together.  Since many of the Mormon pioneers have ancestry going back to the United Kingdom, it shouldn’t be surprising that the recipe for the Cornish Pasty came with them.  In The Mormon Pioneer Cookbook by Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, page 60 has a recipe using meats of round steak and pork chops mixed together.

I’m going back in time though and use the traditional recipe from “The Cornish Pasty Association”, Cornwall, England.  In parentheses will be the American equivalent of measurements and baking temperature.  Note, instead of making 6 large pasties, I made 8 small and had enough to experiment with a flour tortilla.  Hint, stick with the pastry dough; flaky, yet holds up well when picked up to eat, and oh so tasty…a tasty pasty, what more could you ask for!?!

Traditional Cornish Pasty

For Shortcrust Pastry


500 g (4 cups) strong bread flour (it is important to use a stronger flour than normal as you need the extra strength in the gluten to produce strong pliable pastry)
120 g (1/2 cup) lard or white shortening
125 g (1/2 cup) Cornish butter (regular unsalted butter will do)
1 tsp. salt
175 ml (2/3 cup) cold water

For the Filling

450 g (1 lb.) good quality beef skirt, cut into cubes (I used Angus Ground Beef 80/20)
450 g (1 lb.) potato, diced
250 g (1and ½ cups) swede (aka turnip), diced
200 g (1 and ¼ cups) onion, sliced
Salt & pepper to taste (2:1 ratio)
Beaten egg or milk to glaze

Method (Preparation)

Rub the two types of fat lightly into flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.  Add water, bring the mixture together and knead until the pastry becomes elastic. This will take longer than normal pastry, but it gives the pastry the strength that is needed to hold the filling and retain a good shape. This can also be done in a food mixer.

Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 3 hours in the fridge. This is a very important stage as it is almost impossible to roll and shape the pastry when fresh.  Roll out the pastry and cut into circles approx. 20cm (7.75 inches) diameter. A side plate is an ideal size to use as a guide.

Layer the vegetables and meat on top of the pastry, adding plenty of seasoning. (I mixed it all together in one bowl; a 1/3 measuring cup puts out the correct portion)

Bring the pastry around and crimp the edges together (see guide to crimping on website).  Glaze with beaten egg or an egg and milk mixture.

Bake at 165 degrees C (350 F) for about 50 – 55 minutes until golden. (Mine were done at 50 minutes)

Tortilla Experiment

The meat and vegetables were perfectly cooked; my hubby, Roy, ate two, then I had to slap his hand away when he reached for a third.  That tells me that my attempt at Cornish Pasties was a success.  As I mentioned, I did experiment with a flour tortilla; it was “meh” until we added some roasted garlic salsa to it.  But, doesn’t that make it a burrito?  Anyway, bring a little England to your table and try some Cornish Pasties.

Mary Cokenour

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