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Cousin Jenny‘s Cornish Pasties

Al Parker - March 15th, 2007
Start with a 2, then add zeroes till you reach 2,000,000. That’s how many pasties Jerilyn DeBoer estimates she’s made during her 28 years of running Cousin Jenny’s Cornish Pasties in Traverse City.
“I figure about 2 million to 2.5 million, all handmade,” calculates a smiling Jerilyn, who operates the charming Union Street eatery with her husband, Nick. “And for the first 10 years I rolled all the dough by myself on a rolling pin. That was a challenge. Now we have a dough roller. But our whole business is labor intensive. Our food is all custom made. It’s not mass produced.”
Pasties – a hearty blend of steak, potatoes, onion, rutabaga and seasonings wrapped in a sturdy pastry crust – arrived in Michigan more than a century ago when Cornish miners came to work the Upper Peninsula’s copper and iron ore mines. The pasties were a filling meal that was easy to carry and easy to eat.
“The Cornish people migrated out of Cornwall England,” says Jerilyn. “They were tin miners. They migrated to Canada where they also mined tin. After the resources were gone they went to the new frontier – the Upper Peninsula, where the iron ore and copper mines were. So they took their pasties with them.”
Pasties also traveled west with the miners. You’ll find them in northern California, Montana, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Not surprisingly Jerilyn is originally from the U.P. – the Iron Mountain–Kingsford area. She was a dental technician for about a decade, working in Green Bay, WI before moving in 1979 to Traverse City where her sister lived.
“We decided to open a little pasty shop called Jean Kay’s which is my mother’s name,” says Jerilyn. “My folks had a pasty shop in Iron Mountain, also called Jean Kay’s, but I wasn’t raised in the business. I was gone when my parents started the business.”
Her first shop was on Front Street, across from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
“We were there 13 years,” she recalls. “That’s where the business really developed. We started with one kind of pasty…, before you knew it we had the vegetarian pasty, then four or five other kinds.”
Jerilyn’s sister was with her for about a year before moving to Florida. In 1981 Jerilyn met Nick, and a few years later changed the business name to Cousin Jenny’s Cornish Pasties.
“Cousin Jennys is part of the history of the pasty,” she explains. “The Cornish women were called Cousin Jennys and the Cornish men were called Cousin Jacks. They were Jacks of all trades – they could do anything.”
Jerilyn and Nick’s shop is a charming cafeteria-style eatery that offers four types
of breakfast pasties, or Breakfast Bobbys, for early risers.
Seven different pasties are offered at lunch. They include the original steak, veggie, chicken, steak ’n cheddar, German, Italian and French potato. The pasties are available in 10-ounce and 16-ounce versions.
The steak pasty is the traditional blend of beef, potatoes, onion, and rutabaga. You can also opt for the seven-vegetable pasty (with cream cheese and cheddar cheese), the Italian (with pizza sauce and pepperoni), German (Swiss cheese, ham, and sauerkraut) or French potato (ham, potatoes, Monterey and cheddar cheeses).
Cousin Jenny’s uses local items whenever possible. “The potatoes come fresh, from Mancelona,” says Jerilyn. “We go through five or six 50-lb. bags a week, 12 to 15 in the summer. Michigan potatoes are the best – moist and wonderful for a pasty. We get them right from the farm. That’s fresh.”
During the winter, Cousin Jenny’s goes through 80 pounds of quality steak a week, 160 to 200 pounds in the summer. The dough is made fresh daily with special margarine and flour.

With different kinds of pasties, come different kinds of toppings.
“With the German, honey mustard or thousand islands is good,” recommends Jerilyn. “With French potato, which is like scalloped potatoes, you don’t want gravy on that. You’d put sour cream or honey mustard on that. With the steak, I always recommend sour cream or ketchup. We put toppings right out on the table. For someone who’s never had a pasty, I say, ‘Now, don’t pour the gravy all over it. Do a little dipping, because it’s not a pot pie.’”
Not all of Jerilyn’s pasty variations have been as successful as the Veggie, Italian and German. “We tried a Mexican – it was like baby poop,” she laughs. “We used beans and rice and cheese. It just didn’t work.”
If you’re not in the mood for a pasty, there are 22 different salads available. All are made fresh daily.
Place your order at the counter, pay at the register and your meal will be whisked to your table by Jerilyn, Nick or one of her three other employees. In the summer, the team adds three more members.
Cousin Jenny’s also does catering for break-fasts and lunches, often for pharmaceutical reps who bring lunch to physicians and their staffs.
During the summer, Cousin Jenny’s outdoor café along State Street just about doubles the restaurant’s seating from 35 to 70.
“People love that,” says Jerilyn. “If it starts getting warm at the end of May, we’ll set it up. But we don’t just throw our café out. We get it all cleaned, get our flower boxes ready. Everything is spiffy clean, looking good.”
With a steady stream of regulars, plus a heavy tourist trade in the summer, Cousin Jenny’s doesn’t do much advertising and there’s no official web site. “We’re not Ma and Pa, but we are not necessarily high tech,” says Jerilyn. “We’re modern, but still have that charm.”

Jerilyn and Nick work six days a week, leaving little time for vacations. “We’re tied to our business,” she says. “It’s been a good business. It’s not huge. We’re not making tons of money and we work hard for our money.”
On one recent day they arrived at the shop at 2:30 a.m. to prepare seven large lunch orders that they had going out – four at 9:30 a.m. and three at 11:30 a.m.
But the biggest day of the year comes on the one Sunday they are open – the day of the Downtown Art Fair. “That’s the biggest day of the year,” says Jerilyn. “It was unbelievable. We couldn’t even go to the bathroom or eat. During Cherry Festival, some days we get here at 2 in the morning and work ’til about 5 o’clock.
“We all work hard. My staff works very hard. We couldn’t do it without them. And Nick’s a tremendous partner. He’s such a hospitable person and great with people. I have the pressure of the kitchen, the staff – he’s the front person. He’s great.”
Despite 28 years in the business, are there still customers who having trouble pronouncing her stock in trade?
“Oh yes,” she says. “We get folks who are not familiar with how to pronounce it and say pay-stees. No, I tell them pass-tees by day, pay-stees by night.’”

Cousin Jenny’s Cornish Pasties is located at 129 South Union Street in Traverse City. Call them at (231) 941-7821.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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