Every region has its symbols. In the UP, saunas and pasties rise to the top. Holdovers from European settlers' daily lives, it's not surprising each is still around. They're warm and hearty elements that dovetail perfectly with the UP's other irrepressible icon: snow.
All are such a part of Eric Frimodig's daily life that he could be the UP's poster boy. Take the pasty (pronounced PASS-tee). Eric owns a restaurant, Toni's Country Kitchen, known for this durable pastry filled with meat and vegetables, eaten by UP immigrants who worked in the area's copper and iron mines. They're a stick-to-your-bones sort of food. Toni's pumps out up to 1,000 in a day.
The word sauna is pronounced SOW-na here, just as it was by the Scandinavians, such as Eric's grandparents, who brought the bathing practice from their climactically similar homelands. Saunas have always been part of Eric's life -- his first was during one of the regular twice-weekly sessions at Grandma's when he was a toddler. The wintertime sauna snowbank jump is, Eric says, just what's done. "After you've thrown four or five buckets [on the rocks], just got the place almost burning, when you hit the snow, it really doesn't feel cold for a while," he says. Eric has a sauna at home and one at camp (Yooper-speak for cabin). When he snowshoes into the latter to shovel off the roof, he might stoke the sauna, ladle water over the smooth lake rocks, and breathe in the heavy cedar steam. Then maybe he'll throw open the door, releasing a cloud of steam into the cold winter air, and plunge into the nearest snowbank. Inside, a pasty wrapped in tinfoil might be waiting on the Franklin stove. For Eric, these two icons are not only remnants of the past. They're part of UP life, right here and now.
Experience UP Tradition
Take a sauna Harbor Hideaway Motel & Finnish Sauna House, US 41, Copper Harbor. Authentic Finnish sauna. Clean and comfortable. Rooms and campsites also available. (www.copperharborhideaway.com)
Try a pasty Toni's Country Kitchen, 79 3rd St., Laurium. Eric Frimodig's restaurant, known over the Keweenaw for pasties, a hearty regional pastry filled with meat and vegetables. Winter hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. (906-337-0611)
Originally published in Midwest Living, Jan/Feb 2005.