Thursday, January 26, 2023

Why Do We Have Two Pasty Restaurants in Grass Valley?

 During the first few years after our arrival in Nevada County, California, from the Midwest, I pondered a few questions in connection with these pasty restaurants in Grass Valley.  First, I wondered what in the world is a pasty?  Second, why are there two restaurants in Grass Valley where you can buy them?  Finally, why are there no pasty restaurants in Nevada City, California, which is only five miles from Grass Valley? 

Eventually after being here for some time, I asked a local friend what is a “pastey” (“a” as in waste)?  After giggling for a second, my friend politely told me that it is pronounced “pasty” (“a” sounds like apple) and that it is a flaky meat pie with origins in Cornwall, England.  His answer seemed quite random yet quite specific at the same time.  Meat pie? Cornwall?  California?  So, I pressed him further and asked why there are two “pasty” restaurants in Grass Valley.  His response was very simple.  Miners from Cornwall, England, immigrated to the Grass Valley during the gold rush after 1849, and their wives made them pasties to be eaten in Empire Mine while working.  Being observant, I inquired of my friend as to why there are no pasty restaurants in the old mining town of Nevada City just a few miles away, and he had no idea.  In truth, I am not a fan of the pasty, as they are pretty bland and not very flavorful.  Yet, the pasty supports two separate restaurants in Grass Valley, and the tradition of the Cornish miners lives on.  Grass Valley even has a Cornish Christmas, but why do the Cornish mining traditions remain in Grass Valley and not in Nevada City which is quite literally just over the hill. 

One must understand the nature of mining in California and in the old Empire Mine.  In 1848, John Marshall discovered flecks of gold in the south fork of the American River at Sutter’s Mill located in Coloma, California, about 30 miles southeast of Grass Valley.  Marshall discovered these alluvial gold nuggets in the riverbed and sparked the California Gold Rush.  Thousands and thousands of people emigrated from the east coast of the USA and thousands and thousands also immigrated from Asia, South America, and Europe to partake in the gathering of these gold nuggets laying the rivers of the west slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Over the next couple decades or so, all of this alluvial gold was scooped up by “placer miners.” 

Once the rivers were empty, the miners started mining the actual mountains from where the alluvial gold had originated thousands, if not millions, of years ago.  The problem for the miners was that the California gold is trapped within the granite and quartz of the Sierra Nevada.  Such gold entrapment required knowledge of hard rock tunnel mining, and the Cornish of Cornwall, England, had this mining knowledge which was developed from mining in the Cornwall region since the early Bronze Age.  The Empire Mine was a quartz mine which mined tons of quartz smashing the quartz with giant “stamps” thus freeing the gold from the quartz.  The average yield was about $30 per ton of quartz.  In 1866, and according to the Report on Precious Metals form the Paris Exposition in 1869, Grass Valley had 292 stamps dedicated to gold mining operating in the town while Nevada City had only 147 stamps.  That said, of the 147 stamps in Nevada City dedicated to gold mining, most of the stamps were associated with hydraulic mining and not quartz mining.  According to statistics published by Ralph Mann and in 1860, twenty-two percent of the miners in Grass Valley were from England while only 13% of Nevada City miners were from England.  By 1870 and after quartz mining began to accelerate as alluvial gold disappeared, a whopping 60% of the miners in Grass Valley were from England while only 18% of Nevada City miners were from England. 

By the time Empire Mine closed in 1957, the Cornish miners had created miles of tunnels some even as deep as 11,000 feet and had removed over 5,800,000 ounces of gold had been separated from the quartz fissures.  Not only did the Empire Mine Company become one the greatest mining businesses in California, the mine became the central hub for the creation to the little town of Grass Valley, California, and the Cornish deposited their culture in California along with the pasty and Cornish Christmas.

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