A Rocky With a British Accent

Making apple and pumpkin pies right now? To meet holiday demand, Rocky’s in Wharton is cranking out hundreds of traditional British meat pies, called pasties. They're experts--the family has been at it for 89 years.

Tom Rodkewitz, 57, and his family are of Polish and Ukrainian ancestry. His grandmother was given the recipe by by Cornish miners who emigrated to New Jersey to work in the Iron mines around Wharton from the 1800s into the early 1900’s.

Wharton, formerly known as Port Oram, was a station on a branch of the Morris Canal that helped to transport iron. The tidy grey-shingled rowhouse that serves as shop, production kitchen and home to the Rodkewitz family was purchased by Tom’s grandparents in the 1920’s.

Traditionally, the savory pies were made with leftovers for an easy-to-carry-and-handle lunch in the mines, and they were often heated with the candle lamp on the miners’ helmets.

The small town of Wharton is just off Route 80; the business is tucked behind the library in a residential neighborhood one block in from the main drag.

The brick building next door used to be Wharton High School. When Tom’s parents were students in that high school, they worked after school to keep the business going

“We were the satellite cafeteria" for kids in the school, Tom says. “My grandmother knew what everyone wanted and would make French fries, cold salads, burgers and dogs. There was a well-stocked candy counter. The kids would rush over and the teachers would have to yell for them to come back.”

Tom’s father, Julius, was known as Rocky. He died last year at 88. When Julius was a boy, his parents—Tom’s grandparents, the founders—renamed the bakery for him.

Hundreds of pasties a day continue to come out of the Rocky’s Pasties oven to feed customers and some retail businesses who purchase the pies frozen under the name Port Oram Cornish Pasty.

With the help of his wife, Mary, and their son Brandon, 25, a fourth generation pastie-maker, Tom uses all-natural house-ground beef, sausage and chicken with chunks of fresh onion, potatoes, peas and carrots. For total authenticity, they make their own shortening from beef tallow.

The dough starts when they render fat to create a solid meat shortening that is cut into the flour for a tender flaky crust. Roughly wrapped in a football shape, the humble 8-ounce pies sell for $5.25 and fill  the palm of your hand.

"They are delicious with ketchup, gravy, pickles, coleslaw, salad or just by themselves,” Tom suggests.

Tom’s sister, Mary Lee Colonna, makes sweet baked goods, including Eastern European kolache rolls filled with walnuts, poppy seeds, prunes or apricots. The shop also has a small refrigerated case filled with fresh kielbasa and stuffed cabbage.

Rocky’s accepts only cash or check. Show up early in the day, if you can. The day’s supply tends to sell out before the shop closes.

Rocky’s Pasties
47 Robert Street
Wharton
973-366-2750
Tuesday–Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

 

SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.

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