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December 2008

Tupper Lake Tourtiere

A tasty, traditional holiday pastry

Christmas in Tupper Lake is the time to enjoy a tourtière, a traditional French-Canadian meat pie. One of the largest lumber centers in the state in the early 1900s, Tupper was the junction of two major railroads linking the Adirondacks with Ottawa and Montreal. Hundreds of French-speaking immigrants arrived on these trains to work in the bustling logging economy. While today the mills are gone and Tupper’s “French village,” off Broad Street, no longer has a language barrier, the Quebecers who settled here still enjoy the traditional holiday meal their ancestors brought from the north.

Larkin Junction Depot Deli & Bakery (518-359-9000), on Main Street near “the Junction” area that’s named for the railroad intersection, is one place where meat pie orders—$15 for a small one, $18 for a large—can be placed, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Owner Sheila Larkin’s recipe was handed down from her grandmother Mary Woulf, who fine-tuned it when she was a cook in the lumber camps. “Her parents were logging cooks back in the day,” says Larkin. “It’s a French-Canadian recipe that they had. We use ground pork. Some people use a combination [of meats]. There’s salt and pepper, garlic, diced onion and some nutmeg and a little poultry seasoning. The meat simmers a long time—you let it simmer for several hours; it’s not something you just throw in a pie crust and bake.”

Meanwhile, on Tupper’s Park Street, the Washboard (518-359-2339)—a curious donut shop–Native American art and antler deal­er–Laundromat combination—does a busy trade in tourtières between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Proprietor Ed Fletcher and his wife, Mary Ann, prepare each “French meat pie,” as they call them, from scratch using a recipe handed down by Ed’s Francophone grandmother, who grew up just south of the Canadian border near Malone.

According to Fletcher, venison was a common ingredient when beef and pork—what he uses in his pies—were scarce in the North Country. “That’s the recipe from the old-timers, because that’s what they had,” he says.

He started making the pies, which can be ordered year-round and cost about $15 each, in 2006, and demand has increased ever since. “Last year I made a hundred—we didn’t expect that.”

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, editor of www.montrealfood.com, is surprised to hear of the tourtière’s popularity in Tupper Lake. “It’s a Christmas Eve–staple with a long-standing tradition,” she explains. “It’s a pretty widespread Canadian phenomenon for sure, but certainly with French origin.”

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