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Baking Up a French-Canadian Holiday Tradition

Tourtiere photograph by Matt Paul

In recent issues Adirondack Life has featured regional dishes like michigans, which are hot dogs smothered in meat sauce that’s more Greektown than Coney Island, and poutine, french fries made formidable in a Quebecois way with cheese curds and gravy. But the grand-mère of local fare, with north of the border roots, has to be tourtière.

Tupper Lake has been the epicenter of tourtière cooking and eating since the first lumberjacks brought their families to town in the 19th century. Au Sable Forks, Chazy and other northeastern Adirondack communities where French was spoken at home had their versions too.

The meat pie was the traditional fast breaker of Christmas Eve, cooked in the afternoon and left to cool while all were in church. Those old-fashioned pies had crusts made with lard, and fillings could be pork, venison, beef or combinations of the above. Sometimes potatoes were added to stretch the meat, sometimes an egg went in to stabilize the filling.

No matter how you slice it, tourtière is authentic comfort food, fuel for winter’s hard work and play.

Northern Comfort: Fall and Winter Recipes from Adirondack Life includes two tourtière recipes among the 100-plus hearty dishes.

French Canadian Meat Pie

by Mrs. John E. Delehanty, Tupper Lake, NY

Published in the Winter 1976 issue of Adirondack Life

¾ lb coarsely ground beef

¾ lb coarsely ground pork

3 medium onions, chopped

½ tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

½ tsp sage

Mix all ingredients together. Add sufficient water to just cover and simmer in a medium fry pan for an hour or until meat is tender. While simmering, make a double pie crust shell using only 2/3 the amount of shortening normally required. Pour meat mixture into 9-inch pie shell, cover with top crust, and create slits to allow steam to escape, and bake in preheated 375 degree F oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve piping hot with dill pickles.

Meat mixture may be cooked a couple of days ahead, refrigerated, and excess fat may be removed. Serves six.

Tourtière

by Cecile Garso

Published in the December 2008 issue of Adirondack Life

The late Cecile Garso, grandmother of Adirondack Life staffers Janine Sorrell and Joni Manning, of Au Sable Forks and Jay, respectively, was born and raised in the Trois Riviere area of Quebec. She retained her Canadian citizenship along with many aspects of her French culture and language even after moving to Au Sable Forks in 1937. The following is her tourtière recipe, traditionally served around Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The filling in this recipe makes enough for four pies; you can freeze or give away any extra.

4 lbs ground pork

1 tbsp salt

1 large onion, finely diced

½ tsp pepper

1 tbsp allspice

8 potatoes, cooked, drained and mashed

Brown pork until pinkness is completely gone. Drain off any fat. Add onion, salt, pepper and allspice. Cover with water and simmer for one hour, uncovered. Add mashed potato, stir well and cool. Place one-quarter of the filling in dough-lined 9-inch pie pan and cover with second crust. Crimp edges of dough together and place a few slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake pie at 400 degrees F for 40-45 minutes.

Cecile Garso’s Pie Crust (for one double-crust pie)

2/3 c plus 2 tbsp butter or shortening

2 c flour

1 tsp salt

1 egg, slightly beaten

3 tbsp ice water

Sift together flour and salt. Cut shortening into flour until the size of peas. Mix together slightly beaten egg and 2 tablespoons ice water. Stir into flour mixture until moistened, adding more water if needed. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half and flatten each into rounds. Wrap individually in waxed paper or plastic and refrigerate for about an hour. On a lightly floured board, roll pastry out to be about an inch larger than pie plate. Ease dough into pie plate and fill, topping with second round of rolled out pastry dough.

The blog Serious Eats suggests serving a spicy tourtière not after Mass on Christmas Eve but for breakfast in any season. Sunday Brunch tourtière  includes an egg, a potato and an onion and is seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, black pepper and dry mustard.

A little homemade apple sauce on the side adds another classic North Country flavor to any tourtière. Bon appétit!

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