This is the season to write down the family’s Tourtière recipes and save them!
In case you need some help, there are a collection of family recipes at this site. Included are a sampling of the many recipes sent to me by readers over the past 30 years of writing about Franco-Americans.
Our own family Tourtiere recipe is in this collection, as the tradition was handed down to our family by Rose Anna Morin L’Heureux, my mother in law. http://mainewriter.com/recipes/
Franco-Americans share the tradition of serving Tourtières pour Noël with French-Canadians, who created the recipes out of necessity. Although Tourtieres, or meat pies, usually call for ground pork in the recipe, the name came about from a now extinct bird, called Tourterelles. They were birds in the pigeon family, perhaps like a Dove or a Carrier Pigeon. There were two reasons for the French-Canadians to create meat pies after hunting the birds. First, the birds filled the sky when the French-Canadians planted their precious wheat seeds. If the birds were left alone, they consumed the wheat harvest. Second, the birds had lovely tail feathers used in women’s 18th and 19th century hats. Consequently, the birds were hunted to extinction. But the meat from the birds was prepared in the tradition of Tourtieres. After the birds unfortunately became extinct, the tradition of serving meat pies continued using chopped or ground meats, which usually includes pork.
French-Canadians and Franco-Americans serve Tourtières after attending Christmas Midnight Mass. In fact, the meat pies were served to break the fast of Advent, an old Catholic religious dietary practice that has since disappeared, along with the Tourterelles.
Honestly, the only reason I know as much as I do about Tourtières is because of the numbers of people who have written to me about this subject. In fact, the subject bonds French-Canadians and Franco-Americans with their French heritage. Regardless if families are Quebecois or Acadian, they share a memory of enjoying Tourtières during les Fetes (the Holidays).
Tourtières are flavored with special combinations of spices. Some families only season their recipes with salt and pepper, but most use a combination of spices like cinnamon, cloves or allspice. Others prefer to add poultry seasonings. Generally, families pass along the recipes that use the seasonings they grew up with or, sometimes, create their own combinations of flavors. Side relishes made with vinegar, like pickles and beets, are favorite condiments but many Franco-Americans enjoy eating Tourtieres with ketchup or by spreading butter on the crust.
More than a traditional seasonal menu, the experience of learning about the meat pies, serving them during les fêtes and sharing family recipes are what makes this particular recipe special. It’s a tradition.
When I began writing about the Franco-American culture, almost 30 years ago, the connections between Tourtière and the culture quickly became evident when thousands of people sent me snail mail requests for my mother in law’s family recipe. Obviously, those letters arrived in the days before email. Each recipe request came with a short hand written story telling me about how the senders’ Franco-American families enjoyed the experience of baking and dining with Tourtière on Christmas Eve. In fact, the Christmas Eve gatherings were observed as family reunions or neighborhood parties following Midnight Mass. The pies were recipes of choice during Réveillon. Eating after midnight on Christmas Eve was like a festival, celebrated to break the religious fast practiced during Advent, before reforms removed this practice. My husband remembers celebrating Réveillon after attending Midnight Mass in Sanford, Maine, when the family went to the home of “Memere L’Heureux”, who lived on Lebanon Street.
Tourtière de Noël recipes are as varied as the thousands of families who enjoy eating them.
Be sure to serve a variety of side relishes and a warm soup to accompany Tourtiere. Moreover, adult beverages, served in moderation, are a cultural accompaniment.
A gift idea for relatives and friends is to attach le paquet d’épices (a spice pack) to the family’s Tourtiere recipe and begin the tradition of passing the information along to other generations.
Joyeux Noël et bon appétit!