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Ode to the Tourtiere


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This is an article I want to share with y'all - maybe some of you have heard about this.

I just finished off the best piece of pork pie I've had in years - I feel it sticking, no-adhering itself to my ribcage, thighs, and other fatty places, as I type this...


BTW - this was a Christmas tradition in Maine for me - every Christmas Eve -



“When Are You Going to Write About Tourtiere?”

Tourtiere is a Trademark of the Franco-American Culture

By Juliana L’Heureux

© June 2000

This following column was printed in the Portland Press Herald on December 14, 1995

Subsequent Tourtiere recipes appeared in many previous and succeeding columns.

There are 16 total recipes in this collection.

Tourtiere is a culinary subject where both Franco-Americains and non Franco-Americans apparently share equal amounts of interest and enthusiasm.

Judging from the volume of mail generated by columns describing how present generation Franco-Americans continue the traditions of making the Christmas pork pies called Tourtiere, it appears that people from all cultures are interested in having recipes for this gastronomic symbol of the Franco-American ethnic holiday celebration (les fetes).

“I’ve been hunting a long time for Tourtiere pie recipes. I used to enjoy eating it a long time ago up in Waterville,” writes Robert Young of Cape Neddick, ME. Another reader, Oscar Rousselle, 83, of Dayton ME writes about the way Tourtiere was served when he was a youngster growing up in a French-Canadian family in Biddeford. “I was born on July 6, 1913, so I’m not a young puppy anymore, but I remember the Reveillon after Midnight Mass when we would go home afterward and find the table loaded with Tourtiere. It was the real McCoy, with lots of pork and no hamburger at all. Those were the good old days.”

A Boothbay Harbor reader of Anglo ancestry, Palmer Payne, writes how he became interested in Tourtiere when he was an ethnic minority living in the Franco-American populated city of Manchester, NH from 1955 to 1960. “The West Side of Manchester was almost totally Franco-American with a culture of its own. It was a great place to get Tourtiere and other French-Canadian foods as well,” he recalls.

Unfortunately, previous generations of Franco-American cooks neglected to write down all their recipes for Tourtiere which might explain why so many people are interested in learning more about this subject today. Many readers, like Conrad Turgeon of Windham wrote about this historic oversight. “I have never been able to duplicate my mother’s recipe, maybe you have one that will come close,” he asks?

Monsieur Ambrose Saindon of Yarmouth ME, write in French, “Ma mere les preparait au temps des fetes, mais je n’ai pas sa recette.” (My mother prepared this during the holiday but I do not have her recipe.)

Tourtiere is an important symbol of Franco-American culture and it generates powerful nostalgic memories for many people. Readers like Phillip Shepard of Yarmouth ME recall old friends and happy times associated with serving Tourtiere. “My son-in-law’s Aunt Rose made Tourtiere as a gift to me every Christmas until she died. I miss them and (I miss) her very much. She was a dear and bright lady,” writes Shepard.

Nearly 200 people wrote requesting copies of the many different Tourtiere recipes collected from Franco-American and Canadians who have sent them to me over the years. There are as many different ways to prepare and season the meat filling in Tourtiere as there are Franco-American families who eat them. Following are what I consider to be the world’s largest collection of kitchen tested Tourtiere recipes. Although Guineas Record keepers will have a hard time proving the accuracy of my self proclaimed premiere status as a Tourtiere recipe collector, I will let the quality and quantity of the ensuing recipes speak for themselves.

LaViolet Tourtiere Recipe, Westbrook Maine

Served at room temperature on Christmas Eve, Tourtiere (pork pie) is a traditional dish prepared by French-Canadians in the Province of Quebec. The custom carried over to Franco-Americans, particularly, among those living in Maine. Even better served hot, the pie is great for holiday buffets or midnight suppers or Reveillon.

Recipe #1- Pork Tourtiere

2 lbs. ground lean pork

½ cup finely chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped celery

one clove garlic, crushed

¼ cup chopped parsley (or “Crazy Mixed Up Salt” may be used instead)

one tsp. Salt (omit or reduce amount if Crazy Mixed Up Salt is used)

¼ tsp. Marjoram, crushed

¼ tsp. Cloves

¼ tsp. black pepper

1/8 tsp. Mace

2 beef bouillon cubes

2 Tbsp. flour

Pie Crust: (this is a salty crust)- of course, prepared refrigerator pie crust is OK

One cup hot water 1 tsp. salt

2/3 cup margarine 2 cups unsifted flour

6-7 Table spoons ice water

Sauté pork, onion, celery and garlic in a large heavy skillet until pork is browned and vegetables are tender. Stir in parsley or Crazy Mixed Up Salt, 1 tsp. salt (omit some or all salt if Crazy Mixed Up Salt is used instead of parsley), marjoram, cloves, mace and pepper. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes (add a little water if necessary). Drain excess fat from skillet. Blend flour into meat mixture. Add the bouillon cubes and hot water. Return to heat and bring mixture to a boil, simmer for one minutes, stirring constantly. Remover from heat and set aside.

Pie Crust: Measure two cups flour and 1 tsp. salt into a bowl. Cut in margarine with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in ice water. Mix lightly. Form dough into a ball. On lightly floured board, roll out one half of the dough to fit a 9-inch pie plate. Transfer to plate and trim off extra edge leaving ½ inch overhang. Pour slightly cooled meat mixture into pie shell. Roll out remaining half of pastry and cut two-inch slits in center. Cover pie, fold edge of top pastry under edge of lower pastry and press firmly together. Flute edge. Brush with beaten egg, if desired. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Makes one 9-inch pie.

Recipe #2 French Meat Pie (Tourtiere) from the Maine Sunday Telegram 2/22/1974

One pound of ground pork

2 cups freshly mashed potatoes (no milk added)

½ tsp. salt

One medium onion finely chopped

½ teaspoon cinnamon

One teaspoon allspice

Prepare piecrust for a double crust 9 inch pie or use prepared crust.

Break up the pork in a two-quart pan with a fork. Add chopped onion. Add just enough water to cover pork. Cover over medium heat until all water is absorbed. Stir frequently while cooking. Cook, simmering, about one and one-half hours. Remove excess fat. Add mashed potatoes, cinnamon, allspice and mix well. Should water be absorbed before the cooking time is over, add more water to insure pork is very well cooked. Fill bottom crust, cover with top crust, make slits for steam to escape and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until well browned. (Sometimes, I put my Tourtiere under the broiler flames for about 2 minutes at the end of baking just to get a browned crust.)

Recipe # 3: Kosher French Meat Pie (Without pork/French Meat Pie- Tourtiere)

Melt 1/3-cup chicken fat and add one lb. Lean ground beef. When the beef is brown, add ½ cup oatmeal or crumbled crackers, ½ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. black pepper, ½ tsp. allspice or crazy mixed up salt. Add one diced potato, if desired (I recommend this be added for flavor and thickening). Simmer until thickened to taste (about 1-1 and ½ hours). Remove the excess fat liquid. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry and pour in the meat mixture, add the top crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until rust is well browned (slit the top of the crust to allow steam to escape). Note: Oatmeal or crackers absorb fat and hold the pie together because a Tourtiere should be firm when sliced.

Recipe #4: Quebec Tourtiere cooked in Beer

1 lb. Minced beef

1 lb. Minced pork

1 cup minced onion

1 tsp. parsley

4 ounces of butter

¼ tsp. ground cloves

8 ounces of beer

1/8 tsp. pepper

½ tsp. salt

Melt butter in a casserole and add onions, minced beef, pork and cloves. Add the beer and allow to simmer for ten minutes. Add parsley, salt and pepper. Stir again and allow to simmer for ten minutes. Line a pie plate with pie pastry and pour in mixture. Cover with pastry, slit top to let steam escape, and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F., makes a ten-inch pie.

Recipe #5- Combination meat Tourtiere

1 and ½ pounds of ground pork- but a combination of pork, ground venison, ground veal, ground beef or ground wild game meat (i.e., moose or diced rabbit meat).

½ cup of finely chopped onion

Two large potatoes

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon sage (optional- but good to use if wild game is used)

Pastry for a two crust nine inch pie and one egg yolk.

In a saucepan, combine pork, onion and ½ cup of water, mix well. Cook, over low heart, simmering for two hours. Skim off the fat. Cook the potatoes and drain water. Add the potatoes to the meat mixture along with the spices, mash the mixture with a potato masher, blend all ingredients well. Place the mixture in a pastry-lined nine-inch pan. Cover with the top crust, sealing edges by pressing gently with a fork or fluting. Snip three or four small slits near the center to allow steam to escape. Beat egg yolk with one-tablespoon water. Brush egg mixture over the top of the pie. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Recipe #6: Connie’s French Pork Pie (Tourtiere)- 1949/Also Known As (AKA) “French Christmas Pie”

(Note: The author has no idea why this particular recipe is named for “Connie” or what significance the date of 1949 holds. I only print what people send me in the mail.)

1 and ½ lb. Ground pork

½ cup finely chopped onion

2 cups cracker crumbs

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

The crackers are filler to absorb fat from the ground pork. Taste the filling for flavor and add more spices if you wish. The Tourtiere should be firm when sliced, you can use 1/3 amounts of ground beef to 2/3 amounts of pork if desired.

In saucepan, combine pork (and beef if used), onions, and ½ cup water. Mix well. Cook, covered, over low heat and simmer for 1 and ½ to 2 hours. Drain fat liquid. Add cracker crumbs along with spices and mix together thoroughly. Place in a 9-inch pie plate lined with a pastry shell. Cover with a top crust, flute the edges. Cut a few slits in the top crust for steam to escape. Beat one egg yolk, brush over the top of the pie. Bake in 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or until the crust is brown.

Recipe #7: La Vraie Tourtiere Du Saguenay

Pork Pie is known today as “Tourtiere” (mean pie), but it is very different from “la vraie Tourtiere” that is still the pride and joy of some.

This traditional pie is basically a game pie, and owes its name to the stock dove (tourte) a bird resembling the partridge and which is now extinct. At one time, the stock dove, a ravenous bird, was very plentiful but ruined the crops. Farmers, by killing the birds, had both the pleasures of saving the family’s crops and obtaining game to prepare an excellent dish.

Although stock doves no longer exist, other game can be used to make “la vraie Tourtiere’. A large roast pan or cast iron pot, with a well fitting lid, is an absolute necessity for preparing this dish.

About one day ahead of time, prepare the following ingredients: three quarts of diced raw potatoes; 2 large shredded onions; salt and pepper to taste. Then cut into pieces, three or four pounds of meat either a mixture of deer, beef, pork, moose or partridge, chicken and veal. Without cooking, combine the meat and potato mixture and place in the refrigerator overnight. (Note: I presume this entire mixture is made at the same time one day before cooking- frankly, I would not postpone cooking these ingredients, I would rather see them simmered before storing overnight.)

The next day, coat the bottom and sides of this roasting pan** with fairly thick pie pastry*, add the meat and potato filling and water to cover. Add salt and pepper, cover with the upper crust of the pie (make slits in the center). Cover and cook in a 325-degree oven for three hours. Remove the cover ¼ hour before end of cooking time to brown the top crust. (**I presume the “roasting pan” referred to here is really a 13x9” oblong pan).

*Pie Pastry- Sift together three cups of flour, 1 1/2 tsp. of baking powder and three quarters teaspoons of salt. Measure a third of cups of butter and two third cups of Crisco (or vegetable shortening) and combine with flour mixture using a pastry blender or knife. (Do not blend with hands as this will heat the paste). When the fat has been well distributed through the flour mixture and the largest pieces are about the size of a pea, make a well in the center of the flour and add one egg, mixed, with ice water, and one tablespoon of vinegar. Paste should neither stick to fingers nor to bowl, so just add enough water to hold paste together. Paste should be chilled in refrigerator for about one hour before rolling. Separate the pastry into four equal parts. Roll out on lightly floured pastry board, ¼ inch thick and large enough to allow the pastry to hang lightly over the pie plate (or the pan). Fill with meat mixture, roll out the upper crusts, place over the meat and seal both the upper and the lower crusts. Paint the top of crusts with milk and cut small hole in the centers. Cook the meat pies in 375-degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour. Place a piece of

Aluminum foil over the top of the pie if the top crust is browning too quickly.

Recipe # 8: Saguenay La Tourtiere (Meat Pie)

This recipe will make two pies. In a large iron skillet, place butter in which you will fry two thinly sliced onions. When they are well browned, add one cup of water, one bay leaf, a little thyme, allspice, several cloves (whole), salt ant ground black pepper to taste. Finally add two pounds of lean minced pork. Simmer for twenty minutes, then let cool. Drain off excess fat and water before pouring into two pie shells.

Pour the meat mixture into two none-inch pie plates lined with crusts or pie pastry. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour.

Recipe #9 Prince Edward Island Christmas Meat Pie (Tourtiere)

3 cups diced pork

1 cup diced chicken;

1 cup diced beef or venison

Cut meat into small diced squares. Spread into large frying pan with two cups water and a finely chopped onion. Cover pan and let simmer for one hour or until done, stirring frequently. When done, add a handful of breadcrumbs to thicken and to absorb the juice fat (a few diced potatoes may also be added according to personal taste). Set aside and let cool, adding salt, pepper and allspice to taste. Note: for real variety, add peas, corn (creamed or whole kernel) carrots or a can of mixed vegetables. Pour filling into a pastry lined nine-inch pie plate. Cook in a 400-degree oven for about 50 minutes or until golden brown.

This may also be made in a square pan using the following dough mixture:

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. sugar

2 heaping Tblsp shortening

1 ½ cups boiling water

2 sifters full of flour

Two yeast cakes (dissolved in two cups of warm water)

Let the shortening melt in boiling water and add the yeast, then add the rest of the ingredients. Knead the dough and set aside with a cover on until it is doubled in size. When doubled, place on a floured board and spread open the middle and add 4-tsp. biscuit mix. Knead again, cover and let rise a second time.

Recipe # 10: L’Heureux Tourtiere (learned from Rose Anne Morin L’Heureux)

½ pound of ground pork

½ pound ground beef

one medium onion

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

one medium potato, cooked and mashed without milk or butter

one teaspoon cinnamon

one teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon allspice

pastry for one double crust nine inch pie

Mix ground pork, beef, onion and garlic together (use hands if necessary). Place in a saucepan and add about ½ cup water, salt and pepper to taste. Add all the remaining spices, leave out the masked potato until the very end of cooking. Cook over low heat, simmering for about two hours. Drain off fat. Combine the meat mixture with the mashed potato. Pour into a pie plate covered with the top crust for steam to escape. Bake in a 375-400 degree oven until the top of the pie is brown. Serve warm or cold (room temperature) with a variety of sweet and tangy relishes.

Recipe # 11: Quebec Tourtiere

Double crust nine-inch pie crust

One pound ground pork

One medium onion, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

½ teaspoon savory

pinch ground cloves

¼ cup water

Mix meat, onions and spices in a saucepan. Add water. Simmer uncovered for one hour. Skim off the fat. Add one mashed potato. Mix ingredients well. Roll out the pastry and line a nine-inch pie plate. Place the filling in the pie plate and over with the remaining pst4y. Prick with a fork. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes until the crust is golden. Serve warm with homemade pickles or chili sauce.

Recipe #12: A Taste of Acadia Pate A La Viande (Meat Pie)

Pate is a meat pie common to all Acadian communities. Although still an integral part of the Acadian Christmas Eve celebration, pate is now made throughout the year. Pate is usually prepared with pork, mixed with chicken, hare and sometimes beef. Every region boasts its own characteristic recipe using different ingredients, methods of preparation and techniques for preparing the crust. For example, pate made in northern New Brunswick is different from those made in Nova Scotia and on Prince Edward Island. In all areas of Quebec and Maritime Provinces, however, pate is eaten as a meal in itself whether for breakfast supper or midnight snack. In Petit-Rocher and in Campbellton, a variation called petit cochons (little pigs) is often served. Prepared in the same manner as regular pate, petit cochons are made from circles of dough about six inches in diameter. Folded in half, the resemble half-moon shaped pickets. Pate can be kept for several days if refrigerated. Before serving, simply place in a 350-degree oven for a few minutes (to bring the pie to room temperature).

Recipe #13: Louisiana Meat Pies (Served for holidays and special occasions)

Louisiana Meat Pies are made every New Year’s, Christmas and for members of the wedding parties to eat after the formal reception is ended. Most accomplished cooks do not use any recipe to make the traditional pies.

Louisiana Meat Pies are actually fried Franco-American Tourtieres. These Louisiana pies differ from the Franco-American version in as much as the spicy meat filling is placed inside a folded pastry shell, sealed with egg white to prevent opening, pricked to let out the steam and fried like a French Fried potato. Although Louisiana Meat Pies are served during the Christmas Holidays, just like Tourtiere is served during Les Fetes, the fried version is a flavorful dish for a Maine cookout, especially if the cook has a gas powered fryer attached to an outdoor grill.

Filling for Louisiana meat pies is made by blending 1 and ½ pounds of ground beef; 1 and ½ pounds ground pork; one cup chopped green onions; one cup chopped yellow or white onions; two crushed cloves of garlic; one heaping teaspoon salt (or to taste); one teaspoon ground white pepper; one teaspoon cayenne or crushed red pepper (or to taste) and ½ cup all purpose flour. To cook the filling, brown the meat, stirring constantly to prevent sticking to the pan. Add the seasonings. Sift the ½ cup of flour over the mixture and stir until well blended. Remove the mixture from the heat and place the mixture into a metal colander to drain off the extra grease and juice. Cook this filling at room temperature.

Pie shells are made combining two cups of self-rising unsifited flour; ½ cup of shortening at room temperature; one beaten egg; ¾ cup milk. Pour about three cups of clean vegetable oil into a pot to use for frying.

Combine the flour, shortening, egg and milk. Stir until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board. Flour your hands thoroughly and knead dough until it is smooth and elastic. Chill dough for about 20 minutes after kneading. When it is time to fill the pastry, pull off a small handful of dough, about the size of a medium egg and roll it lightly in extra flour. On a well-floured surface or between floured shutouts of waxed paper, use light strokes of the rolling pin in all directions. This dough must be rolled out thinner than an ordinary piecrust. Use a saucer pressed upon the rolled dough to mark a circle. Cut the pastry and fill the inside with about one heaping tablespoon of meat mixture. Press the edges of the pastry with a fork to seal. With the tines of the fork, be sure to poke a few holes in the pastry to allow steam to escape. Repeat the process until all the dough is rolled and filled. It is likely there will be leftover meat filling. Freeze any leftovers to use in Shepherd’s Pie or in turkey stuffing.

Heat the skillet oil to 350 degrees and fry the pies one or two at a time until golden brown on all sides. If desired, Louisiana meat pies can be frozen, uncooked, but after freezing they are best baked in an oven rather than fried.

This Louisiana Meat Pie recipe makes about 40 hors d’oeuvres.

Recipe #`14: Huguette’s Tourtiere (French-Canadian Meat Pie)

Huguette Davis resided in Rumford, Maine when I called her to ask for this recipe. She had been featured in a “Yankee” magazine article highlighting “Great New England Cooks” because her mother taught her how to cook for hungry Maine and French-Canadian loggers when she was just a child. Serves six to eight people:

For the filling:

1 and ½ pounds of ground pork

½ pound veal or lean ground beef

one medium onion, finely chopped

two cloves garlic, minced

one small potato, peeled and sliced in half

generous 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

generous 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper to taste

approximately 1 and ½ cup of water or beef/vegetable stock

pastry for double crust eight pie

one egg yolk beaten with one tablespoon of water for glaze

a deep eight inch pie pan

Finely grind the pork and veal (or beef). Combine all the ingredients for the filling in a heavy saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and gently simmer, uncovered, reduce the heat and gently simmer, uncovered stirring frequently for forty minutes or until the meat is very tender but still moist. (Add water if necessary.) To determine the proper moistness, scrape the meat to one side; the bottom of the pan should be moist but there should be no loose liquid. Skim off any fat that rises to the surface. Let the meat mixture cool. Discard the potato. Correct the seasonings. Prepare the dough and chill for 30 minutes. Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line the pie pan. Add the filling. Brush the top edge of the bottom crust with egg glaze. Roll out the remaining dough to make a top crust, and place over the filling. Seal. Brush top with egg yolk. Use dough scraps to decorate the top. Make several decorative slashes in the top to allow the steam to escape. Bake Tourtiere in a preheated 375-degree oven for 40-50 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned. Cut Tourtiere in wedges, serve hot. Traditional accompaniments are green tomato chutney, piccalilli, cranberry relish or chili sauce.

La Culture

Franco-Americans learn to cook Tourtiere by watching their parents who pass the tradition along from one generation to another. A recent e-mail from Michael Gilleland, a reader in far off Saint Paul, Minnesota, expresses the nostalgia associated with Tourtiere. He writes, “I enjoy the articles about cooking (because) the holidays would not be complete for me without Tourtiere…and the French language”. In the distant past, the Tourtiere was made from the meat of birds called “tourtes”. Pork became the ingredient of choice after the unfortunate tourte was hunted to extinction.

There are dozens of different recipes for Tourtiere. Indeed, the large volume of novel pork pie recipes is the single reason why Tourtiere is such a popular topic. Have you ever seen two or more Franco-Americans discuss Tourtiere? First, they ask whether or crackers are preferred to mashed potato for the starch filler mixed with the meat.

“We use saltine crackers,” one will say. Someone always disagrees with this idea and will insist on potato as the ingredient of choice. After this is resolved, they discuss the wide variety of spices used and finally they determine the ratio of ground pork to other meat in the pie’s principal ingredient.

Franco-Americans will never agree on one ideal Tourtiere recipe. As a matter of fact, as the American diet becomes more health conscious, new Tourtiere recipes are created to keep the custom alive. A case in point is the use of garlic in modern Tourtiere. Lets face it, early French settlers never used garlic but modern cooks use lots of it.

Recipe #15: Vegetarian Tourtiere from Denis Ledoux

Another original Tourtiere recipe is from Denis Ledoux, a 12th generation Franco-American and a writer who lives in Lisbon. He created a vegetarian Tourtiere. “When I became a vegetarian, the Tourtiere passed out of my life. It was the only meat dish I missed because its flavor carried so many memories of my childhood,” writes Ledoux about his recipe creation.

Instead of pork, Ledoux uses a base mixture of ground sunflower seeds mixed with walnuts. To this mixture he adds breadcrumbs and about two cups of mashed but still chunky potatoes. He seasons this base mix with about one sprig of fresh or one teaspoon of dry rosemary.

To season the mixture, he sautés twelve ounces of chopped white button mushrooms and one large chopped onion in two to three tablespoons of olive oil.

After mixing all the ingredients, he seasons the Tourtiere with large amounts of ground allspice and cloves. “The key flavoring is allspice. Add more, especially if you measure the potatoes generously,” he writes.

Ledoux admits he first ate vegetarian Tourtiere at his family’s favorite French restaurant in Sherbrook, Canada. His recipe is published in “A Maine Writers Cookbook”. It is impossible to give precise measurements for Tourtiere ingredients. How can you quantify and measure a cultural state of mind? In fact, Tourtiere can include almost anything the creative Franco-American cook desires.

Denis Ledoux is a 12th generation North American, a fiction writer who draws deeply on his family’s history. His books include What Became of Them and Other Stories from Franco-America (1988), Mountain Dance (1990), winner of the 1990 Maine Arts Commission Fiction Chapbook Competition, Lives in Translation: An Anthology of Contemporary Franco-American writings, which he edited and published in 1991, and Turning Memories Into Memoirs: A Handbook for Writing Lifestories (1992). He has twice (1991 and 1996) been awarded a Maine Individual Artist Fellowship for his fiction. Born in 1947 in Lewiston, Maine, he lives with his partner, Martha Blowen, and their two children, Zoe and Maxim, in Lisbon Falls Maine.

Denis Ledoux Describes the Origins and the Culture of Tourtiere

(Reprinted with permission of the author)

Generations of Franco-Americans think of Tourtiere as a traditional food made of pork, but that has not always been the case. Once in North America, there was a plentiful bird, which the French called tourte.

In colonial times, tourtes once filled the skies of the vast territories of French North America during its yearly migration. Due to the vast numbers of birds, they were easy targets, readily shot and made into a hearty filling for a meat pie called Tourtiere. Subsequently, it became a cultural staple of the French-Canadian diet.

Eventually, the French, conquered by the English, were restricted to a small corner of their former lands (initially, all of Canada was once a colony of France). As the numbers of Americans who now governed much of the land that had been French grew, the tourte population was slaughtered faster than it could replenish itself. By the early 19th century, tourtes were so scarce they had to be replaced by pork as the main ingredient of the tourtiere. By the 20th century, they ceased to be. Consequently, today, tourtiere is synonymous with “pork pie”.

In the last 1950s, when I was growing up in Lewiston (Maine), rich and fragrant tourtieres were the centerpiece of every holiday meal. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, we ate courtiers and didn’t know that other families didn’t. On New Year’s Day, the most important holiday in our tradition, we gathered at my grandparents’ house, a flat roofed tenement on East Avenue. My pepere greeted each of us, as we entered his home, with a special New Year’s benediction. I remember this as a solemn moment not to be rushed and never to be omitted. He would take my hand in his large, rough, plumber’s hand and pronounce his wish for me for the coming year. “Je te souhaite…” he would solemnly intone. His speech was slow and deliberate. No interruption or impatience was allowed as he enacted this ritual of his father and his grandfather before him.

When my mother was young, the family had to kneel to receive her father’s blessing (her Pepere remained in Quebec, so her father took on the role, but by my time, the event was more secularized…though God was frequently called onto the scene as Pepere ushered us into the New year). After the greeting, we would sit down for the meal as many as 40 relatives sometimes eating in turn and grouped by age. Always there were tourtieres in their flaky crusts.

I realized the world was deprived of tourtiere when I went to college in Washington, D.C. Later, when I became a vegetarian, tourtiere passed out of my life but it was the only meat dish I missed. Its flavor carried so many memories of my childhood.

In the early ‘90s, while visiting Montreal with my family, we ate at our favorite restaurant, Le Commensal, on the corner of rue St. Denis and rue Sherbrooke. There I was delighted to find vegetarian tourtiere. At last, I was able to introduce my children to one of their traditional foods and to bring it back into our family holiday traditions.

Now, we eat vegetarian tourtiere at every festive winter meal.

Another point of view about the Origins of Tourtiere :

From Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789, by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton.

A reader sent me another interpretation about the origins of the “tourtiere” many years before I found a historic confirmation of this second point of view in Wheaton’s book. Virtually every Franco-American who writes to Les Franco-Americains column believes the story about a bird named “tourte” being the first meat ingredient, later replaced by pork due to the bird becoming extinct.

Nevertheless, the following account may be accurate as well:

“Despite the lack of crust recipes in France (1300-1789), there are some clues to the mystery of how pastrycooks worked. Pies were usually made with savory fillings, fruit fillings were exceptional. The pies seem to have been predominantly handshaped; the pate en pot is generally designated separately and was later usually called a tourte, and the metal or earthenware container it baked in was a tourtiere.”

Recipe # 16: Trois-Rivieres Tourtiere from Jacques L’Heureux

This is the recipe from my aunt, Rachel Balleux (née Baril), my mother's sister. The last 3-4 generations of Baril was from the Grondines-Deschambault area, about 30 miles west of Quebec City on the north shore of the St-Lawrence river.

It is a very simple recipe, much like the one my first wife used to do, with no details as to how much spices, a VERY important ingredient to tourtières.

“In our family, a piece of tourtière was served as a side dish with a Xmas turkey dinner. After Xmas, it was served in a simple meal with boiled potatoes with pickled beets and the relish that the Quebecois called ketchup. It is very chunky mix of onions, carrots, tomatoes (red and green) and other vegetables in a vinegary juice. It is now sold commercially with the English name Chow-Chow.”

“My mother would make at least a dozen tourtières a few weeks before Xmas and put them in the outside shed (la depense) where they would keep frozen for several weeks. They would have kept for months if only plastic bags had been invented back then. Wax paper, butcher paper and newspaper were the only wrappers available.”



2 lbs. de porc haché-

2 lbs. de veau haché-

3 onions hachés-

Sel- poivre – clou de girofle – Allspice-

3 tasses eau bouillante-

2 abaisses de tarte

Dans une grande casserole mettre viande, onion, eau et épices. Cuire en brassant de temps en temps. Laisser refroidir complètement Si la garniture semble contenir trop de jus, on peut égoutter en déposant la viande dans un tamis mais pas trop. Déposer la garniture dans une abaisse de pâte et recouvrir d'une autre. Pratiquer quelques incisions sur le dessus. Cuire au four à 375 F environ 45 min. Bon appétit.



(English Translation- by Richard J. L’Heureux)

2 pounds of pork,

2 pounds of veal,

3 onions and a dash of cloves and allspice.

Three cups of boiling water,

two piecrusts.

In a large casserole dish, put in the meat, the onion, the water and the spices. Cook, stir from time to time. Let cool completely. If the mixture contains too much water, you can drain them eat in a strainer but do not drain too much of the water. Put the mixture in a pie crust and cover with the other pie crust, cut a few holes into the top crust, cook at 375 degree F. oven for 45 minutes. Bon appetit (enjoy!).

Recipe # 17- “Maman’s Turkey Stuffing “La Farce a Maman”

Although Tourtiere is always a meat pie, the filling for Tourtiere can be used as traditional holiday “turkey stuffing”. This use of the Tourtiere filling recipe creates a very rich dressing; sure to clog up any arteries left open by the rich holiday menu. For those who just crave Franco-American nostalgia during “Les Fetes”, here goes one recipe for the history books:

(Note from Cecile: I treasured this one as I have never tasted a turkey stuffing quite like it, and I’m sure you, i.e., those reading the recipe book, were all wondering who had run away with the recipe. Well, I had and here it is for all to enjoy, bringing back the aroma and flavor of our childhood Christmas “reveillons”. )

Grind the turkey heart, giblet and liver of the fowl.

In a skillet, put two tablespoons of oil and heat the skillet very hot.

Fry the heart, giblet and liver and add one pound lean ground beef.

(Add Tourtiere spices, onion or garlic or both, at this point, if desired)

Add about two cups of water and let simmer for five minutes.

Cook and mash potatoes (keep some of the potato water to keep moist).

Do not pub milk or butter in these potatoes.

Add the mashed potatoes to meat until the stuffing is of a thick consistency.

Stuff the turkey just before putting the bird in the oven. Do not stuff ahead of time.

A Recollection: “Tourtieres”, by Susan April (Reprinted with permission.)

From French Class: French Canadian-American Writings on Identity, Culture and Place, by Susan April, Paul Brouillette, Paul Marion and Marie Louise St. Onge.

Tourtieres. That’s what I miss most about having grown so far from my French-Canadian roots. Those wonderful aroma-rich pork pies that filled our kitchens on Thanksgiving, Christmas, new Year’s Day. Spicy ground meat. Diced potatoes. Crisco-rich crust. Oh, three’s nothing like it in the world! A few years back, I tried to reinvent that heavenly mix from my childhood (my mother took the recipe to her grave…). Got me a big pot of the basic ingredients boiling on the stove. Orchestrated what I thought was the right aroma by dashing in cinnamon, nutmeg, onion powder, cloves. But, when I ladled spoonfuls of the mixture into the crust, I knew something just wasn’t right. It looked limp. It lacked structure. With the top crust on, the whole thing looked like a soggy rowboat. Baking didn’t improve it. But, as little as that pork pie resembled my mother’s long ago holiday masterpieces, it was my tourtiere. I ate it at one sitting.

Univsersal Rules about creating and serving Tourtiere:

 Always make slits in the crust to allow the steam to escape while baking.

 Always use your own taste buds when adding spices and freely adjust the spices accordingly.

 Always drain off excess fat after simmering the meat filling.

 All Tourtieres should slice firmly. If they are crumbly, it means the pie needs more starch, like mashed potato, saltine crackers (crushed) or oatmeal.

 The longer the ground meat is allowed to simmer the tastier and lighter the Tourtiere filling becomes.

 Always serve a Tourtiere with a tart accompaniment or relishes like pickled beets, green tomato relish, chili sauce or a variety of relishes including “chow-chow” or (for those who cannot give up a “dyed in the wool” tradition) plain ketchup. Hint- break with tradition serve several different relishes at the same time.

Tourtiere Relish Recipes

By Juliana L’Heureux

Although ketchup is the traditional favorite, over the years, our family has built up a collection of favorite relish recipes to prepare and serve with our holiday Tourtiere. Rather than serve one condiment, our table is decorated with a variety of relishes and condiments, always served in glass relish dishes. Any combination of these following recipes will enhance the heavy spiced flavor of Tourtiere.

Green Tomato Relish: (makes 8 pints)

(This recipe is modified from an original given to me years ago by Julie Cote of Sanford)

Four quarts of green tomatoes (about 30 medium sized green tomatoes)

One large red sweet pepper or green peppers (red pepper gives the relish a festive contrast)

About 2-3 medium sized onions

Two cloves of garlic

1/8 cup salt

21/2 cups sugar

1 pint white vinegar

½ package of your favorite boxed pickling spice

Grind the tomatoes, pepper, onions, garlic and salt together in a food processor or use a metal moulin. Let the ground mixture drain for about one hour in a colander. Place the drained mixture into a large cooking pot; add the vinegar and sugar plus the pickling spice wrapped in a piece of cheesecloth tied securely. Cook for about one hour; remove the spice wrapped in cheesecloth. Spoon the mixture into hot sterilized pint sized jars. Boil the covered jars for about 20 minutes.

Zucchini Relish:

5 lbs. of zucchini, chopped (not sliced) 1 1/4 cups white vinegar

½ teaspoon white pepper 2 cups of chopped onion

2 chopped cloves garlic ½ Tablespoon turmeric

2 1/2 Tablespoons salt

½ Tablespoon cornstarch one chopped sweet red pepper

One chopped green pepper

1 Tablespoon celery seed 2 1/2 cups sugar

Mix chopped zucchini, onion, garlic and salt together. Let stand overnight. Drain the brine the next morning. Add the remaining ingredients and mix, simmer in a large pot for 30 minutes. Pour into hot sterilized jars.

Cucumber Relish/Salad (this recipe is excellent served with any spicy foods)

This recipe is easily doubled for more servings

4 cups cucumbers seeded and diced*

2 teaspoons salt

Sprinkle the salt over the cucumbers, toss lightly and refrigerate for about 11/2 hours, drain well. Pour dressing over the diced cucumbers and serve at once.


A generous dash of crushed red pepper

4 Tablespoons of vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame seed

11/4 Tablespoon of soy sauce

2-Tablespoon vegetable oil or peanut oil

4 teaspoon sugar.

Refrigerate this dressing before pouring over the diced cucumbers

*Diced tomatoes may also be added to this dish (about one diced tomato per four cups diced cucumbers)

Rhubarb Relish

4 cups rhubarb, peeled and diced

4 cups diced onion

2 cups white vinegar

3 cups brown sugar, packed

One teaspoon salt

One teaspoon cinnamon

One teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon cloves

One clove garlic (optional)

Mix all ingredients; boil for one hour stirring often to prevent scorching. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Cranberry-Horseradish Relish (also good served with traditional turkey)

One 16 ounce-can whole berry cranberry sauce

2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

Three heaping tablespoons prepared white horseradish

Mix the whole berry cranberry sauce with the wine vinegar and horseradish. Chill and serve with Tourtiere or turkey.

Cornichons Des Tomates Vertes (Louisiana Hot Chowchow)

Chowchow is a sort of relish made from a mixture of cucumbers, green tomatoes and green cayenne peppers. Chowchow is generally added to food, as a condiment after is cooked, served like ketchup or Tabasco sauce. This recipe is a tangy, vinegar-free version, meant to be served within a few days of making. It is a terrific addition to a barbecue or Tourtiere. For milder Chowchow, use milder chilies like Anaheims or Tam jalapenos instead of the very hot ones. Gardeners love to find creative ways to use green tomatoes and chowchow is a tasty way to make the last remnants of the summer plants into a tasty side dish.

Louisiana Chowchow recipe makes three cups:

1-cup fresh hot peppers (serranos, cayennes, summer-grown jalapenos) trimmed, seeded and chopped.

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped bell pepper

½ cup peeled, chopped cucumber, a small pickling cucumber is best

1 medium-size green tomato (slightly red, but still crunchy is OK)- chopped

1 teaspoon prepared mustard


Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and sprinkle a little salt on them to help draw out their water. Simmer uncovered over low heat until tender (about 30 minutes). Spoon the mixture into a jar, let cool, seal and refrigerate several hours or days. Keep refrigerated when not being served.

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