12.22.2006

A Christmas Memory: Tourtière

I grew up in a household without many Christmas traditions, just the usual tree, presents, emphasis on buying things, etc. It was always awkward, especially as I got older, and the frequent moving around meant that there are not a lot of memories associated with particular places, or even the same group of people. When my parents divorced things became the usual management of different households and scheduling etc. but by this time I was an adult so I was like 'whatever' -- though there were always awkward and sad moments.

One fairly recent tradition that does connect me to previous generations of my family is a project of my mother's: Making tourtières (meat pies) that were part of her experience of growing up in Maine, following a old and quite unique recipe; and then FedExing the frozen finished product to her siblings around New England -- which is an expensive proposition. When my mom was younger these pies were eaten after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

There is a Quebec tourtière that is really kind of unappealing as it can be a heavy, greasy concoction of ground pork wrapped in a doughy pastry crust. The recipe my mother uses consists of chicken, pork and beef ground together, mixed with mashed potatoes and onions and seasoned only with salt and savory. The crust is just bisquick which works surprisingly well. I did a quick search online, and didn't find any recipe quite like this, anywhere.

Making these pies is a large scale operation (there is lots meat to grind, and lots of crust to roll out), requiring extra labor -- it would be quite overwhelming for one person. So I have always provided some of the 'muscle' for this operation. This year my sister drove over from her home in Maine as well to take part. I propped my camera up on small tripod in a precarious position on top of the tv in the kitchen, and set it to go off every two minutes.



There I am, sporting the very tasteful "Terrier Motif" apron. I get to run the meat grinder, which actually doesn't take too long, but it is a messy job:



The filling consists of a large boiled chicken, and a pork shoulder and pot roast cooked by simmering, and then all meats are ground up together. Mashed potatoes are added and the reserved cooking fluids moisten the mixture.



This is, obviously, not a meal for those with vegetarian/vegan tendencies.



Seasoning such a large amount of filling is more of an art than a science, it's hard to judge correctly. In the past this has given my mother much anxiety but now it is more of a system. This is the one day of the year when this spice, savory, is used for any purpose.



My niece keeping an eye on things. There are no pictures of the crust making / pie filling operations because I wasn't happy with the camera's location, so I took it down.



Still life with meat pies: The finished product waiting for the oven.



The title of this post, is, of course, a reference to the short story by Truman Capote, about making fruit cakes for the holidays.

No comments: