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The Tradition of Tourtière Pie

Until my mother died in May, I never gave tourtière pie much thought. It was the wonderful, spicy meat pie she made each Christmas, and my only job was to enjoy it. But with her death, I have become the matriarch of the family, and now it is my responsibility to make tourtière pie, which goes back through my Franco-American family all the way to France.

When my mother was a child, she, her mother, her grandmother, her cousins, her aunts, and her uncles would go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, come home, open presents, and eat tourtière pie. By my estimate, they would be eating this rich, heavy dish at about 3:00 A.M., and I can only marvel at my relatives’ digestive fortitude. Our present-day family is made of much weaker stuff, and we eat tourtière pie on Christmas day, well before bedtime.

Tourtière pie is essentially simmered meat enclosed in a two-crust pie. But few things in life are as simple as they should be, and so it is with tourtière pie. First there is the pronunciation. Franco-Americans like my family, who settled in central Maine, call it “toochay” pie. However, the correct pronunciation is “tor-t?-y?,” and the first time I heard it said that way, I had no idea what the word meant.

Then there is the question of how it should be made, and there are intense debates among Franco-Americans about what constitutes a “real” tourtière pie. Should it be made from pork, veal, beef, or game? Ground or cubed? Should it have potatoes? Should they be raw or cooked, or, heaven forbid, should potato flakes be used?  And what about spices? Savory or sweet?

In the end, I will concur with a comment from the website Chowhound. That is, the best tourtière pie is the one your mother made. Yes, it is. Here is the recipe for the one my mother made and for the one I’ll be making this Christmas.

Rochelle’s Tourtière Pie
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried sage
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 cup water
1 cup plain mashed potatoes, with no butter and no milk
Pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie

In a saucepan combine beef, pork, seasonings, onion, and water. Cover and simmer for two hours. Uncover and cook ten minutes. The mixture should be quite dry, and if it isn’t, then drain the excess liquid. Add the mashed potatoes.

Heat oven to 425° F. Put meat mixture in crust and then bake for about 30 minutes. (Foil wrapped around the edges of the pie crust helps prevent excessive browning.)

Laurie Meunier Graves is the publisher of Wolf Moon Journal: A Maine Magazine of Art and Opinion.

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