On Eating and Loving Food

Torture pie

Whatever you call it, it’s totally ridiculous!
Posted:  Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - 9:45am
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Pork pie. I grew up in Sanford, which was teeming with French Canadians. Most of my besties were French Canadian.

And most of my besties’ memères made tourtières. It always smelled heavenly when it came out of an oven, and it tasted even better.

Ground pork, mashed potatoes, onions and spices: Allspice, cloves and sage, all baked up in a flaky pie crust. Hello.

And, come to find out, simple.

I had never attempted to make the dish, that is popular around the holidays. I have no idea why. I’ve certainly thought about it enough over the years.

Last week a Facebook friend, Boothbay Harbor’s own Judi Colgan, who I’ve never met in 3-D, posted a photo of three tourtières — fresh out of the oven. That was it. I asked for her recipe, she shared it, and I made one for New Year’s Eve dinner, that I shared with my brother, Peter, and sister-in-law, Kerry.

Food Network Canada says that tourtière showed up in Quebec in the 1600s. It was a Christmas Eve tradition, served after midnight Mass at late night “reveillons.”

The basic ingredients have remained the same over the last four centuries: Spiced meat and vegetables baked together in a flaky pastry shell. I know huh?

There’s all manner of theories about the origins of the delectable dish.

One states that it was made with passenger pigeon, or tourte. I hope not. I love pigeons. Another claims it’s named for the pie pan it’s baked in, also called a tourtière.

Whatever its origins, tourtière is something that should be in everybody’s recipe box. I’m not just saying that because it sounds like something that should be stated in a food column. If you don’t know by now that I don’t just talk for the sake of talking, you should.

Plus it’s really simple to make, and it’s ridiculously scrumptious. And cheap :-) I love that!

Judi got the recipe from her grandmother. She’s been making them since she was 19, and she’s no spring chicken. If she’s a spring chicken, then so am I. And I’m not. Ugh.

Anyway. Her grandmother would make, like, a dozen or more tourtières for Christmas Eve dinner, just like those guys did in Quebec in the 1600s! How cool is that!

“We would all get back from midnight Mass,” she said. “Probably 20 of us would sit around the table and just eat. That was our Christmas Eve tradition. I usually make 4 or 5 and put some in the freezer for another time.”

She gave me her recipe for three pies. I cut it back to one:

Throw around a pound (a little over if you have it) ground pork (I used a pre-packaged Swifts Premium 90 percent lean - $3.99!) and ½ large onion, chopped, into a frying pan, with ¼ tsp. each sage, allspice, clove, and some salt and pepper. Stir, and cook till pork is done. Then cover and cook on low for a couple hours.

(Depending on the pork you use, it may be a little dry, so I added a little chicken stock as it dried out. Judi used fresh ground – around 80 percent lean, and that’s what I’ll use next time.)

Some sage advice from Judi: “Keep tasting once the pork is cooked and add more of those spices to suit your taste – I kept adding mostly clove and sage.”

Meanwhile, if it’s after 5, make yourself a manhattan. Then peel and boil a couple potatoes. Mash them with one hand, while carefully balancing your manhattan glass in the other. That part’s really fun.

Once the pork has cooked to a potful of tender, heavenly smelling spicy goodness (if yours has created a lot of juice, drain it), throw in the mashed potatoes and mix all together. Throw that into a pie crust, cover with top crust (duh), cut some pretty little slits or holes in it (depending on how many manhattans you’ve drunk, this part can be really fun. In fact, I’m going to carve a smiley face in the next one :-), and bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes.

Hint: Go outside into one of these bitterly frigid days for five minutes while it’s baking. When you walk back into the kitchen you’ll be, like, “Oh My God!”

By the way, don’t bother Googling the pronunciation of tourtière. It’s all over the map. Like tort-ere, tuit-ier, towat-air, (don’t say that one too fast) and toot-seay. Sanny Norton and her sister Jane Burke used to have it at a French friend's house. They called it torture pie :-)

However you pronounce it, just make it. I’m not whistling Dixie either.

See ya next week!