Tourtière for Christmas

The lovely result

The first time I made tourtière on my own, I was 24 years old, away from home at Christmas for the first time in my life, and incredibly homesick.

You have to understand, growing up in a large French-Canadian family (10 siblings!), Christmas was a big deal for us. There was so much noise and mess, lots of baking, the inevitable wild shinny/broomball game on the tiny rink Dad made every year in the back yard, and of course Midnight Mass followed by Réveillon.

Midnight Mass really was at midnight and there was something truly special about walking to church when it was so cold and dark, then coming home and having a party in the middle of the night. The aroma of Mom’s amazing tourtières would fill the house. These were served with pickles of all kinds: bread and butter, dill, sweet and sour, pickled onions, pickled beets — pickles were key. Some of us would invite friends and we’d all squish together around the kitchen table somehow and enjoy this incredible feast.

Cooked filling

So, when Tim and I moved away, there was no money to fly home at Christmas and I wasn’t sure what Christmas would be like so far from our families. I decided it would be nice to have something really traditional to help create the Christmas mood, and called my mom for her tourtière recipe.

As with many recipes that are handed down through the generations, they are seldom written, and the person cooking relies on memory and what seems right at the time. In order for my mother to give me her recipe, I had to talk her through the steps she would take to try to get her to remember everything. I knew the basic procedure and I knew the two main ingredients, pork and cloves, but had no idea about the rest. So, I would prompt her once in a while as she thought about it: “What about mustard?” “Oh yes, definitely.” “But how much?” “Oh, a few teaspoons…” “Any cinnamon?” “Of course. Oh, and don’t forget the savory. Or you can use sage.” Amounts were a bit of a conundrum because of course Mom only made tourtières in huge quantities, so she thought of everything in terms of 10-12 pies or more. I took down what she told me (I still have the piece of envelope I wrote it down on, all those years ago!) and tried to make the necessary adjustments.

Well, I made several tourtières that Christmas and proudly served them to some of the student friends we’d made. They turned out pretty well. When I took some to a French Dept. party, one of the students from Northern Ontario, who had also grown up with tourtières, took one bite and looked very surprised. I was a bit worried about his reaction until he claimed that they were even better than his mother’s. High praise indeed!

I have kept up the tradition and try to make tourtières most years if we’re home for Christmas. Last week I made this year’s batch and shared some with special friends.

Here is my mom’s recipe and I hope you bake some to share with your family and friends. Bon appétit!

Mom’s tourtière recipe

(For 2 tourtières)

  • 2 lbs. ground pork, or 1 lb. each of pork and beef
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Pepper and salt
  • ½ t. cloves**
  • ½ t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. dry mustard
  • 1 t. sage or savory
  • Dash allspice
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • (optional: 1 small grated potato)*
  • ½ – ¾ c. water
* My mom sometimes grates a potato but not always; I always do. It’s not necessary, but seems to help thicken the mixture a bit so it’s not too runny when baked.
**Adjust all spicing as you prefer. If you’re not a fan of cloves, do not increase the amount listed, but it’s what gives the tourtière its unique flavour.

Simmer all ingredients for about 45 minutes or so, till the meat is fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasonings as required, and add more liquid if the meat is not juicy enough.

Ready for the oven

Prepare your favourite pastry recipe, enough for two double crust pies. My standby is Julia Child’s never-fail recipe using the food processor (From Julia Child’s Kitchen), but use whatever favourite recipe you like.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Remove the bay leaves from the meat mixture, fill pie crusts and make sure to cut some steam vents in the top crust.

The lovely result

At this point you have the option of baking immediately, or freezing the pies as is. If you choose to freeze them, bake from frozen following the instructions below but add an extra 5 minutes or so to the baking time.

Place the pies in the lower half of the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350ºF, and bake for another 45 min.

Use tin foil to protect the pies if they start to brown too much.

Remove the tourtières from the oven and let them sit for at least 10 minutes before serving, as they will slice better if not steaming hot.

Bon Appetit!

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