The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.55
WINTER2017

Tourtiere

A pie for six.

A staple of kitchens in Atlantic Canada, the term itself is derived from the name of the extinct carrier pigeon that originally formed the basis for its filling. It is a simple pie of ground meat and mashed potato, usually seasoned with mixed ground spice--allspice, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, mace and even, unusually, coriander--enveloped in shortcrust. No longer a regular presence on Canadian tables, tourtiere makes its appearance on special occasions and retains a particular association with Reveillon.

 


  • pie_bird.jpg enough pastry for 2 nine inch piecrusts
  • 2 Tablespoons lard (preferred) or neutral oil
  • 2 lb ground pork ( but see the Notes)
  • about 1 ½ cups chopped onion
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon mace
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder (Colman’s is good)
  • about 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
  • 2 oz cider vinegar
  • about 1 ½ cups pork (preferred) or beef stock
  • 1 cup cooked mashed potatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  • a beaten egg

 


 

  1. Melt the lard or heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat, stir in the pork and onion, and fry until some of the pork begins to brown; scrape any debris from the bottom of the skillet.
  2. Stir in the spices, Worcestershire and vinegar.
  3. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until you have a slurry.

    Preheat the oven to 375°.
  4. Stir the mashed potatoes and parsley into the slurry, then supply the amount of salt and pepper you consider appropriate.
  5. Line a 9 inch pie pan with half of the pastry and spoon the filling into the pan. Top the pie with the second half of the pastry, vent it with a hole in the center or with some slashes and then paint the pie with the beaten egg.
  6. Bake the tourtiere until the topcrust turns a deep gold, usually about 30-40 minutes.

Notes:

- Tourtiere provokes no small amount of controversy among New Englanders of French Canadian descent and a certain age. The Editor has witnessed spirited arguments over the pie’s authentic ingredients. Some insist that their mothers used only pork; others recall a combination of pork and beef; and lamb, veal and even venison also fill the pie in various combinations. The use of mixed spice, particularly clove, would appear essential, although Roy omits it from his recipe in From Pemmican to Poutine.

- Then again Roy’s version strikes the Editor as untraditional, not to say inauthentic or anachronistic, in its use of rosemary, balsamic vinegar and red wine. The balsamic would have been unknown to Atlantic Canada as late as the late twentieth century, but tourtiere probably dates to the seventeenth and certainly had appeared at table by the eighteenth. The use of red wine to cook would have been an unthinkable luxury, and the flavor of rosemary is just wrong. Roy also uses grated rather than mashed potato, standard technique for rappie pie but an innovation that we have not encountered elsewhere for tourtiere.

- Some cooks use cooked diced potato instead of mash.

- According to Roy (the only source of this oaten version; he supplies no citation), Scots Canadians sometimes used oats instead of potatoes to thicken their tourtieres, and their descendants still do so in parts of Quebec. If you would like to try oats in your tourtiere, use only about half a cup of oatmeal instead of the cup of potato; it swells. Add the oatmeal to the seasoned meat and onion mixture with an additional half a cup of stock at Step 3. Whether or not it will be tourtiere, it will make a good pie.

- An utterly authentic recipe appears in a manuscript in the Editor’s possession complied by, the lovely late Massachusetts matriarch of the Giguere clan who bore twelve children, seasons the tourtiere exclusively with a teaspoon of ground clove and, of course, a generous jolt of salt and pepper.

- Some recipes add chopped celery, and although we consider it a bedrock ingredient, do not believe it fits the flavor palette of tourtiere. If you disagree, add about ¾ cup at Step 1.

- Others add a bay leaf to the meat and onions at Step 1: We often throw two into the skillet. Remove them before Step 4.

- McQuade’s Marketplace, with stores in Mystic, Connecticut and Westerly, Rhode Island, makes its own tourtiere with a combination of beef and pork. They sell it as a prosaic ‘Canadian meat pie,’ but a rose by any other name…. Their version uses a mixture of beef and pork, and is unusual in spicing the pie with mustard and Worcestershire as well as the traditional clove and nutmeg. We like the additions and have adopted them. The McQuade pies are more than serviceable; reasonably good value for money too after a busy winter’s day.

- Tourtiere is particularly appealing because the only accompaniment you need is a simple green salad.

- We like some robust English mustard with our tourtiere and some sources say it is traditional to serve a relish on the side. Most traditional Quebecoise relishes resemble the stuff you get in jars to smear on hot dogs, and indeed they do complement tourtiere. We like Heinz India relish, a little less sweet than most commercial versions. B&G India relish is not bad either. In a pinch any brand of cucumber relish would do.