“Tourtière” in Summertime
Updated: Dec 27, 2022
The story behind a traditional holiday meat pie, cooked in summer on the “barbie”.
What French Canadians call a “tourtière” or also “pâté à la viande” is a traditional meat pie, often prepared for holiday party buffets but available all year long in grocery shops. There are various recipes and every family or region has its speciality. The pie filling commonly consists of a combination of ground meat, and in some regions, pieces of game meat. What makes this simple dish taste unique to Canadian folkloric cuisine is the signature seasoning and there is always more than one pie in the oven on Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Probably all influenced by British and French colonization, other Québec-style savoury pies like chicken or salmon pies are also made in ways you won’t really find anywhere else. In Australia, meat pies are iconic and are made in different variations as well. They are available in bakeries in single sizes and are mostly consumed as takeaway food. While writing this post I discovered the cute little “mince tarts”, which awoke my curiosity. I researched the ingredients used for the filling, and it turns out “meatmince” is actually not minced meat. That sounds pretty much the same, which confused me at first! The mixture combines dry fruits, nuts, spices and liquor. It is a sweet Christmas treat that is traditionally from Britain. Originally, it was made with minced meat and spices, a bit like the Canadian tourtières, and the “meatmince” naming has been retained.
Pork and beef "tourtières" meat pies making • Photos © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020
I cooked my first tourtière on my first Xmas downunder. It helped me to feel a little closer to home, and I wanted my Aussie husband to discover one of the highlights of our family's traditional dishes. This time of year is always the hardest... being far away from my family, and at the start of summer (which is nice but will never bring me that holiday mood). In Australia, people living near the ocean have more access to seafood and cooking some fish or prawns (aka shrimp) on the BBQ after a swim or surf seems to be the done thing. That sounds fun and exotic but this is not exactly how this is for us here by the Snowys. Most families in this in-land region (referring to people I know and asked around) will typically cook a meat roast (turkey or lamb) in the oven, along with hams and serve it with hot sides, like most traditional dishes featured in the northern hemisphere. This will be served as lunch when the heat of the day begins... and the rest of the day is pretty relaxed as it gets hot and the "food coma" kicks in. There is no need to dress fancy, no lights, no dancing, singing, or no hockey discussion. It's all about cricket! I got into the idea of cooking a tourtière on the “barbie” (Aussie nickname for BBQ) and much preferred it as a dinner when the heat of a summer day has passed. Plus this is something you rarely would do in Québec summertime. But with respect to the culture and husband's family, I go with the flow and revise a few of our traditional dishes differently, at other times when we're just him and I.
This dinner photo session was to be our little 2020 New Year’s Eve project as we did not have muchly planned and thought that would be a better idea to stay home while there was an unusual amount of bushfires happening in the state. Holidays all over New South Wales turned out to be a terrible nightmare. We never would have thought that a monster fire would come so quickly and devastate our region. On the morning of the 31st, we evacuated our home. Fortunately, our town and home survived it and so did my mother-in-law's farm located in Batlow, where things got very bad. Sadly, the incredible loss and damage in the whole surroundings were just heartbreaking... Two months later, we were sort of back to normal, recovering this whole smoky dry traumatic mess, even though something sounded not so good in the news (coming from a Chinese market). On a beautiful Sunday, while I planned to make this pie for dinner as a symbol of “ok we got through this, let’s start this year over again, just you and I, at home”, the Australian government was just announcing the international borders lockdown. The global pandemic story was then the new worry we all know about... So, we simply enjoyed this one on the barbie and with that new Covid situation, we were even more appreciative to be at home, safe, in our beautiful productive yard, with our lovely cat and chookies. Puss was very impressed with the pie, she could not stop staring at it, I took it as a compliment and took these photos :0)
Who does not love this smell of holiday... or meat? • Photos © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020
Creating authentic homemade tourtière is quite easy and does not require any fancy or special ingredients that can only be found overseas. Just a bit of time and planning if making your own pie crust. Some like to combine beef and pork, while others prefer pork and veal in the filling. The mixture also includes onions, garlic, and in some regions specific recipes, some potatoes. Seasonings that taste like “chez-nous” (home) are basically a mixture of nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and herbs like savory. The classic herbes salées (salted preserved herbs) blend is also a great seasoning condiment to use for flavouring traditional meat pies. An idea I had once, was to create a tourtière with an Aussie twist and made it with lamb mince, flavoured with some rosemary from the garden, a typical taste of holidays downunder. You can try this tourtières filling recipe, and make it in the winter. Better to prepare the dough or whole pie in the cool season and store it in the freezer, and that is saving more time before Xmas or New Year. Then we just relax while warming this up on the BBQ with a cool drink, smelling the holiday aromas. The tomato sauce (ketchup) condiment over a meat pie is something most Canadians will also agree to never go without!
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