“Tourtière” in Summertime
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
The story behind a traditional holiday meat pie, cooked 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. There is always more than one pie in the oven on Christmas and New Year’s celebrations back home. Probably all influenced by British and French colonization, other savoury pies like chicken or salmon pies are also part of the food culture and are made in ways you won’t really find anywhere else. In Australia, meat pies are iconic and are made in different distinct ways and variations as well. They are available in bakeries in single sizes and are mostly consumed as take-away food. I’ll get back to the Aussie pies later on. While writing this post I discovered, from a local café Instagram post, some interesting little “mince tarts” that awoke my curiosity. They looked very cute with the top crust shaped as a star. I researched about 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. Finally, I went to Nest to have a taste of that little tart and found it very delicious and inspiring!
Pork and beef "tourtières" meat pies making • Photos © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020
I never cooked a pie from scratch before living in Australia. I made a first experiment on my first holiday here to feel a little closer to home, and also for my Aussie husband to discover one of the highlights of our family tradition. This time of year is always tough as an expat being far away from my family, and I still find it confusing when summer heat begins to hit. The “Dreaming of a White Christmas” song can make my heart pinch now…! 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. 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 in the oven and serve it with hot sides, like most traditional dishes featured in the northern hemisphere. This will be served as a lunch and rarely will people eat outside as temperature is generally over 35C and hottest at this time of the day. I find modern recipes adapted to the climate and the nature of the location a little more interesting but I go with it, turkey is still yummy. In my family, especially after my grandparents passing and the fact in our bubble there is only one kiddo, things have just been simple and different each year. My mum always finds new festive recipes to try and they are always beautiful and delicious. In that same spirit, I find the pleasure to experiment on different things inspired by traditional comfort, but re-adapted. This is how 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.
This dinner photo session was to be our little 2020 New Year’s Eve project as we did not have much 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. The morning of the 31st we evacuated. Fortunately, our town and home survived it and so did my mother-in-laws farm located in Batlow, where things got very bad. Sadly, the incredible loss and damages in the whole surrounds was just heart breaking... 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 appreciating 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 an 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, others prefer pork and veal in the filling. The mixture also includes onions, garlic, and in some region’s specific recipes, small cubes or crushed potatoes. Seasonings that taste like “chez-nous’” (home) is 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 the 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. For this one featured here (and my favourite), I’ve adapted the notes of my two grandmother’s recipes. I used half pork and half beef (as veal mince is rare to find around us). I have written this tourtières filling recipe and will be publishing it in the winter as it is not the best time prepare this in hot summer. Better to prepare the dough or whole pie in the cool season and store it in the freezer and thaw around Xmas or New Year. Then we just relax while warming this up on the BBQ with a cool drink, smelling the holiday perfume, thinking of my family. Australian-style pies will also be a subject to explore in further posts. Like our “poutines”, they can be made in many versatile and creative ways with various types of ingredients. The use of tomato sauce (ketchup) condiment over a meat pie is the finishing that most Canadians and Aussies will have in common and agree to never go without. I’m still for it now, but find it better with the sauce I made from my garden tomatoes!
Check out my related posts, recipes and inspirations: (to come!)