Lindsay William-Ross is the co-editor of LAist.
At some point traditions are inaugurated, and in the case of my family’s tradition of serving Tourtiere (French-Canadian Meat Pie) on Christmas Eve, the practice goes back just one generation to my mother. I moved to the States from Canada at age 13, a couple of years after my mother did. It must have been around that time, then, she decided we needed a holiday tradition that connected us to our Canadian roots. Of course, our roots are completely non-French; we’re Vancouverites who have had addresses in Toronto at times, but no one in our family hails from Quebec. And while Canada–maple syrup and poutine aside–is not a nation known for its cuisine, there is something charmingly evocative about this savory pie made with ground pork.
The recipe my mother uses is from a very Canadian source: Her Five Roses Flour Cookbook. It’s a small, spiral-bound cookbook that she’s had for as long as I can remember, and I always picture it opened to the Tourtiere page, dusty with errant sprinklings of flour and besmirched with a buttery fingerprint or two. She’s got her copy at home in the border town of Point Roberts, WA, so I have come to use Ruth Reichl’s in the Gourmet Cookbook as a handy substitute in my California kitchen.
Inside the pie is a blend of ground meat, seasoned with herbs and spices. The pie is double crusted, and to vent the top, rather than just simply dot it with fork or knife-point marks, my mother got in the habit of making it Christmas-y, her and my favorite being to cut the word “Noel” (French for Christmas) in the top.
A couple of years ago my parents moved from Los Angeles, and that means I’m the only one of my family left here. Flights are expensive, time off work is precious, yadda yadda yadda, so I’ve spent the holidays in L.A. without my family many times. Over the years I’ve adopted the custom of making Tourtiere on Christmas Eve, sharing it with friends and loved ones when I can. Oddly enough, the tradition didn’t pass itself back up or laterally on the family tree; my grandmother and other relatives will happily eat the pie, but as a sort of loving indulgence for my mom’s invented tradition. They don’t really know where her notion came from, either. That’s okay. For me, it is a slice of home–the home my mother made for us–that I cherish.
Tourtiere (French-Canadian Meat Pie)
adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl
1 1/2 lbs ground pork (or half pork/half veal or beef)
1 large onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp dried summer savory, crumbled
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
+ Pastry for double-crust savory pie (no sugar)
1tbsp whole milk
Flour to dust pastry
Make the filling: Combine pork (or pork and veal/beef) onion, garlic, savory, salt, allspice, and pepper in a 12- to 14- inch heavy skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently and braking up lumps with a fork, until meat is no longer pink, about 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, until juices are thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cool completely.
While the filling cools, make and/or assemble pastry. Fit bottom pastry, dusted with flour to keep dough from sticking, in a 9-inch pie plate.
Spoon cooled filling into shell. Cover pie with top pastry round and trim excess, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Press edges together, then crimp decoratively. Cut 3 steam vents in top crust with a small sharp knife (i.e. the word “Noel”). Brush pastry with 1 tsbp whole milk.
Bake tourtiere until crust is golden, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.
The leftovers are fantastic cold or warmed up the next morning with some HP Sauce and scrambled eggs. Perfect fortitude for opening Christmas gifts!