This is the first post in a new series, “The History in My Grandmother’s Recipe Boxes”
I grew up eating a lot of Polish food from my mother’s side of the family, and the food we ate from my father’s side of the family tended to be traditional New England dishes. There was one, however, that my grandmother made around New Year’s Day that was pure French Canadian. It is called Tortiére, although for some reason I remembered we called it “too-kay”.
As I have sifted through my grandmother’s recipes I decided this was the fitting recipe to begin this series. The recipe is fairly simple, brown ground pork and beef and blend with baked potato. Add allspice, cinnamon, and cloves and bake in a pie crust. The result, however, is a magical flavor and texture that evokes cold winter nights by the fire!
Judging by the dog-eared edges, the revisions, and the actual food on the recipe card I suspect this was Gram’s go-to recipe for Tortiére
The recipes I found in my grandmother’s recipe files were all pretty similar, except for one thing. Some were written in French! Gram received a weekly French newspaper that was sent by mail. It was published out of Woonsocket, RI and called L’Union. I have mentioned the rich history of my grandmother and this is one small example. As I researched this newspaper, I learned that there were numerous Franco-American newspapers all over New England as French Canadians immigrated. L’Union came out of a fraternal organization called Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste or USJB, based out of Assumption College. USJB was founded in 1900 for the purpose of teaching French culture and language to New England boys from French-speaking homes.
I found two recipes for Tortiére in clippings from L’Union. Sadly, the clippings did not include the date.
This French recipe is not radically different from my grandmother’s handwritten version but does add parsley, celery, and garlic.
This version directed, “To those amateur chefs” calls for veal and the herb called savory (sariette).
I have not written this below as an exact recipe. You have three versions above and many versions on the internet. I do show, however, the technique for making it. Take that and make it your own!
In my pictures you will see the telltale aluminum foil pie plate that says I used store-bought pie crust. I have a life to live and I make pie crust rarely enough that I can’t just bang one out in minutes, nor would it taste any better than the one I bought. I will say, however, that this is one of those places where you can use beef fat in your pie crust. Lard, beef suet, here’s your chance!
For my version, I started by browning equal parts of ground beef and ground pork and added chopped onions, garlic, celery and carrots. This is simmered for 20-30 minutes to let the spices mix in. I used allspice, cinnamon, and ground cloves.
The next step is to blend in baked potato (without skin). You cannot really see the potato once it’s blended in, and this is not like Shepherd’s pie in that respect. It does, however, create a velvety texture and is, in my opinion, the secret ingredient that makes this dish different from just being a meatloaf in a pie crust.
The whole mixture goes into a piecrust and topped with another (and vented) and into a 350° oven for about a half hour to 40 minutes.
I hope you enjoy this new series and welcome your feedback!