Food traditions abound in our family. Both the Murphy and Roche Families gifted a love of food with celebrations. Whether the Timinski Family pickle recipe or the Roche Family sausage stuffing recipe, food remains a strong connection to happy memories.
Many years ago when I was having a bad day, my mom, in her unique, upbeat manner, offered some words of wisdom, “You should get in touch with your happy, French Canadian roots!” Mom shared stories of our ancestors, settling in Quebec in the mid-1600s. In fact, she mentioned one particularly obnoxious youth who was sent to be raised among a local Indian tribe (Is that the equivalent of boarding school on the frontier?). I also came across a lovely song book by Ann Arbor based songwriter, Kitty Donahoe, celebrating both Michigan and Canadian history through songs and stories. I even had the opportunity to see her in concert, hearing even more stories.
I was particularly drawn to her tales of the first fur trappers and their survival during the long, northern winters. Apparently, when all the food ran out and the weather was too rough to hunt wild game, many survived on beaver fat and sawdust (Yuck!). In later research, I came across another unique dish, the tourtière.
The tourtière is a meat pie, a French Canadian Christmas tradition. Scholars think the dish, dating back to Quebec in the 1600s, is named after passenger pigeons, or “tourtes,” probably the meat used in the original recipe. The tourtière can also be prepared with any meat, even fish. We have prepared the pie with venison and sweet potatoes, but our favorite remains ground pork with potatoes.
Many versions of this dish can be found on-line. In fact, regional areas across Quebec each offer an individual recipe, some shared and some secret (This reminds me of the many versions of stuffing across the United States at Thanksgiving). Each recipe is a piece of history, offering a glimpse into which ingredients were available or affordable in the various regions. More important, these recipes, handed down to each generation, contain more than food; they contain family memories from long ago, ready for the next generation.
What are some food traditions in your family? Are there any recipes worth preserving for future use? What a fabulous conversation to have with loved ones this holiday season. Thanks for reading!