Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Canadian Christmas traditions (part two)

It's just after 8 am on Christmas Eve morning. About twenty minutes minutes ago, the Resident Fan Boy set off in the new snow (yes, we've had even more of it) for the forty-five-minute trudge to his office for the Christmas Eve lunch, which starts vaguely about mid-morning and peters out in the early afternoon, as everyone sneaks home. He woke me just after 6 am so I could take one of the tourtières I'd assembled yesterday from the freezer, glaze it with egg yolk and milk and put it in the oven. I put a tea towel in the bottom of an empty kitty litter box, stuffed the whole thing into a cloth bag with a flat bottom, and tucked the still-hot tourtière into the bottom. We do this because a) tourtières can be mostly prepared ahead of time; b)tourtières are associated with Christmas; and c) the Resident Fan Boy's French-Canadian work-mates go all misty and goo-goo-eyed when he sets the tourtière on the buffet table. They tell him about the réveillons of their childhoods when they returned from midnight mass to tables groaning with tourtières, each one made by an aunt, mother or sister according to her secret recipe.

I wasn't quite prepared for my tourtière to have an emotional impact on anybody. I started making them about a dozen years ago when the weight of preparing Christmas dinner began to fall to me, because I don't particularly care for turkey. Demeter had experimented with various roasted fowls over the years (even a greasy and, heaven help us, hairy goose one year), and the closest we came to adopting as a tradition was a capon. However, ordering, preparing, stuffing and roasting birds leaves me cold. The beauty of the tourtière is that you can make it several days in advance, freeze it, pop it into the oven on Christmas afternoon et voilà, a festive dish. It took several years to find the right recipe, as the traditional tourtière is, alas, rather bland, but the recipe I use is pepped up with onions, garlic and celery. Living in anglophone Victoria, I only had the intellectual notion that it was a French-Canadian custom.

Then we moved to Ottawa. The province of Québec is a fifty-minute walk across the Alexandra Bridge from our doorstep (if I keep my pace reasonably brisk), and our neighbourhood seems full of anglophone/francophone partnerships. Elder daughter's classmates all seemed to have parents with Scottish and French surnames. At least half of my husband's workmates speak French as their first language, driving, cycling or walking to work across the Ottawa River from the city of Gatineau. It's for the sake of the ancient children behind their eyes that I got up this morning to put the final touches on one of the tourtières (the other is waiting in the freezer for Christmas Day). I suspect that modern life has rendered home-made pastries as scarce in Québec as anywhere else. With the bus strike, we won't be dragging our daughters down for the office party this year, but the Resident Fan Boy is determined to go and bask in the cries of welcome as the golden pie takes its place. Christmas is for children, after all, even the grown-up ones. And now elder daughter has confessed her attachment to the dish. It's become part of her childhood Christmas. Well, one of her ancestral names is Boucher, after all.

Now, I must sort and wrap the treasures hidden in my closet against tomorrow. For those of you who keep Christmas, I wish ease and speed in your preparations. For those who don't, I wish peace and beauty.


Jane Henry said...

Have a good one Persephone. Loved hearing about your French traditions. My mother always says, you make your own traditions at Christmas and I

P said...

Merry Christmas to my goddess of Canadian Darkness! Much love, P.

Persephone said...

Thanks, Jane! And how many of those traditions are created by pure accident?

Ooooh, P! That does it, I'm getting business cards made out!

bonnie-ann black said...

while i enjoy the stuffed turkey and all of that -- i even enjoy preparing it -- i'm always looking for a good one-pan dish that i can freeze. are there recipes available for tourtière? i'm gonna google that right now.

the best traditons are the homemade ones, not the ones we're told are traditional. for instance, our christmas eve traditional dinner is -- pizza! quick easy, and no one has to cook while we're setting up for santa to come. enjoy your christmas, whatever your traditions!

Persephone said...

Happy to share my recipe for tourtière, b.a.b.! It's no secret, and as I've said, traditional tourtière is a bit bland.

bonnie-ann black said...

i'll take your recipe,if you're really willing to give it! i imagine that tourtiere is one of those things like stew -- the basic ingredients are the same, but how it turns out depends on little things the cook does!

you can email me at, if you don't want to post it here... i'm also willing to trade a recipe if there's something i make you'd find worthwhile cooking.