Tuesday, January 17, 2012

French Meat Pie And The Frescos Of Saint Ann's Church

Without traditions, 
life would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!

As my children get older traditions are more important to them, especially around the holidays. 

One of our favorite food traditions is this French meat pie or Tourtiere (tour - tea - air). We eat it at Christmas time but it can be enjoyed any time of the year. I wrote my recipe and a little about the history of French meat pie when I started my blog, here. My recipe hasn't changed much throughout the years but, this year, I used fresh herbs and spices in place of dried or ground. 

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Before I get to the recipe I want to share a special place with you. One day this past summer I took my daughter to visit the beautiful church that I attended as a child. My family often had French meat pie on Christmas Eve after attending midnight mass here.

Postcard photo courtesy St. Ann's Arts And Cultural Center - all rights reserved.

History: This beautiful church, St. Ann's, or the "little Sistene Chapel" as we used to call it not realizing that it's actually larger than the Sistene Chapel, no longer holds regular masses. As demographics changed, the parish declined and the church eventually closed. It's now an arts and cultural center and is being maintained by a small group of volunteers who are trying save the church and its beautiful frescos from destruction. The buon frescos were made by Italian artist, Guido Nincheri, and all the faces in the paintings are of actual parishioners. So it's a museum-sized record, if you will, of the parish's ancestry. This summer, my daughter was interested in the church from something she learned in school so we visited this hidden gem and took some photos with my iPhone:

The beautiful ceiling in the foyer:

Below is a photo of the church looking back to the choir loft, which brought back lots of memories since I was a choir member while attending St. Ann's Elementary School.

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French Meat Pie Recipe (makes two pies):

3 pounds ground pork
1 small yellow onion or 1/2 a medium onion, chopped or minced
Olive oil, enough to sauté meat and onions in
About 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, add more to taste
About 1/2 teaspoon each of minced fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary, add more to taste (or substitute 3/4 teas of poultry seasoning for all) 

6 medium organic gold (yukon gold) potatoes, halved with skins left on (2 potatoes for every pound of pork. If you want a meatier pie, use 1 potato per pound of meat but add more meat to fill 2 pies)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup milk
Pastry for two two-crust pies
Pepper to taste
For my recipe with dry herbs:  http://www.vittlesandcommittals.blogspot.com/2010/12/tourtiere-my-memere-made-this.html

Boil potatoes until fork tender. Meanwhile, saute chopped onion over medium heat in a little olive oil until soft. Add pork and cook until brown. Remove from stove, drain fat. In a large bowl, mix meat with cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, thyme, and rosemary. When potatoes are fork tender, remove from water and place in a separate bowl. Break up with a spoon or fork while adding butter, milk, and pepper to taste (keep them lumpy). Add potatoes to meat and mix together. Prepare pie plates with a sheet of pastry. Add equal amounts of filling to each pie. Top with another sheet of pastry. Slit holes in top, crimp edges and cover loosely with foil to protect from burning. Cook in oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until pastry is done.

This, I think, is the quickest way to prepare the meat pie:

Start with boiling the potatoes. 

While potatoes boil, cook the meat filling. 

Meanwhile (in between checking and stirring the meat mixture):

Mince fresh herbs, about three to four sage leaves, thyme leaves from a sprig or two, and rosemary needles from a piece of branch. Each herb should equal about one-half teaspoon. 

Then grate fresh spices. Start with about one-quarter teaspoon of nutmeg and cinnamon each. After tasting, I added about another quarter teaspoon of cinnamon. In this meat pie, you should be able to taste a little cinnamon.

When the meat filling is done, add herbs and spices. 

The perfect time to start the crust, if it wasn't made in advance, is while potatoes and filling cool.

Flaky Pastry For One Two-Crust Pie
This recipe is for one meat pie. I wasn't sure how well it would double so I made two separate batches. It's similar to James Beard's recipe in his American Cookery cookbook so I don't think I'm giving away any great family secret!

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shortening, I used Spectrum Organic All Vegetable Shortening, non-hydrogenated
4 to 5 teaspoons ice water

Sift flour and salt together into a medium bowl, cut in shortening with a fork or two knives until it resembles course cornmeal. Pour onto a cutting board and sprinkle with water, one tablespoon at time, tossing lightly with a fork, knives, or pasty cutter. Shape into two equal size balls. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready. If it's refrigerated, let it return to room temperature before rolling. Roll out onto floured surface.

Well, I'm not a baker and don't have much patience for it so let's just call it a rustic pie . . .

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For more photos and more about the closing of this beautiful church that French-Canadian immigrants built, visit the American-French Genealogy website here.