Family Recipes: Tourtière

I’ve come to realize that many of us have been bequeathed a cherished family recipe—a dish so delicious that we instinctively know it would be universally beloved. It may be elaborate and require the skills of a culinary savant to assemble it, or so simple, so unfussy, that even the most hardened of hacks can prepare it with ease. But when it is served, it is the unmistakable, reliable star of the meal, whether celebrating triumphs, comforting woes, or keeping family memories and traditions alive. It seems almost cruel to withhold such heirloom recipes from the world at large. Hence, I am championing the cause of the family recipe. I will entice the people in my universe to share favourite, nostalgia-infused family recipes, and I will give one of them centre stage in this very space on a monthly basis. In the end, we are all family, and these recipes represent the legacies of our shared passions. First up, the recipe for my mom’s tourtière. Enjoy!

A tourtière is a very traditional French-Canadian dish served by generations of French-Canadian families throughout Canada. As a child, I remember the smell emanating from the kitchen—that smell was a sure sign that the holidays were near. Not near like next week near, but near-ish like next month. Or the month after that. You see, tourtières are generally prepared early, weeks, even months before the holidays. And, then they’re frozen so that they can be enjoyed well into the new year. Also, they’re prepared in bulk. To muddy things further, my mom, the holder of the recipe, is not beholden to an actual written recipe. Thankfully, she has committed one to memory, just like her mother before her. But, that’s where the lineage ends. There is a faint recollection of the recipe belonging to this or that aunt, or perhaps, her great-great-great grandmother. But, since everyone aforementioned has departed this earth, origin cannot be verified.

For my mom, the kitchen is her undisputed playground. Over the years, my mother has laboured over the cooking for hundreds of family gatherings, large and small. Having found herself in her early 80’s, she has chosen to abdicate her culinary throne to my sister and I. However, she always summons the strength to cook her beloved tourtières.

This particular meat pie doesn’t skimp on meat. The recipe includes beef, pork and what I’ve just recently discovered that I have been eating for decades, veal (gulp, sigh).  The tourtière relies on very little embelishments. It contains ground meat, onions, some salt and pepper and very little else. Where are the potatoes? Where are the spices? The vegetables? At first glance, it all seems like a flavourless bore. Perhaps this recipe would need to be retooled? But, no. A first bite shows that this pie is a triumph. The meat and the onion are in clear collision with each other. The spareness of the ingredients allow for the simple flavours to shine through. Whichever one of my long-since-passed relatives originated this tourtière recipe has shown a great deftness of touch. Perhaps it is why this recipe has survived for decades.


French Canadian Tourtière

Makes 4 pies

5½ cups of all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 lb Tenderflake
1 tsp vinegar
1 egg

Mix together flour and salt.
Cut in 1 lb Tenderflake with 2 knives.

Measure into one cup, 1 tsp vinegar and one egg. Beat well. Add enough water to make one cup.
In a large bowl, add flour to egg & vinegar mixture until dough clings together. Roll into a ball.

Cut dough into six balls and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll each ball on flowered surface. Place dough in pie plates.


10 lbs of ground beef
3 lbs ground pork
2 lbs of ground veal

2 large onions, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 slices of white bread, cut into cubes
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine beef, pork, veal, onions, garlic, bread and salt and pepper. Simmer slowly until meat is browned. Drain, reserving the liquids. Cool mixture.

Add meat mixture to pastry shells. Add ½ cup of reserved water to each pie. Cover pie with pastry shell, flute and decorate. Brush pastry shell tops with melted butter.

Cook on the bottom rack of the oven at 375°F for 30 minutes. Switch oven to 350°F and cook for 25 minutes more.

Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Enjoy!

P.S. To make 14 tourtières, I usually make 4 recipes.

P.P.S Leftover dough can be used to make “Pets de soeurs

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