My family likes to eat. So when we gather for the holidays, food is an important element of the celebration. According to New York Magazine, cooking for friends and family is the ultimate feminist act, but I don’t overthink or intellectualize such things. For me, it’s just what’s done at the holidays.
Starting Christmas Eve, my mother and I will cook nonstop for three solid days. There’s the Christmas Eve pre-five o’clock Mass snack, which will consist of a spread of small bite appetizers, charcuterie, and cheese boards, and a large selection of cakes and Christmas cookies. After Mass, there will be cocktails and hors d’oeuvres followed by a casual, serve-yourself dinner. Christmas morning brings presents and a breakfast buffet with egg strata, some quick breads, bagels, muffins, and a fruit salad. After unwrapping, we’ll set out a light lunch, followed by a more formal Christmas dinner that evening. The day after Christmas brings yet another breakfast (lighter, this time), and then some snacks before I kick everyone out of my house to quietly plan my three month-long dieting regime.
It’s a lot of work and I love every single exhausting minute of it. But I certainly wouldn’t be able to do all this cooking without my trusty sidekick—my mom—a far better, more patient, endlessly energetic cook than myself who never seems to panic, sweat, sneer, cry, get angry, or get tipsy—all of which I do each year while making all that food.
My mom’s Zen may emanate from the fact that she witnessed genuine hard work, specifically that of my French Canadian great grandmother who, despite having 12 children, still had time to make an ambitious Christmas feast each year without the benefit of modern cooking tools. Memerè Boucher—a woman my mom fondly remembers as shy, sweet, and extremely loving—would trot out several Tourtières (pork pie), and Corton (a pork spread similar to rillettes which she made by hand-grinding the meat), and the many other French Canadian dishes she made for the dozens of family members that gathered in her house each year.
Growing up in the Midwest, I was the only kid in town eating Tourtières and pork spread on Christmas Eve. My mom would always serve it with various mustards and that 1980s favorite side dish, Waldorf Salad—the apples, walnuts, dried cranberries, chopped celery, parsley, and apple cider vinaigrette (instead of mayo) complementing the richness of the pork.
So, if you’re looking for something a little different this Christmas Eve, try my family’s pork pie. It’s easy to assemble and even better, can be made a day or two ahead so it only needs to be warmed up after Christmas church services.
This year, I’m serving a salad of shaved root vegetables and a wild rice studded with roasted butternut squash and pecans and of course many varieties of mustards.
My Grande Memerè Boucher’s Tourtières (makes two 9” pies)
3 lb ground pork
1 med onion, chopped fine
1 C water
4 tsp salt
1 tsp sage
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
½ tsp mace (optional)
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
Double crusts for two 9” pies (use your own recipe or this one)
In a large pot over medium heat, combine all ingredients except potatoes and crust and cook while stirring till the meat is cooked. Simmer for 1-1/2 hours, stirring frequently. Drain off most of the liquid from the meat leaving several tablespoons of liquid after draining.
In a separate pot, cook potatoes till tender, then drain and set aside. Combine potatoes into the pork and mash together until blended (not all of the potatoes may be needed).
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Divide the meat into the two pie unbaked shells. Cover each pie with the top crust. Make 3 steam vents in the top of the crust. Brush a bit of milk over the pastry.
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 350 and cook for about 15 minutes or until the pies are golden brown.