The pinnacle of our family’s annual party calendar was the réveillon (literally, “awakening”), the raucous feast that followed midnight mass and ushered in Christmas Day. I remember high excitement at first being allowed to attend the grown-up event, coupled with frustration at my inability to follow rapid-fire, clearly hilarious stories told in clipped colloquial Québécois French. Carol-singing was more manageable to the neophyte, but no less boisterous, and eventually, old Canadian drinking songs crept into the repertoire, and next thing you knew dawn was oozing up into the sky in the east.
For my grandmother’s generation of New England mill-workers, this celebration was an urban adaptation of the réveillon of rural Québec, evoking childhood memories of the most exciting night of each year. The frozen trek (by sleigh!) to town for a relished midnight mass stopping in to visit friends and family afterwards (multiple parties starting at 2:00 am!); singing, dancing, drinking, playing music, and cracking jokes; partying all night until the cold dawn ride back to the farm. And everywhere they stopped the hosts’ tables were laid with roasted turkeys, ham or mutton, and an array of pies, preserves, and sweets. But the signature dish of the réveillon was tourtière.
Tourtière recipes are quite varied, usually containing pork, but often part beef or veal; always bound with some sort of bread or cracker crumbs, but sometimes mashed potato, too; spiced with cloves, cinnamon, or allspice, but maybe a pinch of poultry seasoning. You can make a good tourtière using high-quality ground pork from your local farmer or farmers’ market, but you can make a GREAT one by coarsely grinding a mix of mostly lean pork (with a small amount of fat) yourself.
Condensed from the original article published in Winter 2011/12 edition of edible South Shore & South Coast. Read the complete article here.
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By Paula Marcoux
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