If you are French Canadian, chances are that your Grandmother had a special recipe for tourtière. And whether you called this special woman grand-mère, grandma, mémé or, as in my case, just plain "Mim," I'm willing to bet that you think her recipe is the best you've ever tried. And of course you are right.
It's not about whether the recipe calls for fresh or dried sage, or if you must use shaved beef rather than ground. When it comes to tradition, it is much more about how the food makes you feel.
My Mim passed away 15 years ago, and spent almost as many years in a nursing home before that, so it has been over thirty years since I've tasted her tourtière, but I still remember watching her cook the meat in the pressure cooker on the stove in that farmhouse kitchen. It was kept on the back burner, on the right, closest to the counter, to make space for cooking other things and to make sure that tiny hands wouldn't accidentally brush up against the piping hot surface of that giant pot.
The smell of cooked sage still brings me right back there, to what was then my favourite place to be - my Mim and Pip's house. Which is why, many years ago I asked my aunt for Mim's recipe. With much ceremony, my aunt retrieved the old recipe book, filled with handwritten notes and showed it to my sister and me.
Here it is:
* Medium ground beef (or mix of ground beef and ground pork)
* Poultry seasoning
* chicken broth
No measurements, no cooking method. Just the list of what she would use. My aunt told us that Mim had said, "You know it's ready when it smells right."
I have made a couple of small adjustments – I add chopped onion and celery – but this is the recipe I use, adding more broth or more breadcrumbs, or more sage as it slowly cooks on the back burner of the stove. I know it's ready when the smell reminds me of Christmas Eve, surrounded by family – kids in the front room by the Christmas tree playing Old Maid, adults laughing and drinking in the backroom where Mim & Pip usually sat to watch TV.
I will be spending the rest of the day making the filling for this year's meat pies, and I guarantee my Mim's recipe is the best one there is.