• Editor's Note Winter 2017

    Editor's Note Winter 2017

    “If you’re going to Québec City, you have to visit a cabane à sucre,” said Claire. And her good advice was confirmed as soon as my partner and I walked into Cabane à Sucre Leclerc in Neuville on a chilly, snowy evening.

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  • Set the Table with Poutine

    Set the Table with Poutine

    I grew up in California, in a world of dayboat salmon, tofu, and spinach salad. I only became vaguely aware of the odd sounding “poutine” when I moved to Vermont. French fries with gravy and cheese curds? I mean, that all sounds weird enough without including the word “curds” at the end.

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  • Along the Route des Vins

    Along the Route des Vins

    In the first unpredictable weeks of spring, workers at Québec’s Léon Courville vineyard lay the bones of 1,200 tiny bonfires between the vines.

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  • So Close And Yet So Far

    So Close And Yet So Far

    Ask people in agriculture about the challenges of selling Vermont food in Québec, and folks tend to have the same first reaction.

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  • Au Marché

    Au Marché

    On a sunny, crisp day in early September, a friend and I meandered over the border to visit three Québec farmers’ markets.

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  • Neighbors to the North—Of Loaves and Land

    Neighbors to the North—Of Loaves and Land

    Every week at Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, six tons of flour is mixed, kneaded, and transformed into 18,000 loaves of bread.

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  • Neighbors to the North—Seeding Relationships

    Neighbors to the North—Seeding Relationships

    Some 20 years ago, when Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds was living in Holland, Vermont, just on the border with Québec, he met Laurier Chabot at a biodynamic agriculture conference.

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  • Neighbors to the North—A Vintner Mentor

    Neighbors to the North—A Vintner Mentor

    When David and Linda Boyden started Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge in 1996, they had zero experience in viticulture or oenology, save for a class that David had taken at Cornell University.

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  • Neighbors to the North—A Plethora of Produce

    Neighbors to the North—A Plethora of Produce

    Imagine two Caesar salads: Both are tossed in that classic salty dressing and topped with croutons, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. And both salads have, as their base, crisp and crunchy romaine lettuce.

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  • Neighbors to the North—Fields  of  Gold

    Neighbors to the North—Fields of Gold

    Jack Lazor called me at 8:00 p.m. the other night, which surprised me. I’m used to dairy farmer hours, and 8:00 p.m is past bedtime for most dairymen and women I’ve known.

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  • Neighbors to the North—A Porcine Quest

    Neighbors to the North—A Porcine Quest

    Vermont Salumi, a small company making fresh sausages and hand-tied salami in the Italian tradition, is based just outside Plainfield.

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  • To Market, to Bank

    To Market, to Bank

    Québecois grower Jean-Martin Fortier draws a distinction between a good living and a good life.  “’A good living’ mostly refers to how much money you make,” he tells me during a phone call. A good life, in contrast, takes into account “how your time is spent, and to what purpose.”

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  • My Family’s French Canadian Kitchen

    My Family’s French Canadian Kitchen

    Whenever I catch a whiff of cinnamon or cloves, my mind drifts to my mother’s kitchen and the French Canadian food traditions that shaped how I learned to cook.

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My Family’s French Canadian Kitchen

A petite vegetable farm in Saint Armand shares lessons in profitability.

The author's grandparents

Written By

Dorothy Read

Written on

November 15 , 2016

Whenever I catch a whiff of cinnamon or cloves, my mind drifts to my mother’s kitchen and the French Canadian food traditions that shaped how I learned to cook.

The story of my grandparents’ families is shared with hundreds of thousands who immigrated from French Québec to work in the mills and farms of New England in the decades before and after 1900. My grandmother, Dolora Martel, or “Mémé,” was only 4 when she arrived from St. Francois, Ile d’Orléans, Québec. Alfred LaFlamme, my grandfather, “Pépé” was born in this country, son of a day laborer who hailed from that same village in Québec. They raised 10 children and eventually settled in the Brattleboro area, where I probably have more cousins than I can count.

They brought their food stories with them, a cuisine that evolved from French roots, modified by the climate of Québec and New England: lots of pork, wild game, hearty stews and soups, corn in every form, yeast breads, pickles, apple-and-berry everything, custards, fruit galettes, and sweet maple pies. Every scrap of food they hunted, raised, or gathered was used—nothing wasted.

Spices in sweet and savory dishes included cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, liberally used, along with maple and molasses. Meals were slow-cooked, hearty, full of carbohydrates and fat. They fed large families and hard workers who burned every calorie. What wasn’t served up fresh was cured, salted, canned, dried, smoked, or pickled, to preserve for the rest of the year.

Many of the special dishes were tied to Catholic religious holidays. Bountiful Christmas Eve feasts are what my food memories are made of, and two recipes in particular stand out: a rich, savory meat pie called “tourtière” and the beautifully elaborate “Bûche de Noël”, a rolled sponge cake sprinkled with brandy and decorated as a Yule log with chocolate frosting, meringue “mushrooms,” piped holly leaves, and cinnamon candy berries.

The tourtière was made with ground meat, pork, or pork and beef, with potatoes and cracker crumbs, baked in a flaky lard pastry. It was served dripping with brown gravy. Every family had their own version and spice mix, and sometimes more than one—our larger family has three or four versions, including one with cheddar cheese on top!

The preparation of the meat pie is a bit peculiar: you boil the meat for nearly an hour. This changes the texture and extracts all the fat, allowing you to leave only what you want in the final dish. In my family, the ground pork included less important pieces of the pig—another way to make use of all scraps, even for holiday food. The dish was sometimes made with a meat-and-cracker filling, no vegetables.

You can use any type of ground meat, including turkey and chicken, just don’t mention that to one of the old guard! I created a version using soy sausage and a gluten-free crust, topped off with wild mushroom gravy that pleases everyone from meat eaters to vegetarians. My niece Keri loves this one. But make no mistake, it is still Mémé’s tourtière!.

Other favorites from my family’s kitchens include pea soup with salt pork; a spicy páte called creton, which also featured the boiled, spiced pork; Indian cornmeal pudding with lots of molasses and spices, baked in the ever-present cast-iron frying pan; my aunt’s salt-cod cakes; buckwheat crêpes, filled sweet or savory (my own grandchildren are becoming experts at making these); maple-boiled dumplings; mincemeat desserts; and maple sugar pies, an extremely sweet treat made with both maple and brown sugar and sprinkled with nuts and raisins. My teeth ache thinking of that one!

And dumplings simmered in maple syrup? Not as sweet as you might expect, since the poaching syrup is cut in half with water. The dumplings were used as a simple dessert or side dish to pork. My mother also loved to fry bacon in maple syrup as well. She’d be right on top of the food trend today.

Family food tells family history, and offers a sense of connection with the generations. Along the way, the recipes evolve, the essence of the originals enhanced to reflect the times we live in. But they remain “the old family recipes,” and if we’re really lucky, we get to cook them in grandmother’s cast-iron frying pan.

About the Author

Dorothy Read

Dorothy Read

Dorothy Read is a freelance writer who lives in Bellows Falls. She has worked for local newspapers, magazines, and radio, and operates a small inn that specializes in traditional recipes served up with stunning local ingredients. She is currently working on a cookbook of vintage recipes with a modern twist.

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