I had my first taste of French Canadian meat pie, known as tourtiere, while growing up in Berlin, New Hampshire.
My mother’s meat pie was made mostly of hamburg with poultry seasoning while her mother’s meat pie was a mixture of hamburg and pork with varied spices.
Throughout our 34 years of marriage, my wife, Denise, and I have refined our meat pie recipes. “We make different pies with different mixtures. While all of them contain potatoes and onions, the meat mixtures are a combination of hamburg and pork, turkey and pork, and, when available, venison and pork."
Our recipe includes a mix of seasonings with the special ones being cinnamon, that gives a touch of sweetness, and sage, that gives an earthy flavor.
It is no surprise to have discovered that no two meat pie recipes are alike.
Stephanie Goulette Cooper, of West Paris, was raised in an Anglicized area of Vermont where her family had lost many of the French traditions that spanned four generations of Goulettes in America. It wasn’t until she moved to Maine that she embraced her heritage cooking.
“A friend of mine shared his meat pie recipe and it is similar to others, but with two parts pork and one of ground sirloin,” said Cooper. “I add a tablespoon of poultry seasoning and a half tablespoon of summer savory.”
Cooper noted that summer savory comes from Canada and Europe. She usually buys her supply of the seasoning from a natural food store.
Mark Griffin, of Lewiston, recalled growing up with meat pies. “I eagerly awaited the approach of the holidays because it marked the return of those succulent meat pies that had gone into hiding for so many months.
“When I was on tour promoting my book, A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli, I was visiting Ohio and a radio host shared that she used 1/2 cup of Burgundy in her (meat pie) mixture which is now something that I have adopted as well.”
Griffin keeps the recipe simple with one pound of ground beef and one pound of ground pork. Learning from his past failures, he said that it is important not to overdo the seasoning.
“I use a pinch of finely ground allspice and a dash of sage,” said Griffin. “Depending on my mood, I may throw in 3/4 of a teaspoon of paprika or a 1/4 teaspoon of basil.”
Kathy Bechtel, who lives on the West Mountain at Sugarloaf, is a chef who gives cooking classes in Maine. While her specialty is Italian food, she encounters savory meat pies from all cultures on the table around the holidays.
For successful pies, Bechtel recommended more than one kind of meat.
“Use a mixture of meats, not just one kind. I like to include a bit of ground lamb and some chopped prosciutto or ground beef, pork, and even sausage,” said Bechtel. “This is a great chance to use up any leftover meat in your refrigerator, just chop it up and include it.”
Even the Somali community has a wonderful meat pie, called sambusa, that is mostly eaten in the evening during Ramadan, their month-long religious holiday. Rather than prepared as a pie, sambusa is made in eggroll wrappers as finger food.
“Choosing the correct ingredient is key ... the ground meat should contain no fat in it,” said Muhidin Libah, spokesperson for a Somali-assistance association in Lewiston. “The recipe is ground meat, usually beef or lamb, with garlic, onion, and beef or chicken curry.”
Rosemarie Ducharme Vining claimed no secret ingredient to her meat pies. “Make it? Never!” said the Poland resident. “I buy mine from Mailhot’s,” citing one of the area’s most popular meat pie bakers.