Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Family Recipes...

Living in Rhode Island, we have a large population of Italian-Americans and one of the best "Little Italy's" in the country (Federal Hill, Providence). Each time I visit "The Hill", I'm fascinated by the foods and recipes handed-down by generations of Italian Americans. I feel like I'm walking the streets of Italy with all the sights and sounds. The dinner table is really the center of the Italian home and it still shows.

What many people don't realize is that Rhode Island was also the home of a large settlement of French Canadian-Americans. A large group settled in the Woonsocket area and surrounding villages like Manville and Albion (both in the town of Lincoln) and worked in the numerous textile mills. I'm a descendant of those French Americans and, while the dinner table may not have been the center of the family where I grew up, we did have some family favorites that were handed down...

Tortiere (Pork Pie) - Every culture has its "Meat Pie" and every family has its own distinct and often very different recipe. French-Canadian meat pie can be made with all pork, pork and beef, or pork with beef and veal. It usually has potato as a filler and some sort of bread or crackers. Characteristic seasonings are cloves, allspice, or cinnamon in varying amounts. As the story goes, Tortiere is a treat for Christmas Eve. Families would attend midnight mass and return to their homes for a meal of Tortiere followed by celebrating late into the night.

While I've never been a part of the late-night partying, I've enjoyed a slice of Tortiere during most Christmas dinners and now, I make a point of bringing one to each family party. I have a recipe I like from an older french woman who lived in Manville and I take pride in keeping the tradition and her delicious recipe alive.

Dynamites - Dynamites are probably more of a Woonsocket treat than a French-Canadian tradition, but it's hard to separate the two. Dynamites are a bit like sloppy joes. They consist of tomatoes and ground beef, but rather than being sweet, they're spicey (from the addition of chili powder and red pepper seeds) and the contain copious amounts of chunky green bell pepper. Sometimes, they also include celery. Dynamites are served on a torpedo roll (similar to a "hoagie roll"), often overflowing so they must be eaten as an open-faced sandwich with a fork.

In my family, Dynamites were the "crock pot food" that were served at pretty much all family gatherings, including birthdays, cookouts, etc. They were inexpensive to prepare and could feed a lot of people.

White Baked Beans - I don't know that this has any actual history in the French-Canadian culture, but my maternal grandmother always made white baked beans. She'd take small white navy beans and cook them all day in a slow cooker with nothing but water, a hunk of salt pork, and salt and pepper. The result was something like baked beans but without the sweet sauce. We kids would eat them with a healthy spoonful (or three or four) of brown sugar sprinkled on top.

So, I ask, what are your family's handed-down recipes that you remember fondly? I'd love to hear about some...

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