Saturday, October 31, 2009

Holiday Food Traditions

One of the blogs that I follow pretty regularly just had a post about her family's tradition of eating sauerkraut and pork on New Year's day. Apparently this tradition has its roots in the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. This got me thinking about my own family's "food heritage".

The majority of my family comes from the greater Woonsocket area of Rhode Island, an area heavily influenced by French Canadian immigrants who came to work in the area's textile mills during the industrial revolution. My ancestors can be traced back to the French-speaking provinces of Canada, in some cases, by way of Maine.

Today, Woonsocket and nearby mill villages such as Manville and Albion (in the Town of Lincoln), still show signs of their Franco-American heritage. Many of the mills are still standing, now turned into condos and restaurants. The Museum of Work and Culture has been established to carry-on the history, and one of the only historical archives of Franco-American culture can be found within the city. One can still even hear french-accented English being spoken in public places on occasion, not to mention by members of my own family.

There are two specific food traditions that I can say we practice or have practiced in my family. The first is the tradition of eating meat pie or "Tourtiere" on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day. According to the stories I've been told, this tradition originally involved attending midnight Christmas mass and then returning home for a meal and, of course, festive beverages. Of course, they would have been famished after fasting for the majority of the day before mass. Party-goers were known to stay-up till all hours, enjoying the company of family and good food.

Tourtiere is one of those recipes where every family makes it differently. Typically, it's made from ground pork or a combination of beef and pork padded-out with mashed potatoes and a starch. The seasoning generally revolves around the "pie spices" of cinnamon, cloves, and sometimes allspice. The entire thing is encased in a pie pastry crust and baked to a golden brown color. It's true comfort food. Most relatives in my family cut a good-sized wedge and then cover it with copious amounts of ketchup.

While Tourtiere often made an appearance at the Christmas Day buffet, I can't say that I've ever had the pleasure of attending one of these all-night-long gatherings. I can say, however, that I have a wonderful, traditional recipe for the dish that was handed-down to me by a true French "Memere" (aka Grandma) and that I've now been charged with making it for both family gatherings on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I take great pride in this duty and I hope to continue and pass it on someday.

The second tradition is "meat dressing," always found in or alongside the Thanksgiving turkey. Until I was in High School, I'd never even heard of the bread stuffing most Americans are familiar with. We just never had it. Instead, we had meat dressing. This traditional stuffing is generally made with a combination of pork and beef and a bread filler such as seasoned bread cubes. The seasoning varies but usually involves Bell's poultry seasoning and a little of the drippings from the roasted bird. It may not look all that great, being a spoonable glop of ground meat, but man is it tasty. My favorite application is in the day-after sandwich. Nothing beats two slices of white bread with a think layer of meat dressing and chunks of leftover turkey. Add some cranberry sauce if you like. *lipsmack*

What are *your* family's holiday food traditions?


  1. My family, being PA Dutch (remember, it's really Deutsch, or German), always had pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day. The idea is to clean out your system for the new year. ;)

    My mother always made mashed potatoes with it because she didn't know how to make the traditional spaetzle. Sometimes we also had dumplings, which she would plop right into the sauerkraut juice to cook. Nom nom nom....

    Ironically, I hate cabbage, but love sauerkraut. Go figure.

    Being from PA, I am not a fan of the "day after" sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce. I have tried it, and I just don't like it. I love stuffing, with or without meat, though. That is my very favorite holiday food - even before pie. And you know how much I LOVE pie.

    Turkey at Thanksgiving, Ham at Christmas, Pork & Sauerkraut at New Year's. Oh, and Chinese on Christmas Eve. Those are our holiday traditions! :)

  2. It's funny you should mention the Chinese on Christmas Eve. I once had a Jewish friend who told me it was her family's tradition (and a lot of Jewish families' tradition) to go out for Chinese and to see a movie on Christmas day.

    Being Christian, I hadn't really thought about it before but those are really your only two options on Christmas Day and Eve as far as what's open and the Jewish folks have the day off from work like we do. Funny how necessity breeds unique family traditions and memories.


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