By Juliana L’Heureux
On the occasion of writing the twelfth Les Franco-Americains Thanksgiving column, I enjoyed a recent lunch conversation with Doris Faucher of Biddeford where we talked about a Franco-American cookbook. Actually, we don't know of any strictly Franco-American cookbook. Although "A Taste of Quebec" by Julian Armstrong is a wonderful Canadian publication, it's not uniquely Franco-American. Church groups publish cookbooks, but, again, the recipes are a hodge-podge of American rather than unique Franco-American recipes.
A Franco-American Thanksgiving celebration centers on activities with a joyous family reunion where some typically ethnic variations adorn an otherwise American menu. Someone (maybe me) could write the special Franco-American recipes into a one of a kind cookbook and the process could begin right here.
For example, our family moved the tradition of serving tourtiere or "pork pie" from Reveillion (Christmas Eve) to Thanksgiving when we eat it like an hors d’oeuvre. Tourtiere is the first chapter of the Franco-American cookbook because there are so many family recipes to include. We drain most fat out of the filling before baking, thereby creating a light and enticing appetizer served, of course, with a selection of homemade relish garnishes. A section of any Franco-American cookbook must contain a variety of assorted relish recipes.
Franco-American Thanksgiving dinner is served in early afternoon, around 1 PM, usually after the family attends a special Mass where the dinner bread is blessed during the religious celebration. Homemade breads are as visible on the Thanksgiving table as the turkey and include many sweetbreads like cranberry, date and nut, zucchini, pumpkin and yeast breads.
Mike Frechette is in charge of our family's Thanksgiving soup (potage), but this specialty course is deferred to later in the day after the family's guests are stuffed with multiple deserts. Mike has a special technique of blending spices, leftover turkey drippings and dinner vegetables into a delicious simmering rich broth robust enough to be enjoyed last for several days after the holiday.
Turkey or "la dinde" is an American Thanksgiving tradition but Franco-Americans fatten up the bird with an unusual ground meat dressing known as "la farce". "La farce" is an acquired taste, not for everyone, but truly delectable for those who grew up with the spicy meat aroma complementing the baked turkey.
Franco-American gravy recipes are made with cornstarch mixed with hot turkey broth. Our family serves flour-based gravy as well as the cornstarch variety so the butter mashed potatoes can be smothered in either sauce and everyone is pleased.
Keeping mémère L’Heureux’s tradition, the family typically serves creamed carrots in her memory. Creamed onions are another favorite but this dish requires lengthy boiling to get the right consistency. Some people undercook the onions before adding the creamed sauce. My son can seriously pout if creamed onions are missing from the Thanksgiving menu.
Deserts are two chapters long in our fantasy Franco-American cookbook. Pumpkin pie and cheesecakes are staples. Lately, our crazy about chocolate family has adopted "Mémère's gateau chocolat avec allusion de peppermint" (hint of mint chocolate cake) as the favored desert. One tradition handed down through generations is Mémère's coconut patty candies. This homemade bon-bon is a very old Franco-American recipe usually handed down by word of mouth but we're lucky to have our instructions in writing.
As always, anyone who wants to sample these Franco-American recipes can send me a double stamped self addressed large envelope. Let me know if you have a favorite and I’ll try a special family search. Happy Thanksgiving.
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Published on November 22, 2002
Copyright 1994-2001, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux