UNE POIGNÉE DED'ÇÂ,
PIS UNE POIGNÉE DED'CITTE
Des recettes à peu près.
ADÈLE SAINT PIERRE
Illustré par Elaine Castonguay
pis Adèle Saint Pierre
A LITTLE OF THIS
AND A LITTLE OF THAT
Recipes by Heart
ADÈLE SAINT PIERRE
Illustrated by Elaine Castonguay
and Adèle Saint Pierre
The long, rectangular table of solid pine,
covered that morning in huge piles of green beans I had helped snip, is
now set. My mother has lined the edge of the table with thirteen plates.
On one side of each plate, she has placed a fork, and at those places designated
to her children old enough to handle one, she has also placed a knife.
Into each glass she has poured the milk we buy from our neighbor, Thompson.
In the middle of the table are several plates piled high with slices of
her homemade white bread, butter, sugar for her and my father's tea, and
a glass full of spoons for the dessert she'll serve after the meal. Because
it is summer, there is also a big bowl of tender garden lettuce seasoned
with salt pork drippings, vinegar, salt and pepper. My mother brings a
large steaming bowl of green beans and baby garden potatoes that have been
cooked with salt pork and chunks of beef. She prefers the taste of salt
pork only in the green beans, but it is important for my father, who works
hard all day, and for my brothers who will spend the afternoon haying,
to have meat.
My father serves himself first. His hands
betray his work: even a good hand-scrubbing before eating hasn't removed
the oil from the creases, or the undersides of his fingernails and the
cuticles. If he is lucky, there will be no customers to disturb his dinner.
Most days, he is not. He never complains when Rudy barks to signal the
arrival of someone, but instead takes his plate and his mug of tea with
him into the garage to change oil or a tire. When my mother has finished
serving us all, and the older children have buttered the bread for the
younger ones, she sits down on the bench to the right of my father's chair,
to the left of Melinda, Jeanette, me and Antoine. Thomas and Jean are at
the end of the table opposite my father, and the other five--Marriette,
Corrine, Ida, Diane, and Lena--sit on the bench to the left of my father's
place. When we have finished eating, sopping up any juice with chunks of
bread, we flip our plates over to be served a piece of upside down cake.
My mother asks out loud to no one but herself what she will make for dinner,
and I run outside to play under the afternoon sun, Rudy at my heels.
On my parents' farm, we harvested our own
vegetables to eat and preserve, raised our own pigs and chickens, and made
our own maple syrup. We bought our milk, unpastuerized, with the cream
on top, from our neighbor. We picked wild blueberries, raspberries and
blackberries. Beyond the part I played in the work involved, I never gave
much thought to food. In our house, my mother did all the cooking, and
all that was expected of me was to sit down with the rest of my brothers
and sisters in my allotted space three times a day to eat what she made.
Like any child, I had my likes and dislikes (the latter of the two being
relatively few, certainly in light of my mother's militaristic, no-room-for-questions
approach to feeding us), but as I started going to school and seeing what
other people my age were eating, I became increasingly unsatisfied with
my mother's idea of food. Her homemade bread paled suddenly next to store-bought
bread, the graham crackers dipped in melted chocolate didn't quite have
the same effect on my peers as their oreos did on me, and little pre-packaged
bags of chips and crackers became some kind of irrational necessity. My
mother's argument against buying these things--that the other kids' mothers
cared less about them by not taking the time to make them the things she
made for us--was not satisfactory reasoning, and I believed myself deprived
of all that was good in the world.
As a student at the University of Maine
at Farmington, I got my share of store-bought food. Being the second to
youngest in my family, I had never really learned how to cook, and under
the constraints of an undergraduate budget, my weekly groceries consisted
mostly of pasta, pasta sauce, bread and cold cuts and tomatoes for sandwiches.
I missed my mother's cooking. I longed for homemade bread with her jam
in the morning. I wished to walk into my kitchen at night and have it be
filled with the smell of onions and peppers frying in salt pork drippings.
It never occurred to me to do the same. I was not my mother, and only she
could cook like that. The kitchens in my various apartments were small,
shared spaces; nothing like the large, well-lit place in which my mother
created her dishes. I spent a semester abroad in France, the culinary capital
of the world, and yet came home after three months of eating mainly in
the cafeteria with no new outlook on food preparation. I did, however,
return to the United States feeling somehow like I belonged in France.
I liked the way they ate--that is to say at specific times, sitting down
and talking during and after the meal, and most importantly, with limits
to quantity. It would only be three years later, after spending two years
in this country, that I would come to understand the quality of food, the
importance of seeking out and preserving that quality, and the parallels
my own parents' eating habits made with the French, their long lost ancestors.
When I graduated from UMF, I took a position
teaching history and geography to French high school students in Le Mans,
a city in western France. Until I could locate an apartment, I lodged with
Annick and Yves, friends of my French university professor. Yves was an
amazing chef. On my first Sunday staying with them, he took me to the open
air market to buy the food he needed to prepare his grand Sunday afternoon
meal. The odor of cheeses, roasting fowl, fresh baked bread and fruit filled
the air. Old ladies pulled small carts full of fresh food, vendors called
out their prices and joked with their competitors about who offered the
better product, and young couples with children strolled up and down the
rows, buying what they needed until the market came again on Wednesday.
Yves knew many of the vendors by name, and each one we came to was introduced
to the American girl starving for a taste of real food. I was the daughter
of a farmer, a French Canadian one at that, and this alone exempted me
from the American stereotype of capitalistic overweight people walking
around with a coke in one hand and a super-sized hamburger in the other,
so I didn't take offense to his remarks. I liked Yves, and I liked his
humor, and I especially liked that he had taken me under his wing and was
introducing me to the world of food. We went home that day, and I helped
him prep one of the best meals I had ever eaten in my life.
Over the next month, and occasionally in
the ensuing two years, I would help him prepare these meals. After bellowing
in his rumbling, baritone voice that Americans had no place in his kitchen,
he would put different piles of vegetables on the table in the dining room.
Sitting opposite me, he would demonstrate how he wanted each one cut, looking
over the rims of the glasses on the end of his nose every few seconds to
see if I understood. After giving me the knife, he'd put both hands on
the table and push himself to standing. "Now shut up and get to work!"
he'd say. From wherever she was in the house, Annick would yell, "Yves!",
but he was already gone into the kitchen and the sound of clattering pots
and utensils echoed off the stone walls. After a short while, he'd charge
into the dining room to check on my progress, gasping and saying in a high
pitched voice, "Ah! Adèle, are you sleeping in here? Ah! The whole
thing will be ruined! Annick!" Sometimes, he would take something from
my finished pile, take a bite of it, and then throw it back in. When my
work was done, I graduated to the kitchen where I got to watch Yves cook.
He never measured anything, and almost always tasted everything before,
during and after cooking. Before adding any spices, he would open the container
and put it under my nose. He'd announce it's name, and say in English,
"Niiice!" before taking a pinch of it and adding it to the dish. As the
smells of this wonderful meal infiltrated all the corners of the house
three or four hours later, Annick would come out of hiding. She would ask
what wine would go with the meal, and Yves would holler, "No women in my
wine cellar!," before dropping his voice to a normal tone to say, "Okay,
well, better you than this American!" and Annick would descend the stairs
with very specific directions for the wine he thought would go best with
his dish. When she emerged, we would sit down to eat: Yves in a chair at
the end of the wooden, rectangular table, and me and Annick on the benches
lining each side.
After two years of living in Le Mans, I
came back to Maine for graduate study in French at the University of Maine,
Orono. That summer, I had bought my first cookbook by the Shakers at the
Shaker museum store on Sabbath Day Lake Pond. I was interested by the simplicity
and resourcefulness of these people, of whom there were only six living
members. The black ink drawings of plump-looking men and women gathering
vegetables, churning butter or knitting in a rocking chair felt inviting.
None of the recipes called for anything that couldn't logically be found
in the average kitchen, even mine, and within a matter of months I had
tried many of them, earmarking the pages of those I especially liked.
In January, I started dating Josh, a tall,
lean, English major with hair that never did the same thing twice. About
a month later, my brother had given me some frozen ground venison from
that fall's deer, so I called Josh and told him I was going to make Steak
au Poivre and that he was welcome to eat dinner with me. There's no telling
what he was expecting from the patty of meat covered with the thin red
wine sauce and onions on his plate, but when he took his first bite, he
closed his eyes, put his fork down on the table, and leaned against the
wall, rubbing his head against it like a cat would when it is content.
And I knew he was mine. Though he differed in every other way from all
the men I had ever known, one thing was the same: His heart could be won
through his stomach.
Now it is two years later, and I coordinate
a food pantry and make teen lunch at a soup kitchen in Portland, Maine.
On an average day, my volunteer prep staff consists of three to five adults
with differing degrees of downs syndrome, all of whom, with the exception
of one, must never be given a knife, and Barry, a retired advertising agent
with a big heart and a funny bone. Paramedics are in the dining room helping
a man who has just had a seizure as the breakfast crowd clears out and
the English as a Second Language group takes its place in one of the dining
room corners. One of the breakfast volunteers stays to make quiches at
one end of the 12-foot stainless steel work counter. When the phone rings,
it could be the woman in charge of food rescue asking me to move the van
so she can park, someone from the upstairs day shelter wondering if anyone
can make an emergency food box for a client, or a community member asking
either about volunteer opportunities or the pantry hours. When the doorbell
rings, it could be someone donating anywhere from a bag of canned goods
to a truckful of food that I have to take care of or an intoxicated man
who, upon taking shelter with a friend or two in the kitchen doorway, has
leaned against the buzzer by mistake. A separate charity organization shares
a part of the kitchen space with us to prepare lunch for the adult community
of Portland. There are anywhere from 5 to 8 volunteers from this organization,
9 if one of them brings her 4-year-old granddaughter who likes to turn
the light off when I am inside the walk-in refrigerator. In the pantry
food storage area, the large can of red kidney beans I know I saw the day
before has disappeared somewhere, and as I search through the dozens of
other boxes for more cans, one of them spills on the floor and I have to
clean up the mess. Sometime during all of this, lunch is made: two large
pots of chili, one meat and one vegetarian, a salad consisting of a medley
of raw and sautéed vegetables, some bags of cornbread donated that
morning from a local baker, and a huge salad of mixed fresh fruit. At 11:45,
it is taken away to the teen center by one of the staff. Only then can
I take off my apron and walk home to enjoy the quiet of my apartment for
I think about my mother often these days.
I imagine I am like her as I put on my apron and set to cooking, whether
it be in my own kitchen or at my workplace. Though I may credit the lessons
I have learned about cooking and the importance of using natural and organic
ingredients in my recipes to far away people and places, I take comfort
in the fact that I could have learned them without ever having to leave
my own mother's kitchen. Life is funny that way: my travels have brought
me home, and I am not a stranger here.
I approached the idea of this cookbook almost
immediately upon the completion of my master's thesis entitled An Historical
and Phonetic Study of Palatalization in Quebec. When I embarked on this
project, it had been one year since my return from France where I lived
for two years. It had been almost ten years since I had started studying
standard French, and more than 13 years since the death of my paternal
grandfather, which marked the decline in my use of the French dialect I
was raised speaking. Through the transcription of the taped conversations
of three of my aunts, my mother's youngest sisters who continue to live
together on the family farm, through subsequent question and answer sessions
with them and my mother, and through the research I was conducting
on pre-Quiet Revolution French spoken in Quebec, I found myself relearning
my own maternal tongue. I had, of course, never forgotten how to hear it
and understand it, but it had been more than a decade since I had spoken
it, and I discovered that the relearning process involved the same kind
of work it took me to learn standard French. There were patterns to memorize,
vocabulary to learn, and an accent to master, all of them unique to the
dialect that traveled across the Canadian border into Maine more than 100
As I researched and wrote my thesis, I
thought a great deal about the advantage my mother and her sisters had
over me. While the words and phrases fell out of their mouths naturally
and without need for prior reflection, I struggled to keep my consciousness
of standard French out of the pronunciation and vocabulary use of my maternal
tongue. Despite my troubles, I became aware throughout the year how comfortable
it felt to speak my mother's French. It felt like going home. I found myself
picking up the phone more and more often to call my mother, just to hear
her speak, and more times than not, my excuse for calling involved cooking:
how long did she cook a roast? how much butter did she use to make a white
sauce? I could have looked up the answer to any of these questions in my
various cookbooks, but I discovered that my mother was the most valuable
source of information I had. Thus I became aware of yet one more advantage
my mother (and later her sisters) had over me: an almost innate, ingrained
knowledge for cooking that doesn't involve reflection, that doesn't waste
time with books and measuring. It is, then, like the language they speak,
something that can be lost if no one takes the time to record it.
As I compiled the recipes my mother and
her sisters learned from their mother into one book, I also envisioned
a sort of study that would be a written testimony to the language in which
those recipes were communicated to me. This language, which has its roots
in 16th-century France, is unique in the sense that it has preserved what
many classify today as archaic, or old, French. When the first colonists
came to the new world, they came from different regions in France, each
of which is said to have had its own fairly unique dialect. However, they
all shared an understanding for a more standardized, common language and
were able to live amongst each other with no real problems of communication
upon arrival in the new world. Early contact with native peoples enhanced
the vocabulary of the colonists as they adopted words like ataca (cranberry)
into their language. Even the word Quebec comes from a native word meaning
"where the river narrows". The French foothold in the new world would be
challenged with the fall of Acadia in 1713 to the English and later sealed
with the conquest of Quebec in 1763. Though the English deported the Acadians
from their land in what is now called "Le Grand Dérangement" (1755-1763),
for refusing to take oaths of allegiance to the language and the religion
of the crown of England, they allowed the French-speaking colonists in
Quebec to continue practicing Catholicism and speaking French. Contact
in the cities with English speakers, (and later Americans) who controlled
the economy, government and social services in what is now Canada, would
also influence the French language which adopted the words and phrases
necessary to express itself in a changing world1.
When my grandparents came to Maine, they
brought with them this language. They were farmers, uneducated in reading
and writing, a factor that greatly influenced the evolutionary path of
the language that would be passed on to me at my birth in 1975. It includes
phenomena like palatalization, the topic of my thesis, in which the articulators,
(the tongue, teeth, lips, etc.) unconsciously produce t's for k's and g's
for d's and vice versa (like in the word moqué for moitié,
meaning half), and reinforcement, the technical term behind the g sound
we hear at the end of words that end in the standard French yod in words
like fille, and travaille (girl and work). It also includes the loss of
clear word boundaries. Take for example, the words de ça, meaning
"of that". Without the written knowledge needed to reinforce that this
phrase consists of two distinct words, who is to say that it is two? The
phrase de ça, then becomes one word, and it becomes necessary to
set off this word with another de to preserve the meaning of the phrase
and the result is ded'ça. We see the same phenomena in English.
When speakers of English say "a whole nother..", for example, they are
exhibiting their confusion for the boundaries of words. Another, which
is one word, takes on the quality of two words A and nother. This confusion
does not by any means prove the speaker stupid; instead, it shows two things:
though the speaker may be ultimately ignorant of the original boundaries
(or lack thereof) in the word another, he/she is exhibiting an understanding
for the manipulation of his/her own language, that is to say, that a is
an indefinite article introducing a noun. Thus, a speaker would understand
the word another, to have the same quality as the phrase a cat.
This cookbook strives to celebrate the
women in my family and their innate knowledge for cooking, a skill and
art they have learned from their mother and continue to practice on a daily
basis. It also strives to be true to the language in which the recipes
were communicated to me. Their manner of cooking and the language they
speak risk being lost if they are not recorded. Let this book, then, be
a humble picture of the lives of 6 amazing women whose generous and simple
hearts testify to the rich and beautiful history of French culture in North
1 Poirier, Claude. La langue parlée en
Nouvelle France: vers une convergence des explications. Dans Les origines
du français québécois. Raymond Mougeon and Edouard
Beniak, 1994. Sainte-Foy: Les Presses de l'Université Laval, p.
El corton, c'est comme un delicacy, on vâ
dzire. Ça se mange chaud ou bédon frette su dzu pain de femme,
surtout quand qu'i sort de fourneau. Pepère, parsâume, mangeait
çâ des fouet avec des patates, pis menonque Frank, lui, i
mange çâ s'es toasts pour el dejeuner.
Pour faire el bon corton, faut user la partsie
d'a fesse pis el boutte d'a patte dzu cochon, el bartan, qu'on appelle.
Y a un os là-dedans qui fait el bon goût dzu corton, mais
si t'a pâs de cochon à la maison à tsuer, tsu peux
t'acheter dzu pâurc au staûre pis ça vâ aîte
Quand que pepère tsuait les cochons, i
mettait toutte la panse s'a tab, pis memère trippait toutte çâ.
Ça s'appelle el 'grâs de panne'. Quand que c'était
toutte rôtée ded'là, alle coupait çâ en
marceaux pour el faire routsir. Comme pour el laûrd salé,
a finissait par awoaîr d'a graîsse pis des grillades. A prennait
les grillades toutte crispy, a les coupait, pis a mettait çâ
dans ses cortons. Mais, bon, t'es pas obligé de faire çâ,
4 liv de pâurc
1 gros agnon coupé par tsits marceaux
4 cloves d'ail, écraûsés
1 c. à tab de sel
A moqué d'une c. à thé de
Dans un gros chaudron, mets une quâute et
demi de l'eau, ton pâurc, l'agnon,
l'ail, el sel pis el poaîv. Chauffes-le
jusqu'au temps que l'eau bouig, baîsses ton feu su medium-low, pis
couves ton plât. Laisses cuire el pâurc jusqu'au temps qu'i
seg ben cuItte, à peu près un heure, un heure et demi. Pis
là, faut que tsu watches
pour pâs que ton eau baîsse trop,
on va dzire plusse que la moqué.
Dans ce cas lâ, mets un peu plusse d'eau.
Après que c'est ben cuItte, laisses el
paûrc refridzire, rôtes la
viande d'après l'os, pis haches-la dans
un tsit moulin à viande.
Armets el porc haché dans el plât
avec l'eau, l'agnon pis l'ail. Baîsses
ton feu encore plusse pis laisses-le cuire sans
couvaîr dzurant 10 à 15
mInutes. Goûtes-le pour voir s'il est assez
salé. Après que toutte l'eau
évapâure, paquetes el corton dans
dzu tupperware ou bédon dans des
tsits plâts de beurre ou bédon dans
des plâts un peu plus beau si
que t'âs d'a vIsIte. Tsu peux meime el
geler si tsu filles pour.
Creton is a sort of delicacy, you might say. You
can eat it warm or cold on a slice of homemade bread, especially when it
has just come out of the oven. Pepère would sometimes eat his creton
with potatoes, and Mononcle Frank will spread it on his toast for breakfast.
To make really good creton, you should use the
bartan, the part of the pig that includes the haunches and the leg. There's
a bone in there that gives creton its taste, but if you don't have a pig
at home to slaughter, you can buy some pork at the store and it will be
When pepère used to kill his pigs, he would
bring the intestines into the house and put it on the table, then emère
would go to work taking all the fat off of it. She would cut the fat, chop
it up, and fry it. In doing this, she ended up with grease and crispy rinds
which she would chop up and add to her creton. But you don't have to do
this if you don't want!
4 pounds pork
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tblsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Place all the ingredients in a large pot with
1 and 1/2 quarts of water.
Bring everything to a boil, then drop the temperature
and cover the pot. Cook the pork for approximately
1 and 1/2
hours. Check the water level from time to time
make sure it never diminishes past the half mark.
If it does, you can add a little more water.
When the pork is cooked, take it out of the
water and allow it to cool. Cut all the meat
the bone and grind it or chop it very fine if
you don't have a
grinder. Place the ground pork back in the water.
Drop the heat
down to low and cook, uncovered, for another
10 to 15 minutes.
Taste it to see if there is enough salt, and
add more if necessary. When
all the water has evaporated, pack the creton
into tupperware, empty
butter containers, or fancier pots for company's
sake. You can freeze it.
PETTES DE SAHRS
Tsu peux manger les pettes de sahr drette
qu'i sortent de fourneau avec un peu
de creume par dessus, ou bédon frette.
Une croûte (p. 34)
A moqué d'une bolle de creume
2 bolles de suc brun
Chauffes el fournea à 350° pis
graîsses une câsserole avec dzu beurre.
Brosses la creume avec el suc brun. Roules platte
ta croûte en carré un 1/4 de pouce d'épais.
Graîsses la mélange de creume pis
suc dessus, pis roules ta croûte d'un boutte à l'aute.
Coupes el rouleau en marceaux d'une pouce d'épais
ensâume côte à côte
dans la câsserole. Mets-les dans el fourneau pour
35 à 40 mInutes. Armets el syrup qui coule
en dehors back dans
les milieu avec une cuillaîre dzurant qu'i
You can eat nuns' farts straight out of the
oven with a little cream on top, or cold.
They're great either way!
1 pie crust (p. 34)
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 350*
and butter a casserole dish.
Mix the cream with the sugar. Roll the pie crust
into a square on a floured surface to about a 1/4 inch thickness.
Spread the cream and sugar syrup onto the crust,
and roll it from one end to the other.
Cut the roll into 1/2 inch pieces and arrange
them side by side
in the casserole dish so that they are touching.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
While they are baking, spoon any syrup that spills
over back into the centers.