Real Poutines! An Acadian Tradition.
(The original idea for this post was to have a fake beef with Quebec, then the direction looked like it was moving to show my American friends one of my family traditions. I think it turned into a sneak peek into what it’s like to be part of a huge Acadian family? Like most of my posts, I just let them be what they want to be. And like all of my posts, I hope it inspires you to make an effort to do things with your family; may it be the family you’re born into or the one you create for yourself).
When I was growing up no one but Acadians knew what a poutine was. Fast forward a few decades and poutines are now a global thing, but those aren’t real poutines.
Sure french fries, gravy and cheese curds are delicious, but they aren’t what we call poutines.
I am not going to accuse Quebecers of high jacking the name poutine from the Acadians; oh wait, yes I am!! Do Acadians have a beef with Quebec for stealing our poutine name? We do!! Have we ever made a fuss over this theft?? No, no we have not! It’s just not in our nature.
Could our Acadians poutines compete with Quebec poutines in the global market? In a word…no! Our poutines, the real poutines aren’t…how do I say this diplomatically? Let’s just say they aren’t pretty!
What is an Acadian poutine? It’s basically a slimy boiled potato ball with pork in the middle. Am I tempting you yet?
Poutine or poutine acadienne are a staple for French speaking Maritimers (from the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island). Although you can now buy them throughout the year, they have traditionally been made for the Christmas holidays.
Before we dive into things, I do need to share a few key words, so my none-Acadians can follow.
râpures – grated potatoes
poutine – a slimy grayish boiled potato ball
poutine râpé – Acadian poutine, we have had to add the Acadian part since we were ripped off by Québec, lol
râper – verb to grate potatoes
râpe – a home made machine used to grate potatoes. Pronounced rawwwp. This word has an unfortunate pronunciation in English
Épurer – verb to squeeze the water out of grated potatoes
My family has made poutines for generations, there is no recipe per say; you have to “intern” for decades before you can become the top baller. Ok top baller isn’t really a thing to anyone but me, I am hoping it catches on.
I have an un-scientific theory why Acadians originally made poutines and English speaking Maritimers didn’t. I think they just didn’t have the proper manpower needed. Historically, French Catholics had large families while English Protestants had smaller families. I suspect the real reason may have been that the Acadians were poorer and potatoes were cheap and readily available?
My theory is based on the fact that it takes a village to make a batch of poutines. I think the rule is that you need a minimum of 3 aunts, 2 uncles and a combo of 2 nieces/nephew or 2 cousins. One doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide; hey, I think I am going to make poutines today, it takes planning and a team.
In this post I am going to share with you how one Acadian family, mine, keeps the tradition alive.
Most large extended families would have had one or two râpes in the family; yes this word sounds horrible in English, so please refer to my keywords above.
So here’s how it worked in my family growing up. It gets complicated, so please try to follow.
My mother’s father was the top baller because he owned the râpe. He decided when he would make his poutines and the others would plan accordingly. The râpe, again it’s a machine that grates potatoes, would go from house to house to house.
Example: pépère DesRoches, my moms father, would make his on the 21. My mom would make hers on the 23, in the morning. As soon as she was done, she would call my fathers mother and tell her to send someone to pick up the râpe. Once they were done, they would passe it down to my dad’s sister, who would then drop it back off at our house.
I should note that not only were Acadian families large, once you married into another Acadian family the two families often merged to create a super family.
Eventually my moms sister, tante Irène, and my mom got their own râpes, which made our family super fortunate to have 3 in rotation!!
Example of the Acadian super family; my moms sister, tante Irène, who lived across the street from us, wasn’t actually related to my cousins from my dad’s side, who lived next door to us, but she was automatically called ma tante Irène by everyone, related by blood or not. Side note, Acadian families also tended to cluster together. I had 7 cousins living on my street; my brother and I made 9 of us (kids). Needless to say, no one picked on us. The older cousins would look out for the younger cousins; sure the older cousins would beat the shit out of us from time to time, but no one else was allowed to.
Getting back to poutines; you couldn’t just go to the store and buy a râpe, you had to know someone who would make one for you. It was a small motor with a circular thingy that was pierced and would spin quickly and grate the potatoes. It was usually made by someone who worked at the CNR, Canadian National Railway. Ok don’t ask why someone who worked with trains would be making these on the side; it’s too complicated for this post.
Now, let’s fast forward to the present and get to making poutines.
After my moms father passed away, my mom became the top baller. You need a top baller to test the texture and taste the potatoes. The top baller title will make sense, just keep reading.
Today we went to my uncles, my moms brother, with our râpe in hand to help him make his poutines. Because her little brother and his wife, who are both in their sixties have not yet achieved top baller status. She was needed to oversee everything. I guess it’s a bit like the mafia, there can only be one top baller and once top baller status is achieved, he or she rules for life.
The ingredients are very simple, you need potatoes, porc and porc fat. Peeling the potatoes is a pain in the ass. I think that 50 pounds of potatoes will make 47 ish poutines. I am not a top baller, nor do I aspire to be, so I don’t need to know the correct potato ratio.
You also have to cut the meet and fat into small cubes. So far I have avoided having to help peel and cut. When the knives come out, I volunteer to run errands, no one has caught on as of yet!!
The next step is to start passing the potatoes into the potato grating machine, la râpe. Now you maybe wondering if you could use a food processor? You can’t.
Here’s were it starts to get weird, once all the potatoes are grated, we call that la râpure. You have to go through la râpure and remove any chunks of potatoes that weren’t liquefied; does it look yummy yet??
That isn’t the weird part, the Râpure is very liquidity, we use a large measuring cup to scoop some of the râpure into fabric square and we squeeze out the liquid, that is the weird part. And it’s at this stage that the top baller comes into play. The raw squeeze potatoes are mixed in with mashed potatoes. This mixture can’t be too dry or too wet. You need to adjust how much liquid you are squeezing out. The top baller also needs to taste the mixture to make sure it’s salted enough. It looks gross, but remember these are just cooked and raw potatoes.
This next step of making balls is where the baller and top baller names come from. I’ve been calling my aunts and mom the ballers for years, I think it’s funny.
The photo below shows my ballers, my aunt Claudine and my mother, she’s in the red apron. She let me wear my grandfathers white apron this year, which is an honor, she is so happy I am back home. She may also be grooming me to someday be the top baller, but I don’t think I can handle the pressure!
The potato mixture is flattened and the porc is added in the middle. If you put too much meat or your ball walls are too thin, they will bust once dropped into boiling water; please note, ball walls isn’t an official poutine term. Poutines are made in French or Chiac, I am doing my best to translate in English.
As a child, this is the part that you begged to get in on because it’s basically like making snowballs.
The balls are gently dropped into a pots of boiling water. The pots need a constant slow boil. The poutine balls will float to the top and then sink to the bottom of the pot as they cook.
It takes 3 ish hours for them to cook, all the while you need to keep checking to make certain they aren’t boiling too much or too little.
And voila!! They are ready to eat!! The photos above are why our poutines will probably never go global, but trust me they are delicious!
Once my uncle and aunt’s poutines were ready to eat. That evening there were 11 of us for dinner, you don’t have to be invited, you can just show up. It’s also acceptable to show up with an empty pot, because as soon as we make them, we start giving them away. An Acadian will share their poutines freely, but they won’t share their pots, so you have to bring your own!!
As mentioned above, they look slimy, but keep in mind that they are just potatoes and porc, so not so exotic. We eat them with salt and pepper, others add brown sugar, which seems odd to me, but who am I to judge what others put on their slimy potato balls.
We made my uncles poutines on Dec 21, we made my moms poutines on Dec 23. My mother’s sister, came over to help. My brother and I now have more responsibilities since my father has passed. My mother’s brother joins in for the squeezing part.
This process will go on in several of my families homes around town. Once done and the families come together on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the first thing you are asked is: combien de poutines avez-vous fait? Which means how many poutines did you make? The bigger then number the bigger the bragging rights. They will also ask if any have busted, this makes a mess in the pot and is a sign of bad ballers.
Fun fact, the pots are so big that if weather permitting, if it’s cold enough, they are usually stored outside. From the 23 to the 26, there is always a warm pot of poutines on the stove ready to eat. Anyone who enters is offered a poutine. And anyone who is leaving is asked if they want to bring some home.
And this maybe hard for some to wrap their minds around, but we eat these on Christmas morning. Even now my brother, nephew and 3 cousins show up at my moms house Christmas morning for a poutine or two!
That’s my sneak peek at our Acadian tradition of making poutines. I hope you are enlightened and if you are brave enough to want to try one, hit me up next year and I will hook you up!
I hope you had a very Merry Christmas and I wish you and your families a Happy New Year! May your hearts be happy and your bellies be full!