La nourriture et la cuisine acadienne / Acadian Food
After speaking to Pépère Comeau, I really understood how self-sufficient the Acadians were, how they got almost everything they needed to live from the land. They grew grains and some vegetables (peas and corn) in the dyked fields, vegetables in the vegetable garden, kept cows, sheep and pigs, and they fished. It seems like they were able to get all the food they needed: bread, vegetables and meat. But I wondered what kind of meals they ate.
In French class, we’ve been talking about French foods. In France, they eat things like escargots, snails, soupe à l’oignon, French onion soup, and boeuf bourguignon, Burgundy beef. There are certain ways to make these dishes that make them typically French. What kinds of foods are typically Acadian? What are some Acadian dishes? I went out to the kitchen to speak to Mémère. As Pépère said, it is not his area of expertise.
“Mémère, what kinds of foods did the Acadians eat?” I asked. Mémère was bent over the sink, cutting and peeling some turnips. She stopped for a moment, looked up at me and smiled. “I heard you talking to P épère. What did you learn about the kinds of food that the Acadians had?” She turned my question back to me as she turned back to the turnips.
“Alors, they grew grains in the dyked fields. They could make bread with that,” I began.
“Oui. C’est tout?” she asked.
“Non. They could make soup with things like barley, peas and corn,” I replied.
“Correcte! Et tu sais, soupe aux pois secs, pea soup, is an Acadian dish,” she said.
“Vraiment? I didn’t know that was Acadian!” I cried.
“Oui! It was usually eaten in the winter and always included salt pork, meat which they got from the pigs they usually kept behind the house.” Thud. A piece of turnip landed in the sink.
“Et what do we usually eat soupe aux pois secs avec?” she continued. I grinned, not only because I knew the answer, but also because she had made a little rhyme.
“Ployes,* bien sûr!” I answered triumphantly.
“Et ployes are made with?”
“Oui! When the Acadians returned après la Grand Dérangement, they had to find new places to live because the British were living on their former lands. Some Acadians moved into the Madawaska Territory of New Brunswick and the Upper St. John Valley. Unlike the fertile soil of the dyked fields, the land they lived on did not have soil as rich. They found only hearty crops succeeded, and one was bockouite,* buckwheat, which is a plant that can grow in almost any climate and has a short growing season. Donc, bockouite eventually replaced wheat, and a new type of bread, ployes were created. Ployes are unique to the Madawaska Territory. C’est le temps for you to have the recipe, eh?” Mémère nodded in my direction, and then in the direction of her recipe box. I knew our ploye recipe had been passed down through the family for generations. It is only recently that it has been written down. I took the recipe box off the shelf and opened it. The ploye recipe was in the front. I copied it for myself.
1 cup buckwheat flour 3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup white flour 1 cup boiling water
1 Tbsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the cold water and stir to form a thick dough. Then, add the boiling water and stir well, making a light, smooth batter. Pre-heat a poëlonne,* metal skillet, on high. Do not grease it. Test the heat by dropping a small amount of batter on the surface. The batter should crackle or sizzle on contact. When the poëlonne is hot enough, spoon enough batter on the surface to make a 4 to 8 inch pancake. Cook the ployes without flipping them. The batter will become yellow and should make small holes qu’on appelle les yeux. When the top surface is dry, remove from la poëlonne, stack on a plate and cover them with to keep them warm and moist. Serve in place of bread at any meal, or with butter and molasses or maple syrup for dessert.
“Ployes can be eaten for le déjeuner, le dîhner et le souper. C’est délicieux, n’est-ce pas?”
“Oui! Mémère, in French class the teacher said that in France, le déjeuner is lunch and le dîhner is dinner. Why do we say le déjeuner for breakfast and le dîhner for lunch?” This had been bothering me for some time now. I am always getting confused in French class!
“Ah, bonne question. The Acadian people lived off the land, so they got up early in the morning to do their chores around the farm. When it was time for breakfast, they had already worked up a big appetite. Breakfast was the biggest meal of the day. In France, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Donc, even though they happen at different times of the day, le déjeuner is the word for the biggest meal of the day. C’est la même with le dîhner. It is the second biggest meal in both France and Acadia. Enfin, because the Acadians ate their smallest meal at the end of the day, it didn’t seem right to use the word petit déjeuner, so they used the word souper, which they probably borrowed from the English word supper,” Mémère explained.
“Astheur, what else did Pépère tell you about the Acadians?” she continued.
“He said that they had a vegetable garden, but he never told me what kind of vegetables they grew,” I realized.
“Bon, à l’origine, they grew beets, carrots, parsnips, onions, potatoes, beans, cabbage, et bien sûr, les naveaux,* turnips!” she exclaimed, as she tossed the piece of turnip she had just finished peeling into a bowl. “Après la Grande Dérangement, encore, the land wasn’t like the dyked marsh, so the Acadian settlers grew hardy vegetables that could survive the frost. Les patates,* potatoes, became a staple in the Acadian diet. Ce soir, I’m making soupe au navet, turnip soup, another Acadian dish, with two main vegetables, naveaux et patates, et encore, avec salt pork.”
“The Acadians ate a lot of pork, didn’t they, Mémère?” I suddenly realized.
“Oui,” she nodded. “They had cows, but they didn’t eat beef much. Tu sais pourquoi?” she asked. I shook my head. “Parce que they needed the cows for milk!”
“Ah, je vois.”
“Et even though they had sheep, they didn’t eat a lot of mutton. Pourquoi?” she asked.
I was catching on. “Parce que they needed the sheep for wool!”
“Exactement. They also had chickens.”
“C’est vrai. The Acadians rarely killed any young animals so that they could get the most out of the animals. They usually killed older animals for meat, and used the hide of cows and sheep to make leather, and the feathers of chickens to stuff pillows,” Mémère explained. “An Acadian meat dish que j’adore is Viande Fricassée, fricasséed meat.”
“Moi aussi!” I agreed. I licked my lips thinking about it.
Mémère had finally finished with the turnips. The pot was now filled with pieces of turnip and carrots. She covered the vegetables with water, and moved the pot to the stove. “Tu voudrais the recipe for Viande Fricassée, itou?” Mémère asked.
“Oui, oui!” I replied, nodding fast and furiously.
Mémère reached for the recipe box and quickly pulled out the tattered recipe. It was obviously a favorite. “A l’origine, fricassée was a way to use leftover meat. Aujourd’hui, it is usually made with fresh beef. Voilà,” she said, handing over the recipe for me to copy.
2 pounds fatty beef 1 cups water
2 Tbsp. fat 1 Tbsp. salted herbs
1 onion, chopped 4 potatoes, sliced
salt and pepper
Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes. Brown the cubes in the fat in a poëlonne. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown. Add salt, pepper, water and herbs. Scrape the bottom of the pot to make sure that the beef has browned thoroughly. Simmer until meat is tender. Add potatoes and simmer for about 30 minutes. Serve with ployes.
As I was finishing, Mémère said, “Tu sais, this dish is called Patates-à-Bernard in Madawaska.”
“Pourquoi?” I asked, wondering who Bernard was.
“Je ne sais pas!” Mémère replied. “En tout cas, I know you don’t like fish, but you should know that fish was part of almost every meal for the Acadians. Mais, the Acadians also hunted and ate lapin des bois or wild rabbit, l’orignal or moose, deer, porcupine, squirrel, groundhog and beaver.”
Some of those animals people hunt today, but I couldn’t believe people used to eat porcupine and squirrels! “Mémère! Ce n’est pas vrai! They didn’t eat porcupine!”
“C’est vrai!” she said, and she pulled a recipe book down from the shelf and showed me the recipe for roasted porcupine. UGH! “The traditional lunch while out hunting was thinly sliced pieces of roasted venison, beef or pork, served cold and dipped in fancy molasses. When Pépère’s Pépère worked in the lumber camps, the traditional déjeuner for the Acadians was homemade baked beans sweetened with fancy molasses. They also ate homemade crusty bread with extra salty real butter and a cup of sweetened black tea.” Mémère smiled.
“What else did they eat?” This was really interesting!
“Alors, bien sûr, there were desserts! There were lots of apple trees, and lots of grainage,* or berries, les bleuets,* or blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, et les pommes de pré* or cranberries, for making pâté,* or pies. The Acadians also tapped the maple trees for maple syrup, and traded with the British for molasses from the Carribean.”
Mémère went to the cookie jar and pulled out two molasses cookies, one for me and one for her. I already had this Acadian recipe, and I knew this was Mémère’s favorite. Moi, aussi!