While speaking with my sister, this morning, she reminded me that today, January 15, is the anniversary of the day our brother, John, went into hospital. It was from this date, onward, that our family was sucked into the vortex of the medical system and diagnostic testing. As it would turn out, our brother would celebrate his last birthday in Peter Lougheed Hospital.
I begin this particular post, writing about my brother, because I’m thinking about comfort food and what happens when people gather with foods that are familiar and rooted in memory. These foods will often vary depending on cultural context…sometimes an affordability context…regardless, if my readers look back into their journeys, they will find foods that mark various moments along their journeys. Stories and narratives will endlessly surface of childhood and Mom or Grandma or Great Gramma’s cooking.
For example, if I type the words, FRIED BOLOGNA (Baloney) SANDWICH…what memories are evoked?
We brought foods to hospital and those we love, also fed us. My brother enjoyed jello and Cozy Shack rice pudding during those end days. He also enjoyed fresh ju-jubes for the duration of his hospital stay. My sister-in-law sent loaves. John shared birthday cake. Spaghetti was brought from home. Things we create in the kitchen, we have control over (usually). Sharing food creates a feeling of joy, constancy and being rooted. I am grateful for how food brought some pleasure to my brother in his last months. Now, the remainder of this blog post will explore one particular recipe that comes from my memory banks and my Acadian family’s tradition.
Our little Airforce family found itself in Quebec and New Brunswick for two of its postings. These postings gave some proximity to my Great Grandparents, Mamie (Sugar Arsenault) and Papie (Gabriel Gallant) and my great uncles and aunties.
My Grandmother, in back and my mother, directly in front of her. Jimmy Fardy, my Mom’s cousin is directly to her right.
My Mamie, with my mother in her arms.
I knew when I went to Prince Edward Island that I was among some of the dearest people who were in my mother’s life. I knew, also, that when we traveled there, my mother was home.
Memories of that little Summerside house on Front Street are connected with wood stoves, home made rolled cigarettes, potatoes grated and cooked up into pancakes, horse drawn milk delivery wagons, coal chutes, seaside smells carried on the wind, bingo chips, coffee, bottles on the kitchen table, loud laughter and kitchen gatherings.
It was in 2015, when I attended a library program with my friend, Pat, that I first considered researching this childhood dish. The topic of the presentation was on foods as they relate to a cultural road trip across Canada. The presenter was going to be Julie Van Rosendaal, but as it turned out, she required a replacement. The session did not disappoint.
Shortly after the session, I sent my Mom’s youngest sister an e mail. “I was telling Dad about a cookbook that was mentioned at a Library program I attended last night. It’s called Feast: An Edible Roadtrip. I asked the speaker if the recipe for “Rapeur” (don’t know the spelling) was in it. One Acadian lady sitting next to me said it was called Rappi Pie hmmm…Dad told me that you make Mamie’s recipe and I was hoping you might send it to me. I know it’s a big job to make and that it needs a special touch to turn out right, but I would like to share it with my daughters. If you would be so kind…I’d really appreciate it. Kath”
I sent that note in 2015 and received an expedient reply that included these steps. I quickly learned that the spelling of the recipe was Rapure and that its translation is coming from the word grate in french.
[cheese, carrots] râper
This recipe was followed by one through the post…thank you, Auntie Pat.
Some time during the Christmas break, I decided to invite a small circle of friends to the house to share some Clam Chowder, also made in my mother’s east coast tradition. Clam Chowder also varies depending on where you grew up in eastern Canada.
With the invitation to my friends, came an opportunity to try making my very first Rapure, without any of my matriarchs present for help. My friend, Hollee, was visiting from Vancouver in order to attend her Auntie’s 100th birthday, so she became my cheerleader as I endeavored to bring my east coast traditions in comfort food, to life. I remember, well, this dish being prepared by my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother and my Mom. It is important to me that I share this, along the journey, with my children. One thing I decided, after looking over the recipes and speaking with Hollee, I was going to borrow my daughter’s food processor!!
The Rapure brought back particular aromas in the little PEI kitchen of my memory, pork and onion fried up on the wood stove, along with a scoop of lard. This dish, along with my mother’s Meat Pies, was very much a symbol of home for me.
Nervous, the night before, I spent a lot of time seeking out Youtube videos, learning for the most part, that the Acadians from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, were using chicken stock and chicken in recipes that they called Rappie Pie.
On the Arsenault Facebook group, I put out an all-call for recipes and these are some from the Rappie Pie tradition.
These were the posters’ connections with their recipes.
Judy Arsenault I recently made a Rapure from the cookbook Abram-Village Handcraft Co-Op Recipes (which I purchased from the Bottle House (PEI) that my cousin use to own) and it didn’t turn out. Has anyone used this recipe from this cookbook? How did it turn out for you
Thelma Arsenault Hack I have varying results with rapure, regardless of the recipe. Choice of potatoes makes a difference – I don’t think ‘baking potatoes’ work as well. And whether the grated potatoes are rinsed and dried well makes a difference. It’s a lot of work and very frustrating when the results are not good. I’ll be interested in what others comment. Good luck to you.
Jim N Wendy Spain This recipe was made by my great grandmother Catherine (Lefave) Doucette, from Nova Scotia. I recently typed it as shown, for a family reunion. 🙂
With great courage, Hollee and I peeled 10 lbs of potatoes and I chopped up the pork roast into 1 cm cubes, setting aside the pork fat to coat the roaster surface, keeping all chilled and prepared for the morning’s culinary adventure and the visit with my friends. I decided to stick closely to my Auntie’s recipe.
At 7:00 am…I began my processing of the potatoes and put my pork to browning.
I’m going to log my notes here, for future reference. I had my daughter’s food processor set for grating and tried both the medium grate and the fine grate. In future, I would use the fine grate setting. Whoosh…out spewed the gratings of ten pounds of potatoes. The kitchen smelled yummy and CBC radio was turned up, as the pork, onion, salt and pepper were bubbling in the 350 oven. (use the roasting pan for this)
Once the potatoes were done, I quickly covered them with wrap so that oxidization wouldn’t happen. (green bowl) I cut up my cheese cloth and began the process of removing starch from the potatoes. (I will use my red bowl for this next time.) I transferred my shrunken potatoes into my large soup pot. Once finished the cheese cloth step, I added the yummy pork and onion to the big soup pot and mixed and mixed and mixed some more.
This is the step where I decided that in future I would use the fine grate. I remembered my Great Grandmother’s Rapure being smoother in texture, but being coated with crunch. This is what my kitchen looked like, right before beginning my Clam Chowder.
From the mixing stage, I pressed the mixture into my roasting pan…nicely greased with some cubes of pork fat (not all), and pulled from the oven. (don’t burn your hands, here) I roasted the Rapure at 275 for an hour and turned it up for three hours at 350. Next time, two hours at 350 for me!
Thank goodness, Wendy brought a salad as it made the appearance of the square of Rapure look more appetizing, on the plate. I began apologizing before we even sat down because I knew already that the topping was TOO crunchy.
My guests are such dear friends that I could tell them I expected them all to try a piece, as I was very much in the mood to share my PEI nostalgia. They all carried on, without complaint. I love them so much! Photo Credit below: Wendy Lees.
Later, I discovered that the crust softens with just a short wait after removing from the oven, so I would serve it a little differently next time, and definitely crust up instead of flipping it over (lol). I have been happily nibbling on the leftover Rapure ever since and I am generally really happy with the flavours and it very much reminds me of Mom, my Grandmother and my Great Grandmother.
See the next post…the feast…for the treasured gathering.
When I remember my brother, I also remember the family meals that brought us together. I remember celebrations and loud responses to the yummy-ness of food! Much of the recollections of family come with the memory of food. I am so grateful for this.
Thanks to Lauraine, who remembered that her mother made ‘Snowballs’, those red cherries wrapped up in coconut buttery sweetness and rolled in graham cracker crumbs. Isn’t comfort food amazing?