Claudette Arsenault is hoping to break her record this year.
Arsenault baked 2,514 Christmas meat pies in 2016 and she’s hoping 2017 will bring a new personal best.
Arsenault has been a baker and cook at La Galette Blanche, the kitchen at Abram-Village’s Village Musical Acadien, for several years, but has been making meat pies for much longer.
Arsenault learned how to make the savoury dish from her mom. She went on to start a small home-based bakery and sold her own meat pies from there for many years.
These days she has access to the amenities of a commercial kitchen – and she needs them. Pies fly off the shelves this time of year.
For many people in the Island’s Acadian communities, meat pies are almost singularly associated with Christmas. Some of that community’s other traditional foods like rapure are also made at Christmas time, but for many it is the meat pie that heralds the holidays.
The dish has, over time, become more of a year-round meal but for many it’s still mostly a Christmas treat.
“I know it’s year-round now, but you still have to have a meat pie or two in your fridge for Christmas,” said Arsenault.
“It’s the smell. Here now, because we make it so often, you don’t always notice it, but once in a while you happen to go outside or something and coming in again you can get that Christmas smell.”
Muriel Bernard, also a cook at La Galette Blanche, agreed that it’s the aroma of the pies cooking that puts many people in the Christmas mood.
“There’s just something about that smell. It’s not Christmas if you don’t have meat pie. We were brought up like that,” said Bernard.
Arsenault said her family’s tradition, one they shared with many in the community, was to put pies in the oven before leaving for midnight mass on Christmas Eve, then snacking on them when they got home, and having the leftovers for breakfast.
Many people in the community still make their own meat pies, she added, but it can be a big job by the time the meat is cooked and deboned and the actual pie is baked. Many folks will fill their fridges with bought pies from a handful of people who make them as a home business, from church groups who sell them as fundraisers or from bakeries.
The basic recipe is pretty similar, but there is enough variation that all are distinct in some way.
When she made her own pies for sale, Arsenault added poultry seasoning and caraway seeds to her mixture. Others add pickling. Some people like lots of summer savory, others prefer less. A few even make gravy with the meat drippings and add that to the mix.
Arsenault insists on quality pies coming out of her oven. The crust can’t be too thick, the meat can’t be too dry and they have to be “pretty.”
Well, as pretty as they can be when you’re trying to make 3,000 of them.
Arsenault is tight-lipped about the exact recipe of La Galette Blanche’s meat pies, but she did share the ingredients:
- Equal amounts of boiled pork and chicken
- A little bit of the juices from the meat
- A small amount of mashed potatoes
- Salt and pepper
- Summer savoury
- The crust is made with flour and water, salt, dry yeast and lard.