One of my favourite things to do is to talk with people about their family and personal stories. This includes recipes, often family recipes, which are passed down for generations. So it was that on a recent Saturday we spent time with friends learning about their families and culture.
The term frolic in Prince Edward Island is used to denote any occasion when people get together to work on a project. Women had frolics for knitting, crocheting, or quilting as examples. Men had frolics to cut wood or build a shed. Ours was to make rapure, a traditional Acadian dish. We had apples for dessert.
Since moving to Prince Edward Island, my mother-in-law, Sylvia, has become friends with some Acadians. It has been a pleasure for us to get to know this important part of our community. Their kindness and friendliness helped Sylvia during the two years she has lived here.
Our curiosity about Acadian customs and culture led us to the preparation and sharing of an Acadian meal. There were four women in the kitchen preparing the rapure and baked apples. It was both fun and delicious. My husband, Rick also enjoyed our meal.
Our friends were Angéle and Eleanor. Angéle is Acadian, raised in Mont Carmel, PEI. Eleanor's husband, Eldon, was Acadian too. Eleanor is from St. Augustine on the lower north shore of Québec. My mother-in-law, Sylvia, helped in the kitchen that day with her friends.
Acadians are descendants of the early French settlers to Canada. When the British gained control of what is now the Canadian Maritimes, they drove the Acadians out of their homes. Some island Acadians fled to the woods and hid, later re-establishing themselves in the Evangeline area of western PEI. These families have kept their language and culture alive and they are a vibrant part of our island home. They have a proud heritage and are eager to share it with others.
Angéle's father was a fisherman who also grew vegetables and raised animals. Her mother raised the children and kept the house. She made rapure for her large family as a special meal. It is made with pork and grated potato, so it is labour intensive. With ten children, you can imagine the amount of potato needed for the family and the grating was hard and time consuming work. The family loved the meal but it was not a common item on the menu.
We used 10 pounds of Russet potatoes in this recipe. You must peel and boil at least five medium to large size potatoes in salted water. While the potatoes are boiling, peel and grate the remainder of the potatoes. Keep them in water to prevent the potatoes from darkening. The best rapure is made with potatoes grated on a box grater. Today we use a food processor to hasten the work. Rinse the grated potato well and drain in a colander just before combining with the other ingredients.
Meanwhile, cut a pork shoulder roast, about two to three pounds, into bite size cubes, trimming the fat. Saute the pork with one large chopped onion in oil on the stove. The meat and onion can be browned in the oven if you prefer.
When the potatoes are boiled, mash them and combine with the drained grated raw potato, pork, onion, salt and pepper to taste. Eleanor's mother-in-law also added summer savoury and coriander to the recipe, though Angéle's family did not. We added a pinch of savoury.
When ready to put the rapure in the oven, Angéle made the sign if the cross over the food saying, "St. Theresa and St. Martha, bless me that I may make a good rapure." Her mother always did this blessing and Angéle does the same blessing for bread.
Place in greased pan(s) large enough to hold the recipe. We used two pans. Cook on 400 degrees F for one hour, then reduce the heat to 350 for a second hour. Check that the rapure is browning during the second hour and increase the heat if it is not browning as you would like.
Cut the rapure into serving size pieces to plate and add molasses to the serving as you would to a pancake. The rapure is crispy on the outside and tasty, even without the molasses.
Angéle's mother used the fat from the pork as well, not wasting a bit of the roast. The flavour from the fat and its presence in the rapure changed it from the recipe we have today, using only lean meat. However, her Mom's recipe for that time provided needed calories for the hard working family. Today, we are concerned with cutting fat from our diets whatever way we can.
For dessert, we had a traditional island recipe, with baked apples. We washed and cored the apples and put some brown sugar in them as well as chopped dried cranberries. You can use raisins also. A tablespoon of butter over the top of each apple helps create a nice sauce. Cook on 350 degrees F until the apples are tender, about 70 minutes in our oven.
The two pans of rapure we made were of different thicknesses. Some people prefer the rapure thin, with the crispiness going through the slice. Others prefer it thick with the crispiness on the top only. We made it both ways to see which we preferred.
Prince Edward Island is an ideal place for growing potatoes so the rapure was an ideal recipe for families here. Families grew their own potatoes, enough to carry them through to the next year if they were lucky. Some had animals as well, as did Angéle's family, though the children were not happy to see their named pets on the dinner plate. Apples grow well on this island too and many families had the trees on their property. They were an important part of every family's diet.
Like Newfoundlanders further east in the Atlantic Ocean, Acadians lived off the land and sea. We have so much in common in spite of the difference in our first language. Rapure will become part of our menu in the future and we will remember our friends and their traditions every time we make it.
It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!