One of my favourite things is learning about other cultures and traditions. This includes family recipes which are passed down for generations. Learning a new recipe and the stories behind it are wonderful ways to share our lives over a meal and learn about each other.
We had a frolic which in Prince Edward Island denotes 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 baked apples for dessert.
While she lived in Prince Edward Island, my mother-in-law, Sylvia, became friends with some Acadians. It was a pleasure for us to get to know this important part of our community. Their kindness and friendship helped Sylvia during the two years she lived on the island.
Our curiosity about Acadian customs and culture led us to the preparation and sharing of this Acadian meal. Four of us prepared the rapure and baked apples. It was both fun and delicious. My husband shared our completed meal as well.
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, a fellow Newfoundlander, helped in the kitchen that day with her friends.
Eleanor, Angéle and Sylvia
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. Acadians have a proud heritage which we were eager to know.
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 was labour intensive in the days before food processors. 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. Angéle says the best rapure is made with potatoes grated on a box grater. Today, a food processor hastens 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. 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 of the cross over the food saying, "St. Theresa and St. Martha, bless me that I may make a good rapure." Her mother always said 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 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 any way we can.
For dessert, we had a traditional island recipe of 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 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 a great recipe for families who 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 and apple trees are plentiful to this day.
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.