Friday, November 07, 2008

Making poutine râpée in Leominster, Mass.

Leominster Champion
November 7, 2008

Break the weekend routine with some fresh poutines
St. Cecilia's Holiday Fair serves up French treats, along with family fun

By Diane C. Beaudoin, Champion Correspondent

Pictured (front to back) making poutines are Germaine Gagnon, Jeanette Nolan and Ginette LeBlanc. (Champion photo / Cheryl Cuddahy)

"How about those poutines?" That was one phrase that was heard throughout St. Cecilia's School's kitchen earlier this week as the annual gathering of French Canadian and French Acadian men and women peeled, eyed, rolled and stuffed pork into snowball-looking dumplings to make thousands of servings of the famous French Canadian dish poutine râpée.

Poutine râpée is a dish that originates from the Canadian maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island and consists of a potato dumpling stuffed with a pork filling. Don't confuse the dish with the Quebec fast-food snack called poutine- -french fries and cheese curds covered with brown gravy—the two dishes are completely different.

St. Cecilia's Holiday Fair has become a landmark for the Acadian treat, thought of as a treat by many. The fair has become synonymous with poutines, which completely sell out every year.

According to Gary Roy, one of the workers in the kitchen, this year the fair workers will make between 2,400 and 2,500 poutines.

"We have 110 bags of potatoes, each weighing 50 pounds, so that is a lot of poutines," he said.

Louise Boucher is in charge of organizing the workers, as well as selling the dumplings prior to and during the fair itself.

"There are many jobs with making the poutines. We need the potatoes peeled, take the eyes out, they get grated, some potatoes are cooked, others are left raw. Then the water has to come out, then it's the making of the balls. Then they have to be boiled for three hours," she explained.

One clever invention to get the water out of the potatoes is to put them in a special washing machine used just for that purpose. The potatoes are put on the spin cycle and that saves hours worth of manual work.

Germaine Gagnon was one of the ladies who measured out the potatoes prior to them getting the pork in the middle. Mrs. Gagnon said poutines are eaten many different ways, including pouring molasses over them, brown or white sugar sprinkled on top, and even ketchup poured over them.

One of the original poutine ladies is Fleur Ange Bachand who really does not remember when she didn't help out in the kitchen.

"I've been coming since the first year to help out. It's been years and years making these," she quipped.

Jeannine Brideau is another long time worker, taking over the kitchen duties 30 years ago when the original kitchen manager, Eileen Gionet retired.

"The poutines are what everyone asks for," she noted.

Claire Robichaud worked for hours taking the eyes out of the peeled potatoes and making sure all the little pieces of skin were off.

"These are made with love," she joked.

The fair also features french dishes like pork pies and rappe.

As the assembly like of potatoes workers snaked from three rooms, everyone had fun with whatever position they held. Buckets of potatoes waited to be grated, peels were collected form the workers, and the aroma of potatoes simmering away permeated the entire area.

The beehive of activity has become a tradition in the French community with most workers looking forward to the call to duty that it is once again poutine time.
"It's a week long event getting all the food ready, but we have fun doing it all," Boucher said.

St. Cecilia's Parish Annual Holiday Fair
5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7 and 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8
St. Cecilia's School 188 Mechanic St., Leominster, Mass.


Carmen Moore said...

Hello, Brian! My mom's cousin (mine too) was Laurier Cormier. My mom was Julianna Claire Poirier and her mom was Blanche Florette Letarte Poirier and her dad, Aquila Poirier. They all were from Leominster. I'm constantly on the search for the recipes my Memere told me about from Leominster and Poutine Rapee is one of them. Can you help? Carmen Moore (North Pole, Alaska)

Brian Cormier said...

Hi Carmen: You need to order this book from - it is chock full of traditional Acadian recipes, including poutine râpée! Hope this helps!