Topic: Meat Pies

French Canadian Meat Pie | Best Cook Penny Despres

This traditional recipe for French Canadian meat pie -- also known as Tourtiere -- not only melts in your mouth, it keeps a family tradition alive.

3.74 avg. rating (74% score) - 96 votes

“Moose” (Raymond) Despres had his first meat pie when he was 4 years old. That would be as soon as he could remember anything. “1944, New Year’s Eve,” he recalls. “They’d bring out the meat pies at midnight; that’s how we always did it. And then we’d all go for a sleigh ride afterward.”

Moose grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire. His parents and grandparents were all French Canadian, his ancestors from the St. Lawrence Valley. He met Penny when he was 17; she was 15. She grew up in Nashua, too, and her parents and grandparents were all French Canadian, from Quebec. All their grandmothers made Tourtieres–meat pies–the same way.

Penny Despres

Penny Despres with her French Canadian Meat Pie.

Matt Kalinowski

Not that that was the reason they got married. No, there were other reasons. But the meat pies? They’ve always been a big part of their lives. The only difference was that Penny’s family made meat pies for Christmas Eve, not New Year’s Eve. No matter–that just meant more reasons for meat pies.

Moose liked to take them along on hunting trips to Maine. “We used to take the pie out of the oven in the early morning, wrap it in newspaper, and put it in the trunk,” he says. “We wouldn’t get there until afternoon, but the pie would still be warm. Meat pies, you can eat them hot, warm, cold. You get up in the middle of the night and you’re hungry? Cold from the fridge is just fine.” And, of course, you eat the pie with mustard.

Moose is sitting in his rocker beside the woodstove in their country kitchen while Penny–her hands and apron dusted with flour–is rolling out the dough for the crust. It’s silky, soft. (Her secret is vinegar.) Her fingers fly, deft, assured. While she works, they think back on the meat pies of their lives. Penny’s grandmother, Memere Rousseau, gave her the recipe when they got married, 48 years ago. “This recipe has to be 100 years old, maybe more,” she says.

Tourtière  (French Canadian Pork Pie)

Memere Rousseau’s Meat Pie (we doubled the filling in our version for a thicker, heartier pie). 

Heath Robbins

Moose and Penny dreamed of life in the country. “When I was 16, he promised me he’d build me a log house,” Penny says. That would be the beautiful log home they now live in: smooth, peeled pine logs lining the walls and holding up the big roof, logs from trees that grew on this land in Marlow, New Hampshire. Out back is Moose’s sugar shack, where he boils maple syrup in the spring; he uses some of it to make the Saturday-night baked beans.

Moose, he makes the syrup and the doughnuts, right there in a big kettle on the cookstove. Penny, she does the pies, with crusts so light and flaky they melt in your mouth. Until recently they raised pigs so that they could make the pies with their own pork and also make salt pork for the beans. They’ve cut back on that, but Penny still makes the pies. And lives in the house that Moose built.

Memere Rousseau’s Meat Pie (Tourtiere) Recipe

  • I wouldn’t be surprised if Im related to some of the ladies above as my family comes from the Tres Riveries area of Quebec as well and then moved to Massachusetts. Ive only recently discovered this while doing my genealogy. My husband who is a Canadian has talked about Tourtiers for years but I never new how to make them. I love to incorporate old traditions into our modern lives so Im going to make these from now on for Christmas eve just like Grampa Dubord likely had them. Thanks for the nice story and recipe.

    • I was interested in finding out who Elaine is. My family also came from three rivers, quebec. and my grandmother was a Dubord. just wondering.

  • Your story sounds like I wrote it. I too grew up in Nashua and my grandparents & great grandparents were all French Canadian. I love meat pies and I love meat stuffing. I didn’t realize there was bread stuffing until I was 19 years old.

  • I made this meat pie for Christmas this year. 2014.
    This receipe makes a lot, so I shared it and many
    enjoyed it. Thank you Mere Rousseau. Luv, Jeanne

  • Christine

    Of all the pork pie recipes this is just like my Grandmother Rousseau’s. My mother made one with part beef last year but it didn’t cut it. This year we used this one and it was perfect. I never had the recipe for the crust (which she also used with Salmon Pie) and this recipe was it!! It doesn’t taste the same with regular pie crust. Wonderful Recipe!!

  • Yes…the meat pie after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; what a wonderful memory! We always had pickles on the side…not sure where that tradition came from but the tart with the luxury of the pie is wonderful. My family recipe calls for 2/3 ground pork, 1/3 ground beef. Delightful! My maternal grandmother from Quebec made the best pies; my paternal grandmother (Canadian but married into Gaelic stock)…not so much (dry and uninspired). She made great doughnuts, though…

  • Marlene

    My Mom was born in Sherbrooke near Montreal and every Christmas she would make these wonderful pork pies. We lived in Maine and there were 15 of us kids and there would be dozens of pies and cookies made for the holidays but that piece of pork pie after midnight mass is one of my most cherished memories. I will try this recipe as it looks like it will be delicious but in my heart my Mom’s will always be the best.

  • My Mom was born in Quebec. I can still remember her making those wonderful meat pies when I was growing up. We all lived in Charlestown, N.H. I live in Texas now, but have the recipe and make the meat pie every so often. Tastes so great and brings back many memories.

  • Fantastic recipe! My mother-in-law and I made the tourtiere last week. She, being 91 we often collaborate on cooking meals. I did the meat portion, she did the crust. The flavor was heavenly and the crust, wonderfully silky and flaky. What a great meal. Thanks for sharing!

  • Wow, special. Born in South Africa, but totally at home in Quebec, Canada for more than 40 years now, I have always loved the tourtieres made here. I have made them, but better still a wonderful patisserie, St. Louis-de-France, on Berri-de-Montigny, in Montreal, makes them specially for the Holiday Season. I buy them there, and frequently their frozen stock lasts a good while, so they are available for a long time. However, now happily retired, I am going to try this lady’s recipe to compare with the winner I have been buying. I am sure this new recipe will have me baking more often. I want to learn that secret vinegar addition for a silky pastry. Thank you.

  • Christine

    My husband has told me over & over about the “chicken pie” they would eat after midnight mass, have not been able to find a recipe, anybody familiar with this meat pie and by any chance have a recipe?

  • Ooh-la-la, meat pie! My late grandmother Peppay (yes, you read that correct-my grandfather was Pompee) made the pies for our family’s Christmas Eve celebration. As a teenager, I often found myself daydreaming during midnight mass about eating a nice big slice when I got home from church and yes, with mustard just like my father would. So many wonderful memories of my Peppay’s delicious tourtiere! She always guarded her receipe-would only wink at me when I asked her to tell me how she made the crust so flaky and the filling with just the right amount of spice to it. I’ve searched and searched and eaten and eaten all kinds of meat pies but not a one like hers! Thank you, Peppay

  • I felt so warm & cozy after reading the artcle about Moose & Penny in their kitchen. I have never seen or had a Tourtiere. I am now in a wheelchair so I don’t cook much anymore but can you buy them in the Boston Ma area? Also good salt pork is hard to find nowadays.


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