There’s a lot of food to be eaten at the 2014 World Acadian Congress — there is 17 days of it, after all. And there are lots of traditional Acadian dishes, from poutine to sugar pie, from pea soup to pot-en-pot.
I had only one weekend to try as many things as possible, and while I couldn’t get to everything, I managed to tackle a lot. Here are some highlights.
Likely the most recognizable Acadian treat, these buckwheat pancakes are everywhere, regardless what side of the border you’re on. They are thin — not crepe-levels of thinness, but definitely not a fluffy pancake — and best eaten hot off the griddle. And you can eat them with anything, be it cretons (a pork spread), maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses or just butter, or as a side. They’ve got a slight chewiness, but with an earthy, hearty flavor thanks to the buckwheat.
I’ll admit, I’ve eaten ployes before — but nothing like the ones I had at the community lunch in Edmundston, New Brunswick, which were plucked directly off the hot top, into some tinfoil, brushed liberally with butter and then sprinkled with brown sugar. I could probably have just eaten those all day. But non, mes amis — this was only the beginning of my Acadian feast. You can always get ployes at Bouchard Family Farms in Fort Kent, where they make the ployes mix you’ll find in grocery stores statewide.
Chicken stew (fricot)
This is not the chicken stew you might get at the grocery store. French-speaking Acadians will know it as “fricot,” as essential a part of a traditional meal as the ployes. Of course, they were served on the side at the community lunch in Edmundston. This is thick, hearty and probably best eaten while trying to stay warm and full during the winter months — though honestly, it’s tasty any time of year. It’s chock full of big chunks of potatoes and dumplings, plus onions and sometimes carrots, and chicken, of course, though variations on it can include beef, pork or seafood. Imagine coming home from a hard day of work to a big bowl of this waiting for you. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? You can enjoy a traditional Acadian meal in Madawaska from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, and if it doesn’t include chicken stew there’s something wrong.
Tourtiere combines two of the best things in the world: pie crust and pork. It’s among the most Acadian dishes there are, though you’ll certainly find tourtiere in other parts of New England with French heritage. I got my tourtiere fill at the Inn at Acadia in Madawaska, which has a lovely dining room on the second floor and a menu that combines Acadian classics with more standard American fare. It’s usually eaten around Christmas and New Year’s, but it’s good year round — made well, it’s not a heavy meal. The pork is finely ground and seasoned with just a bit of savory and cinnamon among other spices. It’s usually served with some sort of sauce, either a gravy, sometimes maple syrup, or mustard or chutney in parts of Quebec. Tourtiere is a treat, but call ahead at the Inn at Acadia (728-3402) to see if it’s a special that day.
On the surface, this is a culinary delight that isn’t specific to the Acadian people. You’ll find pig roasts in lots of cultures, from places such as Hawaii to Cuba. But there’s something about an Acadian pig roast that is different.
For starters, it’s usually something made for the community, such as the public pig roast I attended at the Portage Lake Snowmobile Club during the World Acadian Congress. The pig was raised in Patten, was killed just a few days beforehand, and was lovingly rubbed and injected with sauce before being put on a smoker for hours. A small army of men removed the pig from the smoker shortly before supper time and got to work taking it apart. I’ve had other pig roasts — heck, I had one at my own wedding reception — but this one was something else.
It’s made with love. It’s made for grandma and her great-grandchildren. Everybody gets a little messy. Everybody has fun and talks to their neighbors. Everybody leaves happy. On a beautiful August day, surrounded by the hills, forests, lakes, rivers and generous, funny, friendly people of Northern Maine, there’s not much else that tastes better. There’s a pig roast at 5 p.m. at the Pavilion de Lac in Lac Des Aigles in Quebec, and also at 5 p.m. in the big tent in Saint Juste du Lac in Quebec, both on Aug. 23.