Early this year, I wrote a column about a list of prayer intentions written by my late mother. She left the list in a book, where my sister found it.

One of the intentions was that her friend’s health issues “would vanish.” Mom had moved to Rhode Island from Massachusetts in 2000, and I thought that she was referring to a friend she’d met in her new town.

But then I heard from one of my friends — from elementary school. She’d read the column online and wrote to tell me how much she appreciated our mothers’ friendship, especially when her mother began struggling with memory issues.

Ah. My mother, Georgy, must have been referring to Eileen, Kerry’s mom. (I’m changing their names for privacy purposes.) I wrote back to Kerry to tell her this, but, of course, she had already reached that conclusion.

We agreed to meet in Boston during the summer, but that never happened because of the pandemic.

I was touched that Kerry had reached out to me. Her email brought back so many memories. We’d been big fans of the TV show “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and would reenact scenes (and create original ones of our own) during recess. Her brothers, on the other hand, were “Star Trek” devotees, and that’s how I was introduced to that iconic program. In those days, the whole family would gather around the television to catch the latest episode of their favorite series.

The internet has made it possible for us to find and connect with people from our past. The pandemic, I think, has increased our need to do that.

My husband, Paul, recently heard from his college roommate. They were students in the early 1970s, Paul at Suffolk University and Ian at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Tourtière, French-Canadian meat pie, was a Christmas tradition in Paul’s family. After tasting my future mother-in-law’s dish, Ian asked her for the recipe.

Rita did not have it written down, so she dictated it to him. Perhaps because of Thanksgiving, or maybe because he’s doing pandemic cooking, Ian dug out the recipe and made a tourtière. Then he located Paul’s email address, told him the story and attached his original copy of the recipe.

Twenty-something Ian had written the recipe like an engineer would. In fact, he called it a sketch. It is delightful. He headlined it: Tourtière (A la Mme Carrier 1/23/72).

The ingredients to be mixed together are bracketed, and then lines radiate out to create a flow chart of sorts. So the onion, garlic and butter are combined, then mixed with the ground pork, and then added to the combined spices. This can be refrigerated overnight to “degrease.”

Written in blue ink, in neat all caps, it is a work of art.

And now I too have my mother-in-law’s recipe. She made a wonderful tourtière. I don’t eat pork, so she would make one with ground turkey for me. I make one for Paul every Christmas Eve.

I’ve adapted recipes found on the internet to make my own version, but it’s turned out to be similar to Rita’s. Tourtière is ground meat mixed with spices and mashed potato and baked in a two-layer crust. I don’t usually include garlic, but I will now.

Ian recalled that Rita would bring the two young men tourtières from her home near Worcester every so often, to make sure they were “happy and well-fed” in Boston.

That line prompted me to remind Paul of family dinners we had when we’d visit his parents in Massachusetts. “Have some more, Paul. You can’t be full yet,” Rita would say. No wonder everyone fell asleep in front of the television later.

Rita’s crusts were perfection, which I can’t say for mine. How she managed to turn out smooth discs of dough without patching is a mystery to me. I’m pretty sure she used Crisco, which may have been her secret. I can’t bring myself to use vegetable shortening, so I may be doomed to seamed-together crusts. At least they taste good.

I do have Rita’s recipe file, a bright yellow plastic box straight out of 1965, jam-packed with recipes both handwritten and torn from magazines. After she passed, I came into a trove of vintage household items, like pastel plates and coffee cups, sewing patterns, books of Green Stamps and flowered aprons. I treasure my collection.

As I treasure the emails from Kerry and Ian. I think of Georgy and Eileen, one the daughter of Portuguese immigrants, the other born and raised in Ireland, friends for more than 30 years. Of Paul and Ian, students in tumultuous times, in a country undergoing chaotic change. And of Rita, bringing them an age-old Québécois tradition passed on to her by her parents.

The past is brought into the present by social media, the way we live now. I think I’ll go check that recipe box to see if Rita left any piecrust instructions behind. Christmas is coming.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: