Guest Chick Monday – Finales d’or de Coeur Aislinn Macnamara

Loosely translated, this French expression means take a husband and his country comes with him. In my case, this was definitely true when I married into a French Canadian family. I had to rethink a lot of my mother’s style of cooking to adapt to my husband’s tastes.

Before we go too far, let me just say it works in both directions. When I met my husband, he was afraid to try anything ethnic. He thought Greek food was a real culinary adventure, and he was afraid of going for Chinese in case he ended up eating cat meat. When I finally convinced him to try it, he played it safe with pepper steak. He’s come a long way in nearly 25 years.

But in the beginning of our marriage I heard a lot of “that’s not the way my mother does it,” to which I may have replied, “I’m not your mother.”

In a sense, he was right, of course. His mother does things differently from my mother, some of it unique, a lot of it typically French Canadian. In his family, they looked at me funny because I ate my pie plain. They couldn’t conceive of having pie without adding a scoop of ice cream on it, or pouring heavy cream over the slice. They never heard of having just a dish of ice cream for dessert—you had to pour fudge sauce over it and turn it into  a sundae, or at least have cookies with it.

So what characterizes the typical French Canadian taste? This is the land where poutine was invented, after all. For the uninitiated, poutine is basically a heart attack waiting to happen. It’s a dish of French fries slathered in gravy and dotted with cheese curds. It exists in various permutations. La poutine italienne substitutes spaghetti sauce for the gravy, for example. I’m not a fan, myself, and my personal theory is that poutine is best experienced drunk at 3 AM (that’s when the bars close in Montreal—we take our drinking seriously here, too).

Lest you think we’re all low-brow here, we’re also keen on our fine cheeses. One of the best in the world is Cendrillon (that’s Cinderella’s name in French), and it’s made with, well, cinders. It’s also quite excellent. When the Canadian government tried to institute a ban on cheese made with unpasteurized milk, protests were heard far and wide in this province. Quebeckers had been eating the stuff for years, and the government could darned well keep its collective nose out of their cheese.

But possibly the best known French Canadian trait is a healthy sweet tooth. Every year, people celebrate the maple syrup season by going sugaring off. This involved carting the family out to the country for hay rides, treks through the snow (hip flask for the adults optional), eating sugar-on-snow candy, and consuming a meal of ham, eggs, fried potatoes, and baked beans all drowning in maple syrup.

And for dessert? A common one from the sugar shack is pouding chômeur. I’m not sure how to translate that one. Idle pudding, perhaps. The word chômeur typically refers to an unemployed person. The following is my mother-in-law’s recipe. Doubtless, the sugar shack version has maple syrup in the sauce.

Pouding Chômeur

1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup sugar
1 ½ cup flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
½ cup milk

In a saucepan, combine the brown sugar, water and 1 tablespoon butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer 3 minutes. Set aside.

Cream 3 tablespoons butter with the sugar. Mix well. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the creamed mixture, alternating with the milk. Spread the dough in a 9×9-inch square cake pan. Pour the sauce mixture over top and let rest a few minutes. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. Serve warm.