Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cretons: a delicacy of old Quebec

Cretons and Vicki’s fantastic toast. Mmmm…
My wife and I lived in Montreal for a few years while we were attending McGill University. We started out with an apartment in what is known as “the student ghetto”, the area just to the east of the main campus, bounded by Sherbrooke to the south, Aylmer on the west, Pines to the north and over to Parc on the east. Some might tell you it goes over as far as St. Laurent. Our first apartment together was a lovely place on the ground floor of a building at the corner of Hutchison and Prince Arthur, Long, with a big living room and a decent-sized bedroom, its foyer was large enough to hold a single bed, and university friends (one in particular) would crash there often when they couldn’t get back to their homes in the suburbs after a late-night gig. The kitchen was old, but useable and since we didn’t have much time to cook, anyway, it served our purposes.

Vicki began teaching a few students after school, most of them gotten through our neighbour in the next apartment, Yusuf Emed, who taught music at Beaconsfield High School out on the “West Island”. But she started getting some closer to home, too, as the word spread.

One of these students was a nice young lady, Claire Guimond, and it turned out her mother was a very fine cook. I don’t know how this particular dish came up in a flute lesson, but we still have the original recipe, courtesy of Claire’s mother on a yellowed sheet of paper. Claire has gone on to become a well-known Baroque flutist. The Guimonds used to serve fried up pieces of cretons with pancakes and real maple syrup (if Vicki’s memory serves). It is quite wonderful that way.

One was for cretons which goes way back in Quebec culinary history. What makes it really interesting is that this sort of country cousin to to the French terrine is that cretins are mostly eaten at breakfast. I think of it as a sort of grab-and-go meal. Spread over some toast, you can get a quick hit of protein, fat and carb all in an easy-to-carry meal. Grad an apple or whatever fruit you have on hand, and at least you’re going to have something worthwhile in your stomach when you don’t have time for a proper meal.

You don’t see it all that often on menus in Quebec, certainly not in the better restaurants (probably because they’re usually not open for breakfast). But you will find it on the menu of lots of places, especially once you’re outside Montreal.

Now that Vicki is occasionally making bread (gotta watch that waistline), we make this a little more often. Sure it can be eaten cold on toast, but you can also cut slices and brown them up for a great addition to an egg breakfast. You can even cook everything together in one pan for an easy cleanup.

The ingredient list is short and very simple, and making cretins is a piece of cake, even if you’re not an experienced cook.

So here’s a dish as Canadian as peameal bacon, Nanaimo bars or poutine, just not as well known – which is something that’s always puzzled me.

makes about a pound

1/2 cup     onion, grated finely
1 lb           ground pork
1 cup        milk
1 cup        shredded bread – no crusts
1/2 tsp      cloves
1/2 tsp      allspice
3/4 tsp      salt
freshly ground pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

1.    Mix everything together in a bowl.
2.    Cook in frying pan, turning occasionally until cooked.
3.    Press into loaf pan, chill overnight so it sets well.
4.    Cut into slices and serve chilled.

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