An incredible how-to fieldtrip in Pubnico, Nova Scotia!
Rappie Pie. This iconic Canadian recipe is one I was completely unfamiliar with until a little over a year ago when I learned of it through The Canadian Food Experience Project. The Acadians in the Atlantic provinces, specifically Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, have made this dish for about 400 years, but not before the Great Deportation. Only after they returned to the area. Talk about a regional heritage recipe! Once I learned of this savoury pie, I was on a quest to taste it, learn how to make it and to discover the story of how it came to be. The first two, I have accomplished. The third, not yet.
It is made from patates râpées, or grated potatoes in English, hence the name Rappie Pie. From the d’Eon website: “Since the return of the Acadians after the Great Deportation of 1755-62 it has continued to be a favorite meal among the Acadians of Southwest Nova. Once the potatoes are grated and the water removed, hot broth is added along with meat , onions and pork fat to make a delicious all-in-one meal that some prefer to eat with a little butter or molasses!”
I love rappie pie. At least, I love the one they make at the Red Cap Restaurant in Pubnico, above. And, the d’Eon’s Pie looks exactly the same, so I am sure I would love their, especially after seeing it be made from potato to on the plate-o. This pie is all about the texture of the potatoes and how to accomplish this texture was my goal. I learned so much more! I will forewarn you. This is an epic post. There are a lot of photographs and as much detail as I knew to ask about. If you actually read the entire post, standing ovation to you! Please chime in to share your Rappie Pie making stories and experience in the comment section, below. (Should we be so lucky!)
PEI Potatoes are Peeled
After an Acadian Breakfast at The Dennis Point Café, Bernice d’Entremont introduced me to Clayton d’Eon, sitting amongst the lobster fishermen that morning. We were headed right over d’Eons Rappie Pie, the business he co-owns with his brother, John E. d’Eon.
The time on the clock is accurate. Bernice met me at the café at 7:30 am, we were at d’Eons Rappie Pie before 8 so that I could see the entire pie making operation from start to finish: it would take about 30 minutes. Whisked downstairs, I met Clayton’s brother, John, in the potato peeling, grating and prepping area. The machine on the left, above, is the potato peeling machine.
A few pallets of 20 pound bags of prime PEI potatoes await in their receiving dock.
John poured a bag of the potatoes into the peeler.
Water runs over them in the machine constantly to wash the peelings away from the potatoes.
The peeled potatoes come out of the machine about 2 minutes later. Each 20 pound bag of potatoes fills three 5 gallon buckets with potatoes.
Above, the peeling. I bet someone’s pigs would love to feed off of this. I didn’t ask what they did with it, and should have.
You can see that there is still peeling to be done on the potatoes after they come out of the peeling machine.. John is constantly filling buckets with water while another gal, sitting on an upside down bucket, finishes peeling them. “Everyone takes turns, here,” Clayton says. “No one gets stuck in the same job too long.”
John, on the left, and Clayton, on the right, kibitzed and teased one another a great deal.
The buckets of peeled potatoes are dumped into buckets with water to await the final peel.
Can you imagine being the gal, above. I’d be a tad overwhelmed, if I was her. They laughed at me saying this, and reminded me they switch jobs and that the work does get done very fast. That was true enough. I was amazed in the short while there how many buckets she peeled.
Peeled Potatoes are Grated
Once the potatoes are peeled, time for the grating process. The same buckets are now lined with a cotton bag.
The massive potatoes are sliced to make them easier to push into the grater, as well as to check for any decay.
The whole potatoes are placed in the grater, the grating wheel is turned on and the potatoes are pressed against the blade. The grated potatoes come out the other side into the lined bucket.
One bucket of potatoes is 1/3 of a 20 pound bag of PEI potatoes and goes into the grater to make one bag of grated potatoes.
The first bag is grated, to the right, above. The second bag is put into place under the grater to catch anything.
The grated potatoes are grated very small. This is not a long grate like we use to grate cheese or a potato pancake. This is a small grate, and there is a lot of liquid in the bucket of grated potatoes, above.
Grated Potatoes are Strained
Take a look at the grated potato close up. It looks very similar to the texture of the baked pie, at first glance. I could not see a grate, so I smoothed it out in my hand.
That made it much easier for me to see the size of the grate and the amount of liquid in the potato. The next step? Wring the liquid out of the potato.
Above is the bag of potatoes we just grated. When the Acadian people make Rappie Pie at home, they grate their own potatoes and wring them all out by hand, in a towel.
The d’Eon brothers use the spin cycle of a washing machine. “That is not a washing machine!” They both exclaimed. It worked like a charm.
The open bag of freshly grated potatoes had clearly had every bit of liquid spun right out of it. Look at the difference in the texture.
You can see the grate, above, and how dry the grated potatoes now are.
They easily come together.
Strained Potatoes are Mixed with Chicken Stock
Upstairs to the pie making room, grated and spun potatoes in hand.
This is a busy place. The family business started in 1927, and is a great story, but these two brothers started to specialize in Rappie Pies (as well as a couple of other items) in October 2002 as they had to find a niche market for what used to be their bakery business. Some of the bakery staff stayed on. There were three working this day that had been with the company 35 years, 25 years and 30 years. That is a testament to the family feeling that one feels in this space. This is hard work. There was no doubt about it. The are only 2 seated positions which do rotate (the potato peeler and the chicken separator). Everyone else is on their feet, often with hot steam in their face.
Next step: liquid is now added back into the super spun and ultra wrung out grated potatoes. For every 1/3 bag of potatoes (or bucket of peeled potatoes), there will be 1/2 bucket (a five gallon bucket, I believe) of water and 1/2 bucket of chicken stock added back into the potatoes. That is a lot of liquid added back into these fibres.
They started with water and the gals have a special knack of working the liquid in with the potatoes.
They work in the water, the stock, the water, the stock, and they know when it is finished, yet the amount is usually always about the same.
You can see the process with the potatoes and water above. And below, the stock is added and the mass is worked until the liquid is completely incorporated into the starch again.
And it is ready. How do they know? There is the formula I told you about: 20 pounds potatoes makes 3 buckets of peeled potatoes. One of those buckets of peeled potatoes makes 1 bag of the spun and wrung out grated potatoes and then one bucket of liquid is added to that potato mass: 1/2. water and 1/2 flavourful homemade style chicken stock. The saturation point for each add in is something that must be learned on the job, or in one’s kitchen at home, to make the perfect pie. This is an excellent start, if you are so motivated. Maybe there are some people that make it at home that would share their method in the comments section below. That would be so fascinating!
Each one of these batches makes 6 squares or 10 rounds or 2 of the very large special order sized pies.
Chicken and Stock are Prepared
There is a lot of attention to detail. There is no salt added to the potato mixture, but there is a lot of seasoning added to the stock, all made like I would make it at home, right here, in massive batches. And, there isn’t just chicken in the mix.
Above is the stewing hen. It has better flavour, so both are mixed together and added to the pie. Both are cooked to create a more complex stock.
This gal takes the meat off of the bone and combines the hen with the chicken. A good portion of this is placed in the middle of each pie.
The colour of the stock is gorgeous. The aroma held promise of deliciousness.
Putting all Together
Once the rapure or grated potato mixture is completely saturated with the delicious chicken stock and ready to make into pies, the gals ladle some into each pie container, followed by a layer of chicken and hen, and finished with ladles of the steaming rapure. Topped at the end with three bits of bacon fat, each is ready to be baked.
Baked Pies Ready to Eat or Heat!
The pies are broiled for the first few minutes to form a good crust. Laura, of Laura’s Taste from Pubnico, starts her rappie pie in the oven at 425 degrees F for the first 30 minutes, and then reduces the temperature to 400 degrees for another hour and 30 or 40 minutes, until it is nice and crispy on the top. Laura says, “The cooking time depends how thick it is when you pour the mixture into the pans. As long as its crispy and brown you’re good to go. Keep an eye on it; if it’s over-cooked, it will dry out.”
Today is Nancy Nickerson’s last day. She has worked with the company for 35 years. I could see she could do this with her eyes closed, yet her enthusiasm did not waver on her last day.
As the pies were cooling on the wrack, it was tempting to grab a fork, some butter, and sneak one to a corner with a stool. Each was fragrant and golden.
The brothers sell these pies all over Nova Scotia in the square and round sizes. Special orders can be made for the super large size. That is more common near the holidays. Above is the potato mixture that we brought up from the spinner. They package, freeze and sell these, as well, for those that want to make their own pies at home, but no longer want to fuss with the lengthy potato preparation. They sell a lot of these to area restaurants, too.
Nancy Nickerson and Clayton d’Eon on their last day working together. Thank you all for the warm welcome and this exceptional learning experience.