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Western Mass. Cooks: A taste of Québec in Charlemont

  • Jeanne Douillard, left, makes traditional Québécois dishes of pea soup and rice pudding with her daughter Rachelle Douillard-Proulx at the Federated Church of Charlemont. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Jeanne Douillard of Greenfield mixes vanilla into a pot of rice pudding while cooking traditional Québécois dishes at the Federated Church of Charlemont. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Rachelle Douillard-Proulx taste tests pea soup while cooking traditional Québécois dishes at the Federated Church of Charlemont. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Jeanne Douillard of Greenfield stirs a pot of pea soup while cooking traditional Québécois dishes at the Federated Church of Charlemont. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Rachelle Douillard-Proulx cuts up baguettes while making traditional Québécois dishes at the Federated Church of Charlemont. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Jeanne Douillard, from left, her daughter Rachelle Douillard-Proulx and Cheryl Handsaker hold tourtières, traditional Québécois meat pies, at the Federated Church of Charlemont. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Jeanne Douillard of Greenfield cooks traditional Québécois dishes at the Federated Church of Charlemont. Staff Photo/Dan Little


For the Recorder
Published: 4/16/2019 11:57:34 AM

“Je meurs de joie!” moaned the young woman next to me at the long table in the social room of the Federated Church in Charlemont. I remembered enough French from school to understand she was indicating that she was dying of joy. I seconded her sentiments.

She and I were among the group of 40 or so who came to the church recently for what was billed as a “traditional Québécois dinner” by its creators. Those creators were Jeanne Douillard of Greenfield and Cheryl Handsaker of Charlemont.

Neither is a professional cook. Douillard is a writer and potter, and Handsaker is a technical project manager. Both were eager to share the French-Canadian cuisine and culture they learned at their mothers’ and grandmothers’ knees, however.

The event, which raised money for the church, came together after a similar, successful event last year.

“Some folks made an Armenian dinner,” Handsaker recalled. “We all had such a fantastic time that I decided it would be fun to do something in early spring. We need excuses to get out in mud season. Jeanne and I had this shared culture.”

Handsaker explained she grew up as part of a large, extended French-Canadian family in a parish community in Chicopee of families with similar heritage.

After hearing a radio segment on the classic Québécois dish, tourtière, she apparently announced to her husband, “Bob, I’m ethnic!”

“After he finished laughing, he agreed,” Handsaker said with a smile. She noted that her recipes come primarily from her Mémère DeJordy, who served as the chief cook for the rectory priests in Chicopee and boasted of hosting the bishop frequently around the dinner table.

Douillard, on the other hand, grew up in a “Petit Canada” in the north end of Springfield. Her family, along with many others, had immigrated from Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

She was the oldest child in her immediate family, and her grandmother (who spoke only French) lived in the same house. Consequently, her first language was French. She didn’t begin to speak English until she started school at the age of 5.

In adulthood, Douillard added, she began asking herself questions about her culture and her cultural experience growing up as a Franco-American in New England. Her years of reading and research led her to write a book (“I Remember/Je Me Souviens”) and to begin telling the story of her people.

The two hostesses/cooks had help preparing their meal. Members of the church lent a hand, as did relatives. Handsaker’s mother, Pauline DeJordy Slesarenko, came up from Granby to assist in preparing and serving the meal. Douillard’s daughter, Rachelle Douillard-Proulx, did a little bit of everything.

The result was a lavish feast. Douillard had told me in advance that the two knew that the centerpiece of the meal would be their slightly different versions of tourtière. This meat pie is designed to warm eaters during long Canadian winters.

She and Handsaker explained that the pie was traditionally served in both of their homes on Christmas Eve. The families would attend evening mass and then return home to find that the youngest child had added the Baby Jesus to their crèche. Feasting and celebrating lasted well into the night.

In addition to tourtière, the meal Douillard and Handsaker prepared included Canadian cheddar and local farmstead goat cheese as appetizers, along with what Handsaker called “greton,” a molded pork spread (like a pâté).

The next course was a pea soup. Douillard prepared hers with a ham bone, while Handsaker made a vegetarian version.

Beyond the tourtières, the main course featured both boiled and pickled beets and a tangy cabbage salad. Finally, the cooks offered three desserts: smoky rice pudding, maple pudding cake and maple pie.

The evening offered not only delicious food, but a few songs and descriptions of the family traditions behind the foods from our hostesses.

Best of all, it gave diners the opportunity to talk about the ways in which Americans can share our backgrounds and the best of ourselves by preparing traditional dishes.

“Humans are tribal,” Douillard noted, pointing to the challenges this tendency presents, particularly in today’s world. “Food can be a great medium to draw people together.”

Douillard will talk on the topic “Silent Presence: The French in New England” at the Historical Society of Greenfield on Tuesday, Sept. 10. For more information, call Tilda Hunting at 413-369-4170.

In case you’d like a taste of French-Canadian culture before then, here are a couple of Douillard and Handsaker’s recipes.

Madame Douillard’s Tourtière (Meat Pie)


2 medium potatoes

1 lb. ground beef

1 lb. ground veal

¼ lb. ground pork

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

Enough pastry for a 2-crust pie

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Boil the potatoes in water until they soften. Remove them from the water and mash them.

In a skillet, cook the meats until they brown, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the spices, salt and pepper. Mix well. Stir in the mashed potatoes and combine thoroughly.

Place the bottom crust in a pie pan, and pour in the meat mixture. Cover the top with the second crust, and pierce the top slightly to allow steam to escape.

Bake the pie for 10 minutes; then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake until the crust turns light brown (about 20 to 25 minutes). Let the pie cool before serving. Makes six to eight servings.

Greton à la Famille DeJordy

This is Handsaker’s pâté-like spread. She makes it from the recipe written out by her grandmother. The greton is served with slices of baguette or crackers — and perhaps a pickle or two.


2 lb. ground pork

1 medium onion, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

¾ cup chicken broth

Nutmeg and cinnamon to taste (at least ¼ tsp. each)

In a large skillet, combine the pork, onion, salt, pepper and broth. Bring them to a boil, cover and simmer for three hours. Check and stir occasionally. Stir in the spices.

Line a loaf pan with parchment paper, and place the pork mixture inside. Drain any visible fat.

Place another layer of parchment on top, followed by another loaf pan. Place the pans in the sink and press down on the upper pan to release any remaining liquids and solidify the greton.

Refrigerate the greton overnight before unmolding. (It may be a little ragged when you unmold, but it will be tasty.) Makes about 15 servings.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website,

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