This is related to the Quirks from Quyon, Quebec – relatives of mine who, I seem to recall, figured in an earlier post. In any event, one almost-forgotten summer of my early teenage years, when I was very busy being artsy and melancholic (and no one had bothered to invent ‘Goth’ yet so I had no real outlet for these affectations) the Quirks threw a family reunion. The Quirks are somehow related on my father’s side (the labyrinthine modalities of cousinship remain a mystery to me), and my father had a kind of penchant for ‘family’ affairs that he thought might give us a sense of identity (since we were more or less gypsies as children).
In my moribund state I pointedly did not participate in any of the rather repulsively hearty physical cavortings that marked this strange ritual of relativism (which all seemed to involve energetic water-sports antithetical to my funereal stasis) but I do remember that the featured dish of this merry-making was something my cousins called ‘cipaille’ – which we were told was a traditional Quebec dish.
Thus, all afternoon a large cauldron suspended over some sort of hellish fire-pit gurgled powerful clouds of meaty mists, the whole eventually topped with a dubious looking thickly-crusted lid of lard-based pastry. Evidently, there are six degrees of separation between the Quebec ‘cipaille’, a word that seems to be from the Gaspesie region of Quebec but that might have actually have been invented by the famous Quebec home cook Madame Jehane Benoit, who misunderstood the expression ‘sea-pie’ or ‘cipates’ or ‘six-pates’, the Cheshire pie from which the Quebec version originated (and ‘sea’ sounds like the French word for ‘six’, which refers back to the six layers of the original). Sea-pie is a hot mess of pork, salt pork, beef, turkey, chicken, onions and summer savoury layered with squares of pastry in between all of these meat registers, and bathed in broth generated from the initial separate boiling all of the meaty ingredients. A final crust is applied during the last hour of cooking. In short, it’s a big steamed meat pudding.
The Quebec version differs from this version in that it became a way, in the fur-trade and fort days of the province, to make use of venison, hare, partridge and other available game. I’m not sure what was in our cipaille because, while other aspects of that long-ago weekend (including our stay at the hotel that my uncle owned in town, in which our rooms were directly above the bar – there’s nothing like a live band on a Quyon Saturday night) are vivid to me now, the cipaille registers more as an olfactory and visual experience than a gustatory one. Probably just as well.
An excellent condiment for cipaille is ‘chow-chow’ – which is a story for another time.