You may know which classic Canadian dishes you like, but do you know the stories behind them? And how can we define Canadian cuisine if we don’t know its past? In Iconic Canadian Food, Gabby Peyton shares the back stories of a smorgasbord of iconic Canadian dishes. This month Gabby explores the history of Rappie Pie, an Acadian classic.
There are some dishes in your life that are pure comfort food. They make you think warm thoughts on a cold walk home, they make you remember times with loved ones at meals long cleaned away, and they create a sense of familiar history like few foods can. Rappie Pie doesn’t get many points for its beauty — in fact, the grey colour of the potatoes before you pop that giant casserole assembled with meat and stock into the oven can even be a little off-putting. But this dish is one of the most iconic foods in Acadian culture. Humble and heartwarming, Rappie Pie is the epitome of comfort foods.
Where Did Rappie Pie Originate?
Call it what you may — some call it Rappie Pie while others refer to it as pâté à la râpure, paté râpé or chiard — it's the queen bee of casseroles. Traditionally it consisted of 20 pounds of potatoes and could definitely feed a family of 15. Like many of the iconic Canadian dishes explored through this series, the regional history is pertinent to the creation of this dish. While there is no geographic region that is distinguishably Acadie, the southwest coast of Nova Scotia and several areas in New Brunswick are defined by the Acadian tradition.
Rappie Pie has been consumed on the East Coast for hundreds of years, but unlike other iconic Canadian foods like ginger beef or the BeaverTail, it doesn’t have a crackerjack origin story. Its beginnings start with the humble potato, one of the only things that would grow in the areas of Atlantic Canada the Acadians reclaimed after the Great Deportation.
In fact, the Acadians didn’t cook this recipe before then. As some of the first French colonists in the 1600s, they lived alongside the British rather tumultuously on the east coast of Canada, taking advantage of the plentiful fishery. But by the 1750s the British sought to permanently get rid of the Acadians. More than 10,000 were deported between 1755 and 1763. Some went to Louisiana to become Cajuns, while others went back to France or headed south to the Caribbean.
Upon returning to the coastal areas of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Acadians were entitled to less-than-desirable farmland where mostly only potatoes could grow. And so, out of necessity, a culinary culture is defined by the land. Rappie Pie is a hearty and gut-warming dish meant for hardworking people.
How to Make Rappie Pie
It takes a long time to make. Growing up, I had little knowledge of Acadian cooking, other than what I had learned in school through brief French immersion history lessons, but a family friend came over one day to show us how to make it. Rappie Pie takes all day. Similar to Paella, the whole family rallies around this dish all day long with everyone pitching in grating potatoes. It’s a Sunday kind of meal.
These days most home recipes don’t call for 20 pounds of potatoes, but the grating of the potatoes is still tiresome. Once all the potatoes are rasped, all the liquid is squeezed out with a cheesecloth. Piping hot stock reintroduces liquid to the dish along with hunks of chicken or pork and then this thick gelatinous goody is baked in the oven. Simon Thibault, author of Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food calls it a “potato porridge,” in the most affectionate way.
If you'd like to give Rappie Pie a go at home, check out this Rappie Pie recipe from Chef Mike Moses of Nova Scotia.
Rappie Pie To Go
These days you can drive along the southwest shore of Nova Scotia and eat the dish in many local restaurants. Shop owners say mostly only locals order it for takeaway; it’s popular for special occasions, especially Christmas. In fact, many local joints in New Brunswick actually use frozen d’Eon’s Rappie Pies, a dynastic pie-making business open since 1927 (that still use 20 pounds of potatoes), at their restaurants and you can buy them in grocery stores as well (or you can even just buy the pre-grated potato block and make your own pie at home!).
The history of a comfort food reflects the experiences of those who create it. From the rough history of the Acadians, comes a heartwarming dish like Rappie Pie; this iconic Canadian dish sticks to your ribs and warms your heart.
- Iconic Canadian Food: Tourtière — Canada's Meat Pie
- Iconic Canadian Food: The History of the Nanaimo Bar
- Iconic Canadian Foods: The History of Bannock
Gabby Peyton is based in St. John’s, Newfoundland and blogs at The Food Girl in Town. She’s a culinary adventurer and freelance writer, focusing on travel, food and drink writing with a dash of historical work. You can follow Gabby on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.