MY LIFE - Gorton and other food traditions

MY LIFE - Gorton and other food traditions

An interesting conversation took place at a recent gathering of my French group and it centered on food when someone brought up “cretons” versus “gortons.”

Now I am by no means an expert on things Canadian, or to be more specific, Québecois, having been raised with few of the traditions familiar to so many of my friends and classmates, but I knew gorton because my mother made it and I had also made it a few times myself.

According to several references found on Google, Gorton is a French-Canadian pork spread or pâté. Called creton in Québec, it is often called gorton in New England. The long and the short of it is that gorton is apparently a bastardization of the word creton, but to paraphrase Shakespeare: “A gorton by any other name still tastes the same.”
I know some of you are still scratching your heads, so I will explain further.

Gorton is made by cooking finely ground pork, finely ground pork fat (since modern pork is now too lean), finely chopped onion, spices (which may include cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and/or cinnamon), salt, pepper, and water. It is slowly cooked until the water is pretty much gone, and then it is chilled. It used to be popular on toast for breakfast or with mustard in sandwiches. There was mention of spreading it on crackers, but I have always had it on bread.

A few people who were unfamiliar with it had it confused it with something my father, who was born in Canada, called graisse rôti (roasted grease), which is the pan drippings from roast pork, cold and congealed, spread on a slice of bread and eaten with a little sprinkle of salt and pepper. I remember my sister Joan eating it with my father, but then I can also recall the two of them eating raw sliced onion sandwiches together, too.

Someone asked if it was the same as head cheese, but although I am told the taste is similar, it is made quite differently.

Although it had been more than 20 years since I had last made it, last weekend, following a recipe found online, I decided to have a go at it. The recipe called for equal parts of ground pork and ground pork fat, but that seemed like an awful lot of fat so I cut it to one third of the amount. It called for ground cloves and ground nutmeg as well as salt and pepper, and although I thought we had used allspice I wasn’t sure anymore so I went with the recipe as written other than the part about the pork fat. It tasted OK, but the addition of ground allspice toward the end of cooking brought it right up to par.

My brother-in-law Marcel who had grown up in a very French-Canadian family right in the heart of the Social district in Woonsocket had never heard of gorton, but tried it fresh from the pot while it was still warm and liked it. He said it tasted a lot like head cheese. He also liked it once it was chilled, as did his granddaughter Brianna who had it for breakfast the following morning and asked for more.

My friend Maureen, née Paquin, was also unfamiliar with it but loved it when I gave her some to try. She found the taste very similar to pork pie.

I found the taste to be exactly as I remembered, but the texture was all wrong. It was way too crumbly even when thoroughly chilled. It turns out the recipe was right after all. It really does need the extra fat, and it will get it when I make the next test batch, maybe later this weekend.

Although I may not have been brought up steeped in all the old Canadian customs and traditions as a child, the Québecois love of pork has apparently been deeply bred into my bones. Pigs were a staple on the Québec farms of old. Easy to raise and easy to process into smoked and cured products, providing the hard working farm family with the calories needed to survive the bitter cold of the long Canadian winters, and not a scrap was wasted. I love pork in all its vast assortment of shapes and forms with the exception of boudin (blood pudding/sausage) which I find totally repulsive.

In recent years pork has been bred to be leaner and healthier, but they ruined it in the process. Pork chops just aren’t the same. The taste is gone. Pork roasts are no longer the same treat, either. Missing is the lovely pool of fat that used to collect in the bottom of the roasting pan in which potatoes once grew browned and crispy. Alas, now they just get dry roasted and ugly. I suppose we should be grateful for the fact that they haven’t figured out how to ruin bacon yet.

Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.