Monday, November 29, 2021

A Brief History of Rappie Pie In the U.S.

As I wrote about in today's other post, Rappie Pie is a traditional Acadian dish of Nova Scotia. Many people in the U.S. know little, if anything, about this dish. I was curious as to when U.S. newspapers might have first written about Rappie Pie, and how it was viewed in those early articles. I was surprised to find the earliest mention reached back to 1936. 

The Daily News (NY), April 12, 1936, published a recipe for Pate A La Rapure ("Rappie Pie") as part of their "$5 Daily for Favorite Recipe" column. This recipe was submitted by Miss Marguerite Correau, of Bear River, Digby County, Nova Scotia. The Acadian origins of the dish weren't mentioned, and the recipe was simply presented without further context. The above photo provides the ingredients for the recipe, which uses chicken, maybe the most common type of meat for rappie pie.

And these are the directions for the recipe. I wonder how many home cooks might have tried this recipe. It certainly isn't a quick dish to make and if you've never had the dish before, it can be difficult to assess whether the dish is properly cooked or not. 

Over 20 years would pass before there was another mention of Rappie Pie. The Grand Rapids Press (MI), August 20, 1958, stated, “Don’t call it ‘rappie pie.’ Call it ‘pate a la rapure,’ if you want to make a good impression upon Clare Acadians.” They explained that it was “A dish prepared with grated potatoes, squeezed dry through a cotton bag, then scalded with alternate strata of previously cooked and well-seasoned meats or clams, pate a la rapure is to the Acadians what haggis is to the Scots, spaghetti to the Italians and bouillabaisse to the French.” As to the origin of its name? “Who started calling it rappie pie no one knows. But the Acadians consider the corruption of the name of their favorite dish ‘shocking.’ 

Locally, the Boston Globe (MA), May 3, 1959, first made a very brief mention of Rappie Pie on a full page of information on travel to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. There was a small ad for the Diamond Restaurant which served “Acadian Rappie Pie.” No description of this dish was provided.

Nine years later, the Boston Herald (MA), April 2, 1968, noted, “The pie you refer to is called rappy pie (pate a la rapure) and pronounced rawppy pie.” They then printed a recipe for Rappie Pie, using chicken, which had been submitted by a reader. So, over 53 years ago, a Boston newspaper first printed a Rappie Pie recipe. The Boston Record American (MA), December 17, 1970, also published a different recipe for Rappie Pie, with chicken, that once again was submitted by a reader.

In the News Journal (DE), November 14, 1973, there was an article on the specialties of Cape Breton Island. While exploring the area, the writer stopped at a restaurant in a French section and found “Rappure Pie, 70 cents” on the menu. The writer's dining companion said it “was some sort of French meat pie.” They asked about the dish, and their choices were either chicken or clam, and they decided to order one of each. However, they weren't impressed.

The article voiced the writer's displeasure. “It was dreadful. A Plateful of greyish gook, rather gummy and tasteless, with the black necks of the clams giving mine its only color, if you could call it that. Instead of a crust, there was a brownish chewy sort of stuff on top. We gave it the old college try, but is was no use…we sent it back. So if you see signs along the road up there (and you will if you go) be warned about Rappie Pie. It’s bad news unless you happen to be a born Bay of Fundy Acadian.” 

To be honest, there were plenty of Rappie Pies during that time which resembled a greyish goop. It wasn't a visually appealing dish, although fortunately that has changed over time. However, it's important to note that this was the first and only time the writer ate Rappie Pie, and he might have just gone to a restaurant which didn't make it well. If your first experience with pizza wasn't good, would you write off all pizza? No, you probably wouldn't. 

A different writer's opinion. The Naugatuck Daily News (CT), July 2, 1977, printed, “Ever hear of something called ‘Rappie Pie?’ Yes, it’s something to eat and we can vouch for the fact that it’s tasty and filling.” Great to see a positive review! The article continued, “Rappie pie is a real old Acadian dish, to be found only in occasional places outside the Annapolis Valley, where the modern day descendants of the original Acadians still live.” In addition, it was noted, “Rappie pie turned out to be not unlike German kugel, made with grated potatoes, onions, seasonings, etc.—except that it is rolled out and filled with chicken and browned something like a huge turnover, large enough to fill a dinner plate.

The Record (NJ), April 27, 1980, briefly noted, “One popular dish in Acadian restaurants is pate a la rapure, or rappie pie. It is made of meat and grated potatoes.” The Hartford Courant (CT), May 11, 1980, also briefly stated, “In Comeauville, on the ‘French Shore,’ the Acadian dish, pate a la rapure (ask for rappie pie) first gained commercial recognition. Made up of meat and grated potatoes from which much of the starch has been removed, rappie pie is available at many restaurants in the area.

On another positive note, the Boston Globe (MA), July 27, 1980, printed,  “.., many English speakers have been won over to the French Shore’s great specialty: ‘Pate a la Rapure Acadienne’ better known to non-Francophones as ‘Rappie Pie.’ A very filling dish, it consists of potatoes which have been grated, squeezed to remove moisture and starch, mixed with chicken broth to form a paste, and then baked with layers of chicken meat."

A number of newspapers during the 1980s would also publish various Rappie Pie recipes, which although shared much in common, they had some minor differences as well, especially the amount of the various ingredients. Chicken was the primary meat, although in Nova Scotia there are plenty of variations, from clams to rabbit.

The Boston Globe (MA), October 15, 1980, provided a recipe for Rappie Pie, compliments of the Rapure Acadienne Ltd. of Church Point, Nova Scotia. The Columbus Dispatch (OH), January 13, 1982 and January 20, 1982, provided two different recipes for Rappie Pie.

The Times-Picayune (LA), June 21, 1984, stated, “Probably the most popular of all Acadian recipes is Pate a la Rapure, commonly called Rappie Pie, It is still served on festive occasions, and in many homes, for Sunday dinner.” The article also provided a recipe for Rappie Pie. Additional recipes could be found in the Sacramento Bee (CA), October 3, 1984 and Times-News (ID), August 6, 1986.

Nowadays, making Rappie Pie is much easier as you can purchase packages of frozen potatoes which have already been grated, having the excess moisture and starch removed. So, the laborious work of squeezing the potatoes through a cheese cloth isn't necessary. However, some people prefer to do it on their own, sometimes using machines, like juicers, to squeeze their potatoes. We generally use the frozen potato packages, saving much time, and the Rappie Pie also doesn't end up looking like a gray goop. 

It was fascinating to see the first Rappie Pie recipe in a newspaper back in 1936. And the first local Rappie Pie recipe was in a 1958 Boston newspaper. Rappie Pie seemed to become popular in the early 1980s, as various newspapers across the country, from Idaho to California, published recipes. I still wonder though how many people, without connections to Nova Scotia, tried to make Rappie Pie at home. 

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