Poutine

The Cove Journal by JoDee Samuelson

Winter arrived overnight. One day the ground was bare and brown, the next it was white and sparkling. Snowploughs that had been impatiently standing by since November were out before sun-up boldly clearing the roads for hospital and nursing home workers heading into town for their early shifts. Our neighbor filled a thermos with hot coffee, fired up his big orange tractor, and went out to blow driveways. Everyone was happy.

We’ve been waiting here in the Cove for cold weather and snow in hopes that the squirrels will go into hibernation instead of lounging underneath the bird feeder with the juncos and mourning doves. We’ll see. 

Christmas is already a distant memory. So much trumpeting, merriment, shopping, planning and rushing around… and now the coloured lights are packed away and we’ve eaten up all the fruitcake. 

We went to Montréal for Christmas. It was as brown, damp and snowless there as on PEI and everyone was a little put out. Québec is a province that relies on snow and ice to get its citizens through winter, with sportily attired Québécois jostling in line-ups at downhill ski slopes, cross-country trails and outdoor skating rinks. Not this year. People are being forced to get creative.

So one grey morning our Montréal host looked out the window at rain dripping off the roof and announced, “Let’s drive to Joliet to eat poutine. I know just the place.”

Joliet is a city an hour northeast of Montréal, and poutine is a plate of French fries and cheese curds, topped with hot gravy to melt the cheese, that possibly originated in the village of Warwick in the Eastern Townships (southwest of Québec City) in 1957. 

That same year (1957) in Joliet, a café named Chez Henri opened for business on the banks of la Rivière l’Assomption, and for most of its 67 years this landmark diner has been serving poutine all winter long to outdoor enthusiasts skating the 4.5 km of cleared ice on the Assomption River. There’s even an indoor area where hungry skaters can clomp in without removing their skates. 

This winter the Assomption River has not frozen and there are no skaters, no rowdy youth. We ordered our midweek lunch in the company of retirees. But it didn’t matter! Fat, salt and starch: heaven. 

What’s the secret to delicious poutine? Potatoes cut in generous strips and deep fried to golden perfection; fresh cheese curds, plentiful and squeaky; and deep brown savoury gravy. Poutine is food that should be eaten slowly, thoughtfully, even sparingly. It’s a good meal to share. 

I think of this as I contemplate the packet of “Le Connaisseur” powdered poutine gravy mix purchased at a Montréal dépanneur (corner store)… such attractive packaging, such promised happiness… but into the cupboard it goes until the flavour of Chez Henri has completely faded from my taste buds.

Outside the snow is gently falling and we might get our skis out tomorrow. Under the feeder a squirrel and a chipmunk are stuffing their cheeks with sunflower seeds. A sand truck just went down our road. Winter is here.

Born and raised on the Canadian prairies, filmmaker and artist JoDee Samuelson has lived on the beautiful south shore of Prince Edward Island for the past thirty years.JoDee always loved drawing and was encouraged in all her creative pursuits by her mother, who was a commercial artist before marrying a Swedish minister. JoDee’s interest in filmmaking began when she took part in an animation workshop at the Island Media Arts Co-op in 1989. Her animated films have been shown at festivals around the world, winning numerous awards for the Island filmmaker.