It’s early evening: 4:30 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, to be exact. It’s time for the weekly Prompt creative meeting and tonight is special because it’s PROMPT POTLUCK NIGHT! Now, usually I can’t make the meetings because it overlaps with peak Sunday Family Dinner cooking time, and if I drop everything to indulge my creative side for an hour, the combination of two hungry kids plus one hungry husband result in a recipe for a hangry disaster. Long sigh.
Through the magic of words and the power of fantasy, The Prompt squad is getting together to share a meal, and I GET TO BE THERE!!
Only in my imagination. Beggars can’t be choosers.
We’re having Mac and Cheese and Failure. Bison and Blue Corn Enchiladas. A White Bean Dip. Veggie platters. Chex Mix. Chocolate Chip and Comfort Cookies. An Ice Cream Cake complete with Sassy Commentary. Weiner Wraps and Blue Cheese Balls. Gross yet Affordable Pizza. Cheap Wine. Maybe even beer.
I can’t wait to eat all of these things!
I was late to the sign-up because, well, West Coast time, and also because being an educator of young children doesn’t leave too much free time for interneting-at-will. But I didn’t let that hold me back this time. Not when there’s food involved.
While everyone in my home crew was diligently occupied with their educational activities (Did you know that playing with blocks and learning how to not kill each other without adult supervision counts as geometry?), I perused the potluck offerings, assessing them for what I thought was missing. Then I added my contribution to the menu:
“I’ll be bringing a meat pie, nun farts and probably a fruit platter because I’m an overachiever and I consider myself the unofficial ‘Prompt Mom,’ so I have this very deep need to make sure all of our nutritional bases are covered.”
Need more context? Curious about nun farts? Me too.
Let me tell you more.
On a recent trip to visit my grandma, I was presented with a packet of photocopied family recipes that she had prepared for me. She’s really into genealogy and has traced her side of the family back through the generations to their origins in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. They were bread-loving farmers until someone enlisted in Napoleon’s army, got exiled to Canada when Napoleon fell out of power and kept heading west until they ended up in Manitoba. So these are recipes that come from the farmer-turned-soldier-turned-exile-turned-French Canadian-turned-Californian side of my lineage.
Let’s start with the meat pie. Apparently this thing is LEGENDARY among those who know about it.
My grandma prefaced the presentation of this recipe by saying my grandpa came to her after they had divorced, while he was living his very best and alcohol-soaked life with his rich-lady wife in Santa Monica.
He said, “I don’t miss a thing about being married to you, but I sure do miss that meat pie recipe. Can I have it?”
I probably would have shown his drunk ass the door, but my grandma was charmed and gave the recipe to him. I guess when a recipe is that good it’s a crime against humanity to hold it back? It’s basically ground pork, more ground pork in the form of Jimmy Dean’s sausage and a bag of Mrs. Cubbisons stuffing that you cook up and then either stuff in a turkey if it’s Thanksgiving or put in a pie crust if it’s any other time of year.
I can’t remember ever having been served this dish, but I’ve never been crazy about meat. I was the kid that announced to my family I was a vegetarian as soon as I found out that was a thing people could do. Meaty foods are not the ones that stand out in my culinary memories. I’m more of a cheesy potato casserole kind of girl.
Imaginary me, already chopping the vegetables, browning the meat, and trying not to let my vegan tendencies be too overwhelmed by this creation I will not be eating. This pie is for The Prompt fam, not me, I remind myself as I double down on the love I’m baking into this thing.
Now it’s time for the answers that we’ve all been waiting for:
Technically, when you are talking about nun farts as food you have to use the classy sounding French name, Pets-de-Nonne, since they originated in France. Here’s everything that I know about them:
I looked up the French-English translation to make sure that I’m giving you correct information and stumbled upon this bit of etymological history. The word was first coined in the early 1700s, peaked in 1739, and fell out of popularity around 1830. If you’re a fan of European history, or better with dates than I am, you might remember that Napoleon was rising in power around 1790 and went on a conquering spree from 1804-1814 until he was kicked out of France and exiled to an island.
These overlapping dates lead me to the assumption that these silent-but-deadly nun farts must have been pretty popular with my Napoleonic-era ancestors. They were definitely using the word “pet” to talk about farts and must have carried this recipe with them when they were exiled to Canada.
Perhaps it’s because they require being fried in a quart of peanut oil and I’ve never seen anyone in my family deep fry anything, ever. Maybe it’s because it was a recipe that my grandma loved, but somehow never had access to until she found France: The Beautiful Cookbook in her retirement years. It could be because her culinary skills slant heavily toward making delicious cookies and cakes and not so much toward savory appetizer type dishes.
I’m stirring up my best choux pastry. I’m grating my comté cheese. I’m scooping up balls of that gooey, cheesy mixture and dropping them in hot oil. They come out perfectly and they’re gone before I can remind my vulturous family that these nun farts are to share, not to hoard. Good thing I tripled the recipe so there’s plenty for the potluck.
Why I was presented with this packet of favorite family recipes that I have never eaten on this particular visit is a mystery.
But… I think it has something to do with a memory of Thanksgiving past where I offered to cook in my grandma’s house and proceeded to dishonor these ancestors by shunning their meat stuffing recipe in favor of my mother-in-law’s cornbread stuffing.
I don’t even like my mother-in-law’s cooking. I’m constantly talking mad shit about her lackluster Thanksgiving spreads.
Why did I make this choice? Well, my mother-in-law is Southern, so she uses a Paula Dean recipe that involves white bread, saltine crackers, cornbread, and gratuitous amounts of butter. It’s delicious.
I knew something was up in the moment because as I was cooking, my grandma just sat there silently, watching my every move, most likely cursing me, until everything I cooked came out perfectly, except for the cornbread stuffing. That resulted in a terrible, soggy, embarrassingly bad failure that no one ate. And then she said “I told you you should have made my meat stuffing.”
The recipe was labeled “Mom’s Meat Pie.” So while I thought I was doing something nice by trying to share the new Thanksgiving favorites that I’ve been discovering with my husband and our children, I dissed a recipe from my mom’s mom’s mom. I forgot to honor long standing mother-daughter traditions that I didn’t even know were important because I just don’t like meat.
And that’s the story of why family history is weird, and if something is important to you, keep on passing it down the line. But, like, maybe tell the younger generation why it’s important to you first so they actually pay attention.
I should not be finding out about these things for the first time in my 30s.
Bon appetit everyone! Eat the meat pie. I’ve got an angry Catholic ghost visiting me that needs an extra helping of atonement.