Aubin-Edmond Arsenault, the ultimate Acadian foodie. Part 1 of 4: First, a Fricot.

Aubin-Edmond Arsenault (1870-1968) is best remembered as the Premier of Prince Edward Island from 1917 to 1919 -- becoming the first Acadian Premier of any Canadian province. Born in Egmont Bay, he was the son of Canadian senator Joseph-Octave Arsenault. After his premiership, he would serve as judge of the Supreme Court of PEI from 1921 to 1947. He is, however, less remembered as the ultimate foodie. 

In this four part series, I will explore the instances in Arsenault's memoirs that are marked by food and drink. As the publisher of his memoirs states, Arsenault proved to have "a career which brought him into contact with many of the leading figures of his day and generation," but most of the anecdotes regarding these meetings as well as the description of his other life achievements all seem to involve either a dinner table or a seat at the corner of a bar. He would dine with British royalty, break bread with more than one Canadian Prime Minister, and enjoy smuggled Canadian Rye in a secret Louisiana barroom during Prohibition.




Part 1: First, a Fricot.


It all began with a fricot, a traditional Acadian chicken stew. 

Well, technically for Arsenault, it all began with Pierre Arseneau, his ancestor who first arrived in Port Royal in 1671 and who, like other Acadians, would eat fricot on special occasions.[1] Pierre was the founding father of the Arsenault family in North America as well as the starting point of Aubin-Edmond's memoirs. 



To Arsenault, fricot was a "favorite dish" made of chicken fried in pork fat, shallots and diced potatoes. The stew is pretty basic but uses ingredients that would have been available to Acadians prior to their expulsion in 1755 from what is now Nova Scotia. To Arsenault's list, add summer savory, carrots and dumplings made of flour and baking powder.  



The key to a good fricot is the amount of salt. When you think you've added enough, you probably need a few pinches more. When you start worrying that your broth may taste like seawater, it's probably just right. 

Arsenault believed that his ancestors would also enjoy a "substantial meal" of boiled meat and barley as well as a pâté, a variation of a meat pie containing chicken, pork, cubed apples, wild raisins and maple syrup. This pâté sounds much sweeter than the ones served today at Christmas on many Acadian dinner tables. The meat pie that I know is, like fricot, seasoned with summer savory and is often accompanied by indigestion.

Pierre, Aubin-Edmond's ancestor, would contribute to the founding of Beaubassin in the Isthme of Chignecto and eventually move there with his children. His sons would one day welcome a visiting merchant from Massachusetts into their homes where they would serve him a consistent meal of "roast Mutton, & for Sauce a Sallet, mix'd with Bonyclabber Sweetned with Molasses."[2] This dish, however, did not make its way into Aubin-Edmond's list of traditional Acadian meals, but shows to what extent early Acadians had a rich enough diet. 

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht would mark the end of the War of Spanish Succession and would see l'Acadie handed over to Britain. France then encouraged Acadians to relocate on the islands it managed to retain, either l'Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) or l'Île Royale (Cape Breton). Many would refuse to leave their fertile lands behind, but a few of Pierre's children moved their families to Malpeque on l'Île Saint-Jean. There, fishing would be central to their survival, as Arsenault stated:

"Fish were plentiful along the coast of Ile St. Jean. The herring, cod, and mackerel were salted down for winter food. Clams, quahaugs, and oysters were in abundance and smelts and eels were taken through the ice in winter. So plentiful were oysters in Malpeque Bay in those early days that they were spread on the land for fertilizer." [3]

The last line may have broken the hearts of more than one foodie. Oysters as fertilizer seems like such a waste, especially for people that Arsenault would describe as frugal:

"If a cow or a pig was slaughtered, every part of the animal was put to use and what could not be eaten in its fresh state was salted away for future need. They made sausages from the blood of the pig and their potted meat was much superior to most of what is sold under that name today. From the hide of the cow or steer they made their moccasins. They ate the liver, the heart, and the stomach of the animals they slaughtered. From the horns of their animals they made powder horns, spoons, and knife handles." [4]

Although I highly doubt this was an actual farming technique, this was Arsenault's way of showing that early PEI Acadians were unaware of the value and superiority of their oysters. The scrappiest looking mollusks that we love today would, as Arsenault pointed out, eventually win the gold medal at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Since, Malpeque oysters are sought after by many chefs and are recognized as some of the world's finest.

Arsenault was, however, aware of the high quality ingredients Prince Edward Island had to offer and would often praise their worth to visiting dignitaries and during his own travels through the country and around the world. For instance, Arsenault believed that other Canadian provinces imported PEI potatoes because "ours are the best in the world."[5] When luring a group of potential boosters of Island tourism, Arsenault not only dazzled them with such hyperboles, but enchanted them with lobster diners, clam-bakes and private fishing parties off the coast.

He would spend his entire life on the island he loved, and although Arsenault would often leave, he'd always make his way back. Part 2 will consider his time in London where he practised law under Sir Charles Russell and would attend a lavish party where "it was the first time [he] had ever seen a woman smoke a cigarette."

[1] Denis J. Savard. Dictionnaire généalogique des familles Arsenault (Arceneaux, Arseneau, Arseneault) (Quebec: MultiMondes, 2000).

[2] Robert Hale, "Journal of Robert Hale's Trip to Nova Scotia", American Antiguarian Society, p. 233

[3] Aubin Emond Arsenault, Memoirs of the Honourable A. E. Arsenault, Charlottetown, PEI: The Guardian, n.d., p. 6

[4] Ibid., p. 4

[5] Ibid., p. 69.


For more traditional Acadian recipes from Prince Edward Island, see here.

For more information on early Acadian farming techniques, see here.

For more information on the history of the Prince Edward Island Oyster Industry and historical photos of oyster fishermen at the turn of the 20th century, see here

6 comments :

  1. Hi Carolynn,

    I am Aubin-Edmond's great granddaughter. I just discovered this series. Thank you so much! You have inspired me to host an Acadian-themed dinner party. I really appreciate your work.

    Best,

    Holly Arsenault
    Seattle, WA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I just passed on your note to Carolynn!

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    2. Thank you so much, Holly! Enjoy your dinner party - what a great idea!

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  2. Many people do not realized that there are specific wines made for cooking and the majority of table wines will be too sweet to use in a recipe Electricsmokerzone

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  3. Georges Arsenault24 November 2016 at 15:53

    My oldest sister tells me that "Bonyclabber Sweetned with Molasses" was still a common dish in the 1950s in our home in Abram-Village. We lived next door to where Aubin E. Arsenault grew up. My sister called it "caillette" and my mother made it from buttermilk. Marielle Boudreau Cormier and Melvin Gallant have the recipe in their book La Cuisine traditionnelle en Acadie (p. 153). They call it Fromage blanc. This bbok has been translated into English under the title A Taste of Acadie (see p.161). It is a version of cottage cheese.

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  4. Georges Arsenault24 November 2016 at 21:04

    The meat pie containing chicken, pork, cubed apples, wild raisins and maple syrup that Arsenault mentions is probably what people in Miscouche (PEI) call a "Père Michel". Arsenault's mother was from Miscouche. I believe that it is only in Miscouche that they used to make that type of meat pie containing fruit.

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