“Mince pie, like Masonry, arouses curiosity from the mystery attaching to it. Its popularity shall never wane until faith is lost in sight.”—Editorial page of the Montpelier Argus and Patriot for March 10, 1880
Let me tell you something straight off. I have never made a Mince Pie. In fact, it’s one that I’ve shied away from as being:
- too many hard to find ingredients
- too rich
- too greasy
- too boozy
- too labor intensive
- too much time for curing
But, that is going to be rectified soon…at least I hope so.
At each Pie Camp, I try to feature something that we don’t generally make often but has some merit or interesting history. One time we had a wonderful demonstration about how to can pie filling. Another time the savory fillings of Cornish pasties were featured. And next week when we gather, we’ll be learning how to make a real mince meat filling from Paola Thomas.
“Mincemeat is a lot like fruitcake,—great when homemade, but the store-bought variety leaves much to be desired.” —“United States of Pie“, Adrienne Kane
I’ve known Paola for about five years now. She came to some of my Baking with Hands and Heart evenings and we became friends during that time. She is also a fabulous photographer. But, it is her passion for making a REAL mincemeat that has me all—a twitter—if you will.
When I return from camp, I’ll be posting photos from her demonstration along with the recipe. But, in preparation for this event, I’ve been looking at lots of recipes and boning up on the history of mincemeat. It’s fascinating to say the least.
Monroe Boston Strauss in the 1951 edition of “Pie Marches On”, (a fabulous book if you can get your hands on it) says that mince pie “is a direct descendant of the huge ‘pasty’ of medieval times, made of venison, peacocks, swans, boar meat or any other combination of ingredients which the lord of the manor fancied, or which the cook found available.”
Ivan Day, a modern day historical pie guru, also says that there is a lot of nonsense about the history of mince pies having any connection to Christ’s crib or spices that the Magi would have carried. He has quite a few original source recipes dating back as far as 1615 on his amazing website. (Oh what I would do to go to England to study with him! Let’s put that at the top of my bucket list.)
An absolutely fabulous, and many times jaw dropping, article by the late Cliff Dokerson, traces the history of what he calls the “Real American Pie” once “inextricable from our American identity.” He follows its importance during the Prohibition era when “mince itself could be retooled as a camouflaged liquor-delivery medium”!
“In 1919 the Chicago Tribune reported that the average alcohol content of canned mince samples on display at a trade show for the hotel business had spiked to 14.12 percent, offering a far more efficient buzz than legal near beer, with its measly .5 percent. ‘I love pie,’ declared one attendee. ‘Here’s how!’ leered his companion, and they clinked their plates together like cocktail glasses.”
My reproduction copy of the 1742 “The Williamsburg Art of Cookery” by Wiliam Bullock, has no less than five recipes on the subject; two recipes for the mincemeat, and three recipes for the pie. The Farm Journal Complete Pie Cookbook (1965) has no less than 20 mincemeat and mincemeat pie recipes!
Janet Clarkson, another who has written about the history of pie in the English speaking world, has a number of references and recipes on her website. I love Janet’s little book simply entitled “Pie” and if you are looking for some exciting pie reading at bedtime, this is THE book! Words from Janet about Mincemeat:
“Remember – traditions says it is good luck to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas, to bring good luck for each of the succeeding twelve months.”
I’m game! How about you? 12 little mincemeat tarts on the 12 days of Christmas? This sounds like a wonderful idea to me.
And until I post Paola’s version, here is one from the cookbook of Catherine Richardson, who was in charge of Washington Irving’s family kitchen.
- 2 pounds lean beef ground
- 1 pound suet ground
- 2 pounds sugar
- 5 pounds tart apples pared, cored, and chopped
- 2 pounds muscat raisins
- 1 pound currants
- 1 pound sultana raisins
- 1/2 pound citron
- 1/2 pound orange peel chopped
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon mace
- 1 quart boiled cider about
- Mix beef, suet, sugar, fruit, salt spices, and cider in a large kettle.
- Cover and simmer stirring frequently, for 2 hours. Add cider if needed.
- Stir in brandy to taste.
- Pack into sterilized 1-quart jars, seal securely, store in a cool place, and allow to mellow at least once month before using.
Now is the season to make the mincemeat as apples are at their peak —
“plus it’s all done before the holiday madness.” —Adrienne Kane
*Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Merrell-soule_1905-1109_mincemeat.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Merrell-soule_1905-1109_mincemeat.jpg