FORT WORTH, Texas, November 21, 2012 — Food. That’s one of the first words that comes to mind when we think of Thanksgiving.
We all know turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pies, sweet potatoes and other holiday comfort foods. There is, however, fare that is not found on the average American Thanksgiving table. Some of these foods include sauerkraut, tofu turkey, lasagna, stuffed squash, clam chowder, dressing with oysters or jalapenos, and mincemeat pie.
Mincemeat pie? This pastry originated in England in the 13th century. When the Crusaders came home from the Middle East they brought with them spices and recipes from the region. According to Wikipedia, “The early mince pie was known by several names, including mutton pie, shrid pie and Christmas pie. Typically its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.”
Mincemeat was a staple on my grandparents’ Thanksgiving table, where we went every year when I was growing up. My English-born grandma served the pie along with the pumpkin, pecan and apple.
My grandpa’s birthday was at November’s end, so the pastry also served as his “birthday pie” since it was his favorite.
Once grown and out in the world, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t common fare at most pilgrim-inspired celebrations. Since then I’ve found that, when asked about it, most Americans will answer, “Mincemeat? What’s that?” or “Meat in a pie?!! Ewwww!!”
Those who won’t try it don’t know what they are missing.
Modern mincemeat (or “mince”) pies don’t have meat in them. They used to, at a time when there was no refrigeration and food was not wasted. Ever. The word “mince” means to chop into tiny pieces. Medieval cooks added fruits and spices to the minced meat and in this stretched the protein supply and used it in other dishes to make food go farther. When survival was the name of the game you used every bit of food you had and used leftovers as often as they lasted. People then also added whatever they had on hand to a dish. I sincerely doubt there were many picky eaters when starvation wasn’t far from your door.
Mincemeat pies first appeared in Roman Catholic England. By the 16th century they were a Christmas staple. The Church taught that cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in the dish represented the three gifts given to the Baby Jesus when the Magi found him in the manger. Bakers also made the top crust in the shape of a star to signify the light that led the Wise Men to Bethlehem.
When Europeans started migrating to North America, mince pie didn’t come along with the Puritans and Quakers. Why? These Protestant groups saw minced pie as “Catholic idolatry” and the pastry stayed behind in England. By the Victorian Era, the pies were more mince and less meat. Some homemade versions still have meat, but most commercial mincemeat is without it.
Some mincemeat pie traditions:
~ Mince pie is a favorite of Father Christmas (Santa), so children should leave a plate of pie at the foot of the chimney.
~ Only stir the mincemeat mixture clockwise because stirring it counterclockwise is bad luck for the upcoming year.
~ While eating the first mince pie of the season, it’s traditional to make a wish.
~ Always eat mince pies in silence.
~ Eating a mince pie each day of the 12 days of Christmas is good luck for the upcoming year.
So if you were looking to add something different to your feast this year, consider the mincemeat pie. You can find it in a jar, such as Borden’s None Such condensed mincemeat in the baking aisle or you can make your own. It is chock full of Autumn fruits and spices and can be served as a tart or tartlets, as they do in Great Britain.
Or you can Americanize it and serve it like my grandma did in an eight- or nine-inch pie.
The recipe below is a conversion for both 1½ quarts and 6 quarts of mincemeat. The video above is of British celebrity chef Dame Delia Smith making 6 quarts of traditional mincemeat, without the meat. The recipe is below.
|1 1/2 quarts||ingredients||…||6 quarts|
|3 oz.||raisins||12 oz.|
|2 oz.||sultanas (white raisins)||8 oz.|
|2 oz.||dried currants||8 oz.|
|2 oz.||shredded suet||8 oz.|
|2 oz.||candied peel||8 oz.|
|3 oz.||brown sugar||12 oz.|
|4 oz.||cooking apples||1 pound|
|zest of ½ orange||zest of 2 oranges|
|zest of ½ lemon||zest of 2 lemons|
|½ oz.||slivered almonds||2 oz.|
|1 teaspoon||mixed spice||4 teaspoons|
|pinch||nutmeg||½ teaspoon (½ nut)|
|1 tablespoon plus ¾ tsp.||orange juice||4 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons|
|1 tablespoon plus ¾ tsp.||lemon juice||4 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons|
|1 tablespoon plus ⅔ teaspoons||brandy||4 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons|
Combine all ingredients, except brandy, cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake @ 225 degrees (1/4 gas mark) about 3 hours. Cool completely then add brandy. For 8” or 9” pie, fill empty uncooked pie shell and cover with top crust, cut slits in shape of star to vent. Bake @ 425 degrees for about 40 minutes until bubbling.
*Mixed Spice can be found at local British Import stores or you can make your own:
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground allspice
1 tbsp. ground nutmeg
2 tsp. ground mace
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground ginger
Combine and store in sealed jar.
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