Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Pie No. 5

The final pie in the Thanksgiving series is mincemeat pie – the  pie which is equally appropriate for the Christmas season, which approaches with great haste.
Mincemeat pies were around for a long time before they were called mincemeat pies. Meat with fruit in pies goes back to medieval times, and there were many names for the end result (see the 15th C recipe for Chewetys). It seems that the specific name ‘mincemeat’ referring to a mixture of minced meat, sugar, fruit, and spices is a late eighteenth or early nineteenth century phenomenon – but don’t quote me on that as I can hardly claim to have investigated it exhaustively! The OED gives the first known use in print as in 1824 in The Virginia Housewife, but I seem to remember seeing earlier uses - let me know if you know any, please!
Mixing meat (or in later times just suet) with sugar and dried fruit was a convenient way of pre-preparing rich pie fillings as the mixture would keep a very long time – an important attribute before canning and refrigeration. The dried fruit, sugar and spices were expensive imported items, and meat (and fat) was always prized, so the mix of “the goodly litter of the cupboard" was standard fare at any special occasion. We have long since lost the meat from mincemeat, but what remains still has a faint echo, if you listen carefully, of its medieval heritage.
The Vintage Christmas Recipes Archive contains a number of mince pie recipes dating from 1588, and includes mincemeat without meat, without intoxicants, with eggs, and with beets. In the link above is a recipe for Queensland Mince Meat (with mango), and elsewhere there is Mock Mince Pie and Eliza Acton's Mincemeat Pudding. There is always room for one more idea however, and the following is from ‘a married woman’ in 1847.
Mince Pie.
Parboil a beef's heart, or tongue, or a fresh piece of beef. When cold, chop very tine two pounds of the lean; chop as fine as possible, two pounds of the inside of beef's suet, and mix the meat and the suet together, adding a teaspoonful of salt. Take four pounds of pippin apples, pared, cored and chopped fine, two pounds of raisins stoned and chopped, and two pounds of currants, picked, washed and dried, and mix the fruit with the suet and meat. Add two pounds of powdered sugar, two grated nutmegs, half an ounce of powdered cinnamon, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of mace, and the grated peel and juice of two large oranges; and wet the whole with a quart of white wine, a quart of brandy, and a wineglass of rose-water, mixing them well together.
Make a paste, allowing for each pie eight ounces of butter and twelve ounces of sifted flour. Lay a sheet of paste all over a soup plate; fill it with mince meat, laying slips of citron on the top, in the proportion of half a pound for the entire mixture. Roll out a sheet of paste for the lid of the pie; put it on, and crimp the edges with a knife ; prick holes in the lid, and bake half an hour in a brisk oven.
Meat will keep good for pies, several months, if kept in a cool dry place, and prepared as follows. To a pound of meat chopped fine, and four ounces of suet, put an ounce of cinnamon, an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and two teaspoonfuls of salt, add, if liked, eight ounces of currants, eight of raisins, and four of citron. Add too, a tumbler of brandy or wine, three spoonfuls of molasses, and sugar enough to make it quite sweet. Put all in a stone pot, and cover it with a paper wet in brandy. In using it, take equal weights of meat and apples pared and chopped fine. If not seasoned enough, add to the taste. If the apples are not tart, put in lemon juice or cider.
The Improved Housewife, by A. L. Webster, A married lady (1847)
Quotation for the Day …
Thanksgiving is America's national chow-down feast, the one occasion each year when gluttony becomes a patriotic duty (in France, by contrast, there are three such days: Hier, Aujourd'hui and Demain).
[i.e Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow]
Michael Dresser


Lady of the Mote said...

I have been follow your blog for a few days now,just wanted to take the time to say thanks,I so enjoy the history of food and how it affects us today,
hope you have a very Blessed Thanksgiving,thank you for the time you give your posts.

srhcb said...

I enjoyed the Thanksgiving Pie Series.

For the record, when I was young. we used to go to my Aunt's for Thanksgiving and have a choice of mincemeat, pumpkin and cherry pie.

Today we had pumpkin, cherry and apple.

SB (MN, Upper Midwest)

The Old Foodie said...

Thankyou Lady of the Mote. I hope you stay on after Thanksgiving, and continue to enjoy my stories.

The Old Foodie said...

Dear SB. I have noted Cherry pie for next Thanksgiving time.

Rochelle R. said...

I enjoyed mincemeat and pumpkin pies this holiday. I've never had a cranberry one but I have seen recipes for cranberry-apple pies. I bet they are good. Your whole pie series was very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing the pie series, it was great!

A true mince meat pie is one of my favorites. My family uses the leftover odds and ends of meat from butchering an animal, the pieces with a bit of suet on it, sometimes a few organs [kidneys/etc], and we can it all with spices and sugar. Let it sit for a year, then in a year plop it in to the pie crust with a few extra ingredients [pretty much as you detailed, sometimes some of the fruits would be canned in also - depending on the time of year and what animal the meat was] to help flavor it, make it have a good variety, and thicken it up. It turns out quite delicious. Honestly, we haven't done it much in recent years, as nobody is as interested in mincemeat as when my great grandmother was around - who always made it. Too bad, it is definitely a tradition worth continuing. Perhaps with a bit less organ meat ;), not as many people like it as I do.

Anonymous said...

You know what always blows me away in these old recipes? The direction to stone the raisins, especially in recipes that require pounds and pounds of them. Imagine some poor housewife (or servant) having to sit down and take the seeds out of all those thousands of raisins. I'll never take seedless grapes for granted again!

The Old Foodie said...

Rochelle: cranberry and apple sounds like a great idea. I think I'll have to have a second Thanksgiving Pie series net year for these ideas.

Anonymous: Wow! a tradition of genuine minceMEAT pies in the family - I hope you do make it again one day.

Laurie: not to mention beating mixtures by hand, drying out flour in the oven before using it (it was often damp - and my favourite from the real old days, grating up the sugar from the solid "cone". Mind you, there were servants in those days too, and seeding raisins probably wasnt the worst job they had to do.

SometimesKate said...

Actually, seeding raisins was probably one of those times when all of the women sat around the kitchen table, talking and working, so it wasn't an odious chore.

While this is a bit late I know, my mother made a cranberry salad from fresh ground cranberries, pecans, whipped cream, and sliced Tokay grapes. Guess whose job it was to split and seed all those grapes? I can't find those in the store anymore, or I'd probably make a batch of the salad for nostalgia's sake.

I've been lurking and reading for a couple of years now, and just finally decided to comment, after going through and re-reading everything over the past few days.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Sometimes Kate. Thanks for coming out of lurkdom and commenting. I love getting comments. I agree, a communal raisin de-seeding session with lots of laughter and chatter might have meant a very pleasant afternoon.