Last Sunday, we stopped for a quick bite at the Middleburgh Diner. Sandwiched between the regulars and the travelers, I lustily listened to the discussion next to me. I could only target in on one of the talkers, but I got the gist of the conversation.
"We always have mincemeat pie on Thanksgiving. It was at the first Thanksgiving, ya know, a real American tradition, so my mother says ... Oh, you don't like to eat meat because of your cholesterol? Oh, mincemeat never has meat in it. It's the minced meat of raisins and stuff ... Oh, you don't like raisins? Well there you go. My mother would make you eat it anyway, for the tradition, ya know."
Mincemeat. I looked over to my companion and asked, "Do you like mincemeat?" "I hate it," he replied. Well, there you go.
I start thinking of writing my Holiday columns as soon as I see the Christmas decorations in Rite Aid, somewhere about August. As I listened to the mincemeat, man, I thought, "Isn't mincemeat, the traditional 'Christmas Pie'?" I decided to investigate.
Mincemeat pie is a tradition that comes from our ancestors, the English. It started as a meat pie around the 11th century when the crusaders brought home fancy spices from the Holy Land. Mincemeat was originally developed as a way of preserving meat without salting or smoking, probably not a sweet pie, but a main dish. Today, mincemeat pie along with their traditional plum pudding is a "must be there" pie at Christmas in England.
It is entirely possible mincemeat pie was served at the first Thanksgiving but unlikely, given the nature of the meat traditionally involved. It is, however, a Thanksgiving tradition today. Mincemeat was most likely added as the settlers/pilgrims desired to keep their homeland heritage alive during holidays or maybe they just wanted to preserve meat or maybe they just liked it or maybe they wanted to show the Indians that England really had a cuisine. Whatever the reason, the "new" Englanders adopted the tradition of chopping meat very fine, spicing it, mixing it with dried fruit and storing it for use for many months.
Oh busboy, what is mincemeat anyway? Is it meat? How do you make it? Will my family like it if I make it for Thanksgiving? Well yes, it is meat. Well no, it isn't meat. There are lots of ways to make it and "No" your family probably won't like it, if they have never had it before.
Usually mincemeat includes: minced items such as meat or dried fruit, suet or oil, sugar of sorts, brandy or other alcohol, and cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. If you want to add mincemeat to your holiday tradition there are many different variations.
Get the mincemeat out of a jar. This is the easiest, great for beginners and does not have any meat. It contains raisins, golden raisins, currants, sugar, apples, citrus peel, cider or apple juice brandy and spices. Tiptree is the very best brand, but at $12 a jar it's a bit pricey.
The traditional method that uses minced fruit contains no meat, but uses suet for meat flavor. This is the most common method. Oil may be substituted for the suet. I recommend www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/12/the-mince-that-made-my-butcher-wince/
The traditional method using only minced fruit and no meat. There are many, many recipes for this. Some of these substitute green tomatoes for the meat. I've never tried that, but it sounds good if you have some green tomatoes rescued from the garden.
The real traditional method using minced meat. There are many variations using this, minced beef and mutton, ground beef, leftover anymeat etc. Allrecipes.com has a nice variety of ideas or you can use the following original originally published in 1832 in Lydia Maria Child's American Frugal Housewife.
"Boil a tender, nice piece of beef--any piece; boil it till it is perfectly tender. Chop it very fine, and be very careful to get out every particle of bone and gristle. The suet is sweeter and better to boil half an hour or more in the liquor the beef has been boiled in; but few people do this. Pare, core, and chop the apples fine. Stone the raisins. If you use currants, wash and dry them at the fire. Two pounds of beef, after it is chopped; three quarters of a pound of suet; one pound and a quarter of sugar; three pounds of apples; two pounds of currants, or raisins. Put in a gill of brandy; lemon-brandy is better, if you have any prepared. Make it quite moist with new cider. I should not think a quart would be too much; the more moist the better, if it does not spill out into the oven. A very little pepper. If you use corn meat, or tongue, it should be well soaked, and boiled very tender. One ounce of cinnamon, one ounce of cloves. Two nutmegs add to the pleasantness of the flavor; Baked three quarters of an hour."
And if you prefer, I just tried this from David Lebovitz and its great, perfect for "I hate it" mincemeat eaters: 2/3 cup coarsely chopped raisins, dark or golden, 1/2 cup chopped candied orange peel, 1/4 cup brandy, Zest of one orange, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon (each) ground cinnamon and nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves. Mix everything together and put in a jar. Let stand for at least one to three days before using. Use in any mincemeat recipe or add to 6-8 cups chopped apples or pears and make a pie as desired.
Restaruant Watch : Why don't restaurants ever serve mincemeat pie ?