#203: Mince: The Real American Pie
A history of what was once known as the Real American Pie plus two recipes for mince filling for Stir Up Sunday.
Last month I mentioned that November 26 is “Stir Up Sunday,” the traditional day that mince fillings are made. In a comment, I was asked if I might have a recipe for mince filling. (Thanks for asking, Mel.🙂) I have several and today I am sharing two with you. As you may need a bit of time to gather all the ingredients, I thought it might be a good idea to post this well in advance of Stir Up Sunday.
Now follow me down the Mince Pie rabbit hole!
‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded..."
—Common Book of Prayer
You may never have made a Mince Pie as you may have thought…
too many ingredients to find
too labor intensive
too much time for curing
Monroe Boston Strauss (1900-1981), who was known as The Pie King, writes in Pie Marches On, (a fabulous book if you can get your hands on it by the way) 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."
Modern day historical pie guru, Ivan Day, who I would love to study with, 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. In the 16th century mince pies were known as ‘shred pies’ and made with tongue, offal or veal mixed with suet, dried fruits and sugar. Day says, “In Cumbria these sweet pies were partially eaten on Christmas morning and then saved until Candlemas morning on February 2." Perhaps they were only partially eaten and hidden away as eating mince pies on Christmas Day during Oliver Cromwell's rule in the 1650s was technically illegal. What a poop!
"Mince pie, like Masonry, arouses curiosity from the mystery attaching to it. Its popularity shall never wane until faith is lost in sight."
---Montpelier Argus and Patriot for March 10, 1880
Film critic and writer Cliff Doerksen (1963-2010) traced the history of what he called “the Real American Pie” and shared that mince pie was once “inextricable from our American identity,” and that during the Prohibition era it was a popular way to camouflage alcohol. "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."
If you look, you’ll find lots of recipes for mince pie. My reproduction copy of the 1742 The Williamsburg Art of Cookery by William Bullock has two recipes for mincemeat and three recipes for the pie. Janet Clarkson, the author of Pie has a number of references and recipes on her now retired website, and The Farm Journal Complete Pie Cookbook (1965) has no less than 20 mince and mince pie recipes. It is obvious that this pie has had a lot of interest for centuries.
Here are two recipes for you.
CATHERINE RICHARDSON’S MINCE PIE
This first from the American Heritage Cookbook (1964), is originally from the cookbook of Catherine Richardson. Catherine was in charge of Washington Irving's family kitchen at Sunnyside, New York. They must have enjoyed mince because this recipe makes a lot.
What You Will Need
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
How to Make It
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.
TRADITIONAL BRITISH MINCE PIE
This recipe was shared with me by a friend from England and is a more manageable size.
What You Will Need
1 lb/450g Bramley apples cored and chopped small without peeling (or use any tart, flavourful pie apples)
8 oz/225g shredded beef suet
12 oz/350g raisins
8 oz/225g sultanas golden raisins
8 oz/225g currants
4 oz 110g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
4 oz 110g glace cherries
12 oz/350g soft dark brown sugar you may want to use a little less if your apples are much sweeter than Bramleys
Grated zest and juice of two oranges
Grated zest and juice of two lemons
2 oz slivered almonds
4 tsps ground mixed spice* (See note below)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons brandy
How to Make It
Spend the best part of an hour weighing and measuring fruits and chopping apples or get your friends to help you.
Stir all the ingredients, except the brandy, together in a large ceramic bowl.
Cover with a cloth and leave overnight in a cool place so that the flavours get a chance to mingle.
Then place everything in a very cool (225F) oven for three hours. This melts the lard, coats the apples, and prevents fermentation.
Stir in the brandy to preserve everything and pack in clean sterilized jars.
The mince should sit for a few weeks before using so that the flavours can mature and, if properly made, will last almost indefinitely.
*‘Mixed spice’ is a ready made up spice mixture from the UK similar to pumpkin pie spice but omits the ginger and often including ground cloves. In the US I replaced all the spices listed here with 2 tsps cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp allspice and 1 scant tsp ground cloves.
TO MAKE MINCE PIES
Mincemeat pies are best made in a special pan with a rounded bottom.
A true mincemeat must have beef suet in it.
It will also have lemon and oranges, candied cherries, apples, brown sugar, golden raisins, currants, almonds, and candied peel. The tradition is to put a wish into the bowl as you stir it all up. Of course, as mentioned above mince is liberally doused with brandy and steeps over night before going into sterilized jars. Then it sits. A month on the shelf is a good amount of time for starters but the longer the better.
Use your favorite pastry dough. Here’s mine.
Roll dough to about 1/8-1/4” thick. Cut out round dough discs that are approximately 1/4” larger than the cavity you will be filling in the mold. Press the rounds of pastry into the bottom of each hole and fill each with a scant tablespoon of mincemeat. You don’t want to overfill as they may leak and stick to the tray. Place a round of dough on top of each pie and and press down lightly on the edges to seal it.
Bake in a 375 F oven for 20-25 minutes or until they are golden brown. After they are baked, sprinkle a spoonful of sugar on top of each tiny pie.
Mince pies are also incredibly good with a bit of rum butter but be forewarned it is absolutely addicting. Delia Smith's recipe is a good one. Another idea is a frangipane topping but leave off the pastry lid if you decide to make it this way.
My Favorite Mince Pie Tradition
I learned this from Janet Clarkson.
“…eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas, to bring good luck for each of the succeeding twelve months.”
What I’m Reading
I just finished The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese. It’s big book and one that drew me in deeply. I loved the characters and story that takes place over multiple generations of intertwining families. The last scene in the book is worth everything! The author also wrote Cutting for Stone which I also loved.
What I’m Listening To
NPR’s TIny Desk Concerts featured Hayden Pedigo this week. I had not heard of him before but I’ve added his mellow finger-picking guitar style to music to my playlist.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Amazon.