ON SECOND THOUGHT
By Carol Ferguson
Now that Thanksgiving Day is over and you’ve had your fill of pumpkin pie, let’s look ahead to the Christmas dessert.
In our household there is only one choice — mincemeat pie.
I can almost hear some of you readers saying, “Mincemeat what?”
Curious to find out if mincemeat pie (or mince pie as it is often called) is more of a Northern delicacy, I did a mini-survey around the office. The answers didn’t surprise me.
The majority of those questioned had never heard of it. Several said their mothers had made the pies for another family member — a brother or a father — but they themselves had not indulged. Mary Standfield, our business manager, said her grandmother not only baked the pies but did the actual chopping and mincing to make her own filling and put it up in jars for later use.
The folks who said they had eaten and liked mincemeat pie were lukewarm in their answers: “It’s OK,” or “I like mincemeat better in cookies,” or “My mother makes it for my father and we each have a piece but that’s it.”
Reporter Brad Kellar admitted that he enjoys mince pie with whipped cream, “... but then I like any pie with whipped cream,” — not exactly a resounding endorsement.
One of the men in the composing department, who has the same last name as I, was adamant in his dislike of the dessert. “No!” he said emphatically.”
I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you.
How can anyone named Ferguson not like mince pie?
That’s something to ponder over, but in the meantime I thought I would answer the questions of those who drew a complete blank at the mere mention.
Mincemeat is a combination of apples, raisins, citrus peel, sugar and spices, and historically it was considered a standard part of the Christmas meal on our East coast and in Britain.
At its origin centuries ago, mincemeat pies were a way of preserving meat without salting or smoking it. Tradition says that when the Crusaders returned home from the Holy Land, they brought a variety of oriental spices. It was considered important to add three spices to the pies — cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, which were symbolic of the three gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi.
In 1657 England, any Christmas feasting, including mincemeat pies, was banned when Oliver Cromwell, the self-proclaimed Lord Protector of England, declared Christmas a pagan holiday that promoted gluttony.
King Charles II, however, who ascended the throne in 1660, restored Christmas (and mincemeat pie) to the former status.
Up until about Victorian times, mince pies consisted of a pastry with a spiced meat filling mixed with dry fruits. Today, however, there is no recognizable “meat” in mincemeat.
According to an Associated Press article, the Borden Company, which sells approximately 80 tons of its None Such brand mincemeat every year, claims it still includes a “minuscule” amount of ground beef “... so we can be true to the name.” It’s only a gesture, though, because you will neither see nor taste anything other than the fruits and spices.
This suggestion may sound like “gilding the lily,” but a nice addition to a slice of mincemeat pie is a blob of hard sauce. When spread on the hot pie, part of the sauce melts, bathing the crust in a buttery glaze.
When I conducted my mini-survey, the mention of hard sauce brought blank stares from everyone. Although it is called a sauce, hard sauce is not liquid, which probably explains its name. It is made by beating together softened butter and powdered sugar, and then flavoring it with a little bourbon or rum. (Those who don’t cook with “spirits” can substitute artificial rum flavoring.)
If I’ve tickled your taste buds with all this pie talk, here’s a recipe so you can try it yourself.
1 9-oz. package Borden’s None Such Mincemeat (a small, condensed brick usually found in the same grocery section as raisins)
1 1/2 cups water
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped apple
Pastry for a 2-crust pie
Crumble the block of mincemeat into small pieces; add water and sugar. Place over heat and stir until the lumps are thoroughly broken. Boil for one minute. Add chopped apple. Cool.
Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry, and fill with mincemeat mixture. Moisten the edge of the crust with water, cover with top crust, trim and press edges together. Cut several slits in center of upper crust to allow steam to escape, and brush crust with milk. Bake in 425° oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Here are a few mincemeat pie traditions from Britain:
• Mincemeat 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; stirring it counterclockwise means bad luck for the coming year.
• While eating the first mince pie of the season, it is traditional to make a wish. (I generally wish the slice were larger.)
• The phrase “mince pies” is also Cockney rhyming slang for “eyes,” usually shortened to “minces” or “mincers.”
And finally, eating a slice of mince pie each day of the 12 days of Christmas is supposed to be good luck for the coming year. Twelve days of pie?
Come on, now, even I can’t buy that.
Five days maybe.
Ferguson is a feature writer for the Herald-Banner.
ON SECOND THOUGHT
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