Minced meat pie. Or mincemeat pie. Either way, I was bound and
determined to make one for this past December’s Big Weekend Tour
event* at the Israel Crane House. Determined, I tell you! I was going
to make sure that a minced meat pie (or small individual pies) was
included in our spread of historic foods if it was the last thing I did.
And believe me, it nearly was. In fact, the pie almost didn’t happen.
Let me explain…
There’s a sign in the meat department of one of my local Key Foods
supermarkets. It’s not very prominent, but it’s there nonetheless. This
sign says something along the lines of “If you don’t see what you need,
just ask, we’re here to help.” Well, earlier this past fall, I had decided to
try it out. Lo and behold, it’s true! And in the process, I discovered that
one could procure suet (aka beef fat) at NO CHARGE! Yep, it was FREE.
What a deal.
So, in early December, I asked for the meat required for my minced
meat pie, cut up in small pieces, of course, along with a nice chunk
of similarly-chopped suet. Eventually, I also purchased all the other
necessary ingredients. The problem then became, when could I make
this pie? I was so busy, baking Shrewsbury and Ginger-Bread cakes,
making pounded cheese, and procuring all the other foods. Finally,
although I had the filling mixed and ready to go, by the first day of
the Tour, my minced meat pie wasn’t done. Oh no! Thus, on that
Saturday night, in between the two Tour days, I had to “cheat” once
again. Yep, there just wasn’t time to make a proper pie crust AND
bake it. Plus, I was SO tired by that point! It was late, I needed to
go home and get some sleep. Thus, that night I made a quick stop
at the grocery, bought some refrigerator-ready-made dough, went
home, made one large pie, popped it in the oven, and within minutes,
I had a lovely minced meat pie! HUZZAH! Now, I do apologize for my
“transgression,” but dagnabit, I was gonna get that sucker made and
baked and over to the Crane House no matter what!
I used a receipt from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, which is
firmly rooted in British meat pies, particularly those of Medieval times.
In fact, it is most likely from that very time period:
TO MAKE MINCD PIES
Take to 4 pound of the flesh of a legg
of veale, or neats tongues, 4 pound
of beefe suet, 2 pound of raysons
stoned & shread, 3 pound of currans,
halfe a pound or more of sugar,
3 quarters of an ounce of cloves,
mace, nutmegg, & cinnamon,
beaten, halfe a dosin apples shread,
some rosewater, a quarter of a pinte
o[f] muskadine or sack, some candied
orringe, leamon & citron pill minced.
shread your meat & suet very fine,
& mingle all togethe[r]. for plaine
mincd pies, leave out the fruit & put
in blanchd almond minced small.
Yes, my pie had “veale” and all the other ingredients; although instead
of sack (Sherry), I used white wine. And I didn’t have any candied citron,
but I did have the orringe (orange) and leamon (lemon). Oddly enough,
I could’ve used neat’s (beef) tongue for the meat portion, as I found it
in the store. Then I thought, well, with all the fruit, meat, and everything
else, I’m asking enough as it is of our visitors and their palates!
Also, note the final sentence, where it says to “leave out the fruit” for
“plaine,” or regular, minced pies. In other words, “plaine” is mainly meat,
enclosed in a piecrust…or simply a meat pie.
Typically, the contents of mincemeat pies are soaked in either brandy
or rum; at least, in modern versions. Soaking is not mentioned here,
nor is brandy or rum. In fact, according to the late Karen Hess, who
transcribed this edition of Martha’s cookery book, the above receipt
is “mercifully free” from all that. I suppose I could’ve let my filling
stew for a few days anyway, but alas, as I mentioned, my prep time
was limited. Incidentally, Hess believes that the above “is a most
excellent recipe,” one that “deserves to be treasured and used.” That
opinion, and in fact all the other factors above, played a part in my
decision to choose Martha’s receipt.
Minced pie has an interesting taste, one that’s both savory and sweet.
The texture of the filling is unique, as well. Surprisingly (I thought),
however, everyone who tried the pie thoroughly enjoyed it. One visitor
even had a second helping! HUZZAH!
The photo below is a little out of focus, but I like it because it shows
me with my hard-fought-for-and-won mincemeat pie. Yes, making
it was a bit of a struggle, but I eventually triumphed and got it done.
*the December 11 & 12, 2010, Essex County, NJ, Historic Holiday House Tour