Mincemeat: An Old-Fashioned Pie Filling
By Mary Emma Allen
Pies for holiday feasting have long been a tradition. Often we'll have more than one for the family to dine on. These may include apple, pumpkin, lemon, chocolate cream, and for those who remember old-fashioned Christmas meals - mincemeat pies.
In my childhood, we couldn't purchase mincemeat in the store. It was homemade consisting of chopped apples, raisins, perhaps some other dried or candied fruit. However, the main ingredient was cooked beef.
Today's Mincemeat Mix
In these days of prepared mincemeat mixes, most American mince pies are made without a scrap of meat. The cook who prepares her mince pies with meat is indeed rare. But years ago, a cook's reputation could hung on her mincemeat making ability.
A friend once gave me a recipe for making homemade mincemeat using venison. She said the neck meat of the deer made some of the tastiest mincemeat you could find.
An Early Holiday Food
Mincemeat is one of the oldest pie fillings and was esteemed as holiday fare in the era of Henry VII, who proclaimed Christmas a day of feasting. Back in the days of ancient Rome, the first type of mincemeat made its appearance when Apicium, a Roman chef who wrote the first known cookbook, preserved meat with honey.
This method of preserving meat, or retarding the growth of bacteria causing spoilage, continued throughout the years when other cooks found that meat could be kept for a number of months if it were mixed with enough spices and sugar.
An Early Recipe
An early recipe for mincemeat pie was published in "The Good Hous-Wiues Treasurie" by Edward Allde, in 1588. The recipe, "To Make Minst Pyes," called for meats and various cut-up fruits. Allde also called for rosewater and cooked egg yolks in his recipe. Then he baked the filling in a crust made with eggs as one of the ingredients.
In another early English cookbook, "Minst Pye," a concoction of veal or mutton, was combined with fruits and spices. Gradually cooks added apples to the mincemeat. Some recipes called for ingredients such as Seville oranges and red wine.
Pies in Many Shapes & Sizes
Some early mince pies were baked in the shape of a manger, and a replica of the Christ Child was formed on the top crust. Through the years, the pie shape became rectangular, then circular. Sometimes these early pies weighed as much as 100 pounds.
In Elizabethan England, huge mince pies were made during the 12 days of Christmas. Guests were offered a piece whenever they visited.
Mincemeat Ingredients Different in New World
The English colonists brought their mincemeat recipes with them to the New World. Here it was made with the available ingredients. One early recipe called for a filling of bear's meat, maple sugar, and dried pumpkin baked in a cornmeal crust.
Later recipes included dried fruits, wheat flour for the crust, and imported white sugar. During our colonial days, mincemeat pies were a favorite dessert throughout the year, not just for the holidays.
For a very different mincemeat pie, try ICE CREAM MINCE PIE. Mix together 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine and press firmly into a greased 9-inch pie pan. Bake at 375 degrees F. for about 8 minutes; cool. Or use a prepared graham cracker crust.
For the filling: Stir 1 quart vanilla ice cream to soften; mix in 1 cup well drained mincemeat and 1/4 to 1/2 rum or brandy flavoring (if desired). Spoon filling into pie crust and freeze until firm. Serve with whipped topping and maraschino cherries.
© 2000 Mary Emma Allen
About the Author
Mary Emma Allen has been writing food columns and articles for more than 30 years. Her "Country Kitchen" column appears in print and online publications. If you're interested in running it on a regular basis in your publication, please contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit http://homepage.fcgnetworks.net/jetene/mea