Pilgrim Seasonings

Plymouth Colony Foodways: Notes and Recipes from a 17th Century Kitchen

Idolatry in a crust

December 20th, 2012 by KM Wall

A modern mince pie

Mincemeat, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, was in fact, minced meat. Usually beef, sometime mutton, occasionally veal. Not just the meaty bits we now buy – sometimes tongue as well. But meat alone isn’t mincemeat. It also had copious amounts of raisins (a/k/a ‘raisins of the sunne’) and currents and sometimes dates and prunes, as well as generous amounts of spices and sugar. The weight of the dried fruit might equal or exceed the weight of the meat, and in the 1620 the raisins were much more expensive per ounce then the meat was.
Suet isn’t something we cook much with any more, but fat is another component of the mince pie. The fat is what makes it rich. During the 1700′s butter starts to come in as the fat of choice, and by the 20th century seems to be more common.
If I were making this mincemeat at home (and I have) I would take three pounds of beef, one to one and a half pounds of butter, three pounds of dried fruit, all cut small and well mixed (and be grateful that I don’t have to pick stems off the raisins and take the stones out of them) with some orange peel (two or three oranges worth – well washed, preferably organically grown oranges). Salt, pepper, cloves (this can be strong – not too much) and mace (or nutmeg if you have that – they have a very similar flavor profile). Put it into pastry – you can use pie pans if you want, sprinkle more sugar on top and bake them in your oven.
If you want to risk idolatry, make little rectangle pies and have them symbolize the manger where the Christ child was born. If you don’t want to fall into idolatry, make little rectangle pies just because they’re fun. You could even use frozen puff pastry and ‘let your soul delight in fatness’. And if you want to be thoroughly superstitious, go out on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas to a different house and eat a mince pie in each one to have good luck for each of the twelve months in the year ahead.

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2 Responses to “Idolatry in a crust”

  1. Paul Courchaine says:

    I’ve successfully made mincemeat with beef or lamb suet which I can obtain on occasion from my local Italian grocers. It makes a great ‘pye’.
    Where’s the brandy ?

    • KM Wall says:

      An Italian butcher is a very good friend to a historic cook – and any other sort of cook! I have rendered some of the suet that is set out for birdfeeders, which if you can get it while it is fresh and not molding….

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