A Recipe of Memory and Imagination

Three events conspired to instigate this post. First, I read VT Dorchester’s blog about “Cookies from 1890,” actually about two kinds of cookies. It made my mouth water, but I didn’t have the ingredients nor could I easily procure them.

Second, a magazine put out by a museum uncharacteristically included a recipe, for ginger cookies. That made my mouth water, too, but I still didn’t have the ingredients.

Third, while dusting my bookcase I came across a forgotten magazine article about baking from historical recipes – particularly “Mince Piyes My Mother’s Way.” Mince pies have been one of my favorite things since childhood, but I sure didn’t have those ingredients.

All three things happened in one day! With stomach growling, I began plotting my revenge.

Twelfth Night seemed a perfect time to write this and Epiphany a perfect day to post it. So, here is a recipe of memory and imagination, how my mother used to make…

Mincemeat Pie

First, enlist your family’s help.

Take an entire beef rump. Roast it.
Take a beef tongue. Boil and skin it as usual. Prevent your youngest from taking slivers of her favorite meat.
Procure a good quantity of suet.

Cut all three things into handleable pieces. Grind them in a hand-cranked food grinder. If your grinder isn’t the kind with a clamp, get your daughters to help, one to hold down the base with might and main while another of you grinds. Trade off.

Get the very large earthenware crock your family bought for a failed experiment in home-brewing beer; be glad you have it and make sure it’s clean. Get a wooden spoon so large you’ll only use it for this annual task. Mix the ground meat and suet in the crock.

Mix into this:
A full pound of raisins.
A pound of sultanas (golden raisins).
A pound of currants.
Keep mixing. When everyone tires out, have your children scrub from fingernails to elbows and mix by hand.
Add: a container of candied fruit, and another of candied orange and lemon peel.
An entire jar of very good raspberry preserves.
Another one of strawberry jam. Keep mixing.
Add a good mix of spices.
Moisten it all with sherry or cognac.

Procure a good quantity of patience, for this should best age for several months.

Alternatively, procure a reliable time machine. If you go with the latter route, take the crock back to, say, August or September. Place the crock somewhere dark, cool, and quiet, like a basement,  where it won’t be disturbed and where it won’t damage the time-stream.

If you’ve used patience, then it is reasonable to occasionally taste small samples – just to make sure it’s aging well, of course. If you’ve used the time machine, best not to risk the time continuum.

When the mincemeat has aged for several months, sterilize several large Mason jars and fill with mincemeat, to give to friends. Keep a good portion for your family.

When you’re ready to make the most delicious pie your family has ever tasted, cut up some tart apples and add to a good amount of mincemeat.

Make two good pie crusts; line the deepest pie dish you can find with one, fill with mincemeat. Top with second crust and cut decorative designs in the top.

Bake until golden.

Feast and revel.

Happy Twelfth Night and Epiphany!  

All Hallow’s Eve

photo of a moon light with a glass raised before it
Raising a Glass to the Blue Moon

It’s a rare occasion when a full moon falls on Halloween, and rarer still when it’s a blue moon! To celebrate this banner event, I offer a poem for the season.

Down from the forested mountains run
Broad shadows from the waning sun.
Hovering in the mistbound air,
The hidden moon waits, pale and fair.
A lingering rim of sun burns on,
Then the mountains gape and the light is gone.

Deep shadows drowning barren trees,
A whisper rustling fallen leaves,
A shiver in the wind, a sigh,
A mournful undulating cry~
The moon lets fall her veil and breathes
Her grace upon All Hallow’s Eve.
Gemma Brook

Candlelit Jack O Lantern

And inspired by VT Dorchester, whose mouth-watering date cake recipe makes me hungry and ready to bake, I also offer a recipe (though without VT’s flair).

I got this recipe as a kid from the Peanuts Cookbook by June Dutton, put out by Scholastic (long out of print, I believe). I made a “healthier” variation several years ago. We’ll start with that; it makes a dense, not too sweet cookie. It’s not for every one’s taste, I readily admit!*

Gemma’s “Great Pumpkin” Cookies
1/3 cup granulated fructose
2 ½ T canola oil
¼ cup plus 1 tsp liquid egg whites
2-4 T water as needed
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup whole grain rye flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
4 ½ T dark seedless raisins, chopped
½ cup walnut pieces, chopped

Preheat oven to 375˚. Sift all dry ingredients together. Beat egg whites lightly. Mix oil, pumpkin, and water (I usually need the full amount of water). Fold in egg whites. Stir wet into dry ingredients, then fold in nuts and raisins. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I use unbleached compostable). Drop batter by spoonfuls onto the paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen.

Peanuts’ “Great Pumpkin” Cookies
1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed
½ cup shortening
2 eggs
1 lb. can pumpkin [do they make 1 lb. cans anymore?]
2 ¾ cups flour, sifted
1 T baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ginger
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecans, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 400˚. Mix sugar, shortening, eggs, and pumpkin thoroughly in a large bowl. Sift dry ingredients and add to pumpkin mixture. Blend well. Add raisins and pecans. Drop batter by teaspoonsful on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven, and lift off with a pancake turner. Makes about 6 dozen. A delicious snack while you’re waiting for the “Great Pumpkin.”

Or a great snack while you’re waiting for the Halloween Blue Moon! It will rise a little after sunset hereabouts.

Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

Jack o Lantern glowing from within

*I baked this recipe on All Hallows’ Day, with what I had on hand (only whole wheat for flour, and olive oil for oil.) And — I quite like this batch! Of course, they’re always best fresh from the oven…

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