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!  

A Day’s Trip into History

One of the pleasures of living in Pennsylvania is the rich history woven deep into the fabric of the land. There are many celebrations of such history, and I’ll gladly travel quite a distance to take part. One occasion in late September commemorates the Battle of Paoli.

Though the battle was bloody, Paoli Heritage Day is a happy celebration of history in general, and the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods especially. On a sunny, sloping field, inventors, soldiers, crafts-men and women, and artists pitched tents and shared their talents and passions.


One I sought out in particular was Dr. Franklin. I had met him earlier at a previous Exhibition and Demonstration held in a public library.

Franklin’s Exhibit

He was extremely affable, and demonstrated for me his recently-built re-creation of a small vacuum pump, made from a design invented in the mid-17th C. He also pointed out the handsome flag beside him.

Mr. Franklin and His Inventions

He designed it for the Associators of southeastern PA, a volunteer militia group (which was, he told me, the roots of the Pennsylvania National Guard).

The sound of music drew me to a tent aswirl in color, where a group of men, women, and children were dancing: the Heritage Dancers.

Country Dancers

I delighted in watching them, and then they invited me to take part! The learned lady who talked us through the steps later told me that the English Country Dances, like those we were doing, were very popular in the Colonies. A Briton had made written record of many of them, and that is our sole surviving record of most of them. (That record now is protected in a British museum).

Next door was another musical sound: the blacksmith.

He was making various kinds of useful hooks out of iron, and when his hammer hit the hot metal just so, it rang with a bright, clear, penetrating sound that resounded – I could feel it in my body! I’ve watched blacksmiths before, but never heard or felt quite that musical a sound; maybe this man had particular skill. A gentleman who came up to buy some of the blacksmith’s handsome hardware said that he had dug up a number of just such hooks while restoring a historic house. History relives!

Nearby to the blacksmith, a woman was churning ice cream – yes, an authentic Colonial treat! Thomas Jefferson, in fact, had imported from France the receipt (recipe) she was using for – what else? – French Vanilla.

The woman was Susan McLellan Plaisted of Heart to Hearth Cookery. She was using what looked a great deal like the ice-cream maker my family had when I was a kid (ours was a replica – I’m not quite that old!). It was a rather narrow, wooden-staved bucket holding a metal canister in a bed of crushed ice and salt.  Unlike ours, hers had no crank; she turned the tall pewter cylinder with her hands. Anyone who helped churn could get a taste of ice cream; it was chilly work. I would have liked to get a picture of her, but she was always surrounded by an audience eager to try her ice cream! (It was delicious).

There were more fun things for children. Another booth had a spread of Colonial toys and games.

Two ladies there were making corn husk dolls, one for a child who waited with delightful eagerness.

I visited a number of tents with information from a wealth of historic sites nearby, like Historic Waynesborough, home of “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Did you know that General Wayne was the “ancestor” of Bruce (the Batman) Wayne? I’m enough of a comic book geek that I did! And Historic Waynesborough did, too: their tent had a poster with a comic book panel of Bruce Wayne researching and musing about his ancestor!

The sun was powerful on that open field, so it was a relief to go down to the tree-line, where a woman was surrounded by a small audience seated on straw bales. The woman was Molly Pitcher.

Story Telling

She had a warm accent that sounded like it came from the British Isles – but then, many of the Colonials did, too! She talked of how she supported her husband and showed us the gear she carried. Sometimes in the heat of summer, a soldier discarded his hot and heavy blanket, but if a woman traveled with a soldier, she kept hold of that blanket!

Molly told us how she braved cannon balls and musket fire to fetch water and carry ammunition during the famous battle of Monmouth. In the act of passing a cartridge, she got her petticoat shot off!

While Molly recounted her story, a Patriot soldier nearby enlisted children volunteers to come into the woods to scout for Redcoats.

Several minutes later, we heard gunshots! But the children came running out of the woods chasing the Redcoats – it was a rout!

Around the field was a veritable timeline of American Military History: the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, The Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. All had re-enactors in historical dress, many with camps and arms. I gravitated toward the Colonial period…but sometimes, time warps appeared on the field.

Wrinkled Time

The celebration was a commemoration of history both local and national, and a fine way to Remember Paoli.

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