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…
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!