Mince Pies

 Mincemeat - commonly thought of as a traditional Thanksgiving dish - actually traces its roots back to medieval times, when preparing meat with fruit and spices was one form of preservation. Early New Englanders would make large batches of mincemeat and store it in crocks sealed with a layer of lard for use over many months. Most modern versions no longer include meat, but here is an early New England "receipt" (or recipe), originally published in Lydia Maria Child’s "American Frugal Housewife" (1832), along with an adaptation for the modern cook, published in the Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook (Globe Pequot Press, 1995). The recipe yields filling for two pies.

Original Recipe

Boil a tender, nice piece of beef -- any piece that is clear from sinew and gristle; boil it till it is perfectly tender. When it is cold, chop it very fine, and be very careful to get out every particle of bone and gristle. The suet is sweeter and better to boil half an hour or more in the liquor the beef has been boiled in; but few people do this. Pare, core, and chop the apples fine. If you use raisins, stone them. If you use currants, wash and dry them at the fire. Two pounds of beef, after it is chopped; three quarters of a pound of suet; one pound and a quarter of sugar; three pounds of apples; two pounds of currants, or raisins. Put in a gill of brandy; lemon-brandy is better, if you have any prepared. Make it quite moist with new cider. I should not think a quart would be too much; the more moist the better, if it does not spill out into the oven. A very little pepper. If you use corn meat, or tongue, for pies, it should be well soaked, and boiled very tender. If you use fresh beef, salt is necessary in the seasoning. One ounce of cinnamon, one ounce of cloves. Two nutmegs add to the pleasantness of the flavor; and a bit of sweet butter put upon the top of each pie, makes them rich; but these are not necessary. Baked three quarters of an hour. If your apples are rather sweet, grate in a whole lemon.

Modern Adaptation

1¼ pounds of beef round or leftover roast
¼ pound suet
1½ pounds apples
1 cup raisins or currants
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon clove
2 teaspoons nutmeg
¼ cup brandy
2 cups cider or apple juice
Double recipe for Pie Crust
1 tablespoon butter (optional)

1. If uncooked meat is used, simmer beef 2-3 hours or until very tender, adding suet for last ½ hour of cooking.
2. When cooked, chop beef and suet very fine, into about ¼-inch pieces.
3. Pare, core, and chop apples to make 3 cups.
4. Mix beef, suet, apples, raisins or currants, white and brown sugars, spices, brandy, and cider or apple juice.
5. Prepare pie crust.
6. Line pie plates with pastry, fill each with half of meat mixture. Cover with top crusts, seal edges, slit holes on top for steam to escape. If desired, spread a thick layer of butter on pastry for flaky upper crust.
7. Bake ¾ hour in 400°-425° oven.

Yield: two 9-inch pies

Reprinted from Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook (Globe Pequot Press, 1995), with permission.