Mince Pies at Thanksgiving

by Harry on November 24, 2004

Thanks to the comments of CTers my Christmas Cake worked out pretty well; it would have been perfect if I hadn’t taken it into my head to go to the Urgent Care center to have my pneumonia diagnosed during the baking time. I assumed the visit would take less than the 3 hours my cake still had to go, but I was wrong because for the first hour everybody seemed to be watching the Badger game on TV instead of working. My wife let it bake the full 4 hours; whereas I would probably have taken it out after 3 1/2. Oh well.

So, it being Thanksgiving, I decided to make my own mincemeat for a mince pie to take to the Analytical Marxist’s house (our usual Thanksgiving destination). According to the Joy of Cooking mince pie used to be as pervasive at Thanksgiving as the utterly revolting Pumpkin Pie now is, so I feel it is my duty to reclaim the tradition. I looked at 3 different recipes on the internet, two from Rose Elliot, and the ingredients list on my jar of Tesco’s Finest mincemeat and came up with the following recipe. It is very boozy indeed, as you’ll tell and, if I say so myself, surprisingly good. It is also more-or-less fat free (the AM cannot have fat except for olive and walnut oils, so I am going to risk all and see if I can make a small pie with walnut oil as shortening; and make a larger one with proper pastry and a large amount of butter to fatten up the mince). The recipe below made a enough mincemeat for a small pie, a large pie, and a bunch of individual pies I shall be offering to my political philosophy class after they have done their evaluations (so don’t tell them).

1 lb currants
1 lb sultanas
1 lb raisins
4 oz prunes
Grated rind and juice of 2 Lemons and one Orange
6 oz walnuts chopped very small
1 oz crystallized ginger chopped very small
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup Cointreau
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Mix all the ingredients EXCEPT the prunes, currants and Cointreau. Take about 1/5th of the mixture and turn it to sludge, with the prunes, in the Cuisinart. Remix with the rest of the ingredients. Mix in currants and Cointreau. Leave covered for a day or so (or a few weeks, if you can).

If anyone could put me in touch with Lynette Potts who made the best mince pie pastry I’ve ever tasted, then I’d be in clover.



Vaughn Hopkins 11.24.04 at 7:19 pm

Mince pie should be minced meat pie. It was a way to use the bits and pieces of a butchered hog that just didn’t work for other dishes. So, you left out the minced meat.


harry 11.24.04 at 7:22 pm

Surely I can reclaim the tradition without having to ape it slavishly?


Cranky Observer 11.24.04 at 7:32 pm

Well, you didn’t ASK about pneumonia!



Russell Arben Fox 11.24.04 at 7:42 pm

I like Garrison Keillor’s basic assessment of pumpkin pie, which really is a revolting and lazy pasty: the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever tasted probably isn’t much different from the worst. It’s a vehicle for nutmeg, nothing more.

Happy Thanksgiving Harry, and all.


y81 11.24.04 at 8:14 pm

I have to disagree with Vaughn: this is the sort of pie that my mother made at Thanksgiving when I was young, called “mince pie.” You can use the same mince mixture and mix it with chopped meat to make mincemeat.

I also think that a proper mince mixture includes dried apple, but I confess that I’m not really an expert. No one much liked mince pie in my family and my mom switched to pecan when I was a teenager. This year I am making peach pie (with peaches from Chile, $3.89/lb at Fairway). What would the Pilgrims have thought of that?


jules 11.24.04 at 8:21 pm

Pumpkin pie may taste like sewer rat. I’ll never know cause I won’t eat the filthy motherf—–.


abb1 11.24.04 at 8:31 pm

You’re lucky you didn’t need any pig-fat for this thing, I heard it’s impossible to come by these days.


Martin 11.24.04 at 8:36 pm

The Garrison Keillor quote about pumpkin pie posted by Russell Arben Fox (the best tastes little different from the worst) suggests a question: Are there any food items such that the best tastes little different from the worst but they all taste really good? (No points for trivial cases such as single molecule foods (rock candy), foods only served by some narrow group of purveyors, etc.)

My mother, who never baked anything else, used to make a quite delicious pumkin pie at Thanksgiving. However, it was a pumpkin chiffon pie so I don’t know that it refutes the pumkin pie observations made by Harry and Russell.

I don’t recall the recipe, but I suspect it was a standard application of c. 1960 US chiffon pie technology, and should be easily reconstructable or identifiable in old cookbooks, if anybody cares. I think the basic idea for the filling was a mixture of whipped up pumpkin (presumably from a can), spices, lots of whipped cream, and gelatin dissolved in water. This was not baked, but poured or spooned into a crushed graham cracker based crust and allowed to harden in the refrigerator.


Matt McGrattan 11.24.04 at 9:23 pm


Mince pies very much do not contain meat.

[I assumed you were joking… but others seem to have taken it seriously :-) ]

Anyway, I have a recipe here from 1760 for mincemeat pie and it contains only dried fruit and alcohol.

[I think you are confusing the verb ‘mince’ with the noun ‘mince’]

I’ts pretty similar to Henry’s actually.

raisins, sultanas, chunky marmalade, lemon, candied peel, mixed spice, currants, sugar, cooking apples, brandy, nutmeg and ginger.

[The recipe is in ‘The Cookery of England’ – Elisabeth Ayrton. Which is an anthology of traditional English recipes dating right back to the middle ages and with loads of Tudor, Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian classics… Fantastic book. The New York Review of Books mentions it in their gastro-porn round-up here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/8309%5D


Vaughn Hopkins 11.24.04 at 9:42 pm

No, you have to add the pork! Sorry, that’s the rule.
I grew up in the Ozarks, and I can say with authority that in that neck of the woods, mince meant minced meat, mixed with the raisins, apples, lots spices, etc. that you have in your otherwise excellent recipe.
And, to continue to be contrarian, I like pumpkin pie! Including pumpkin chiffon pie.


Matt McGrattan 11.24.04 at 10:14 pm


What makes it the ‘rule’?

It’s one thing to say that people in the Ozarks add pork and that mince pies can contain pork and an entirely different thing to say that that’s the rule and they ought to contain pork.

As I’ve already pointed out, traditional English recipes for mince pies going back hundreds and hundreds of years don’t contain pork.

Or is the traditional recipe you know from the Ozarks the one true recipe and all the rest somehow wrong?

You may be able to speak with authority about mince-pie-making in the Ozarks :-) but how is that supposed to have some kind of claim over how the rest of us do it?


Andrew McManama 11.24.04 at 10:14 pm

It’s not true that all pumpkin pies taste about same. I’ve had pumpkin pie maybe four times since I’ve come to the states. Three times were about as you described, but the fourth was baked by a pastry chef and was absolutely fanastic.
Anyway, Martin, the best popcorn is about as good as the worst, and most people like popcorn!


Vaughn Hopkins 11.24.04 at 11:34 pm

Matt, mince meat pies have to contain minced pork because my Daddy said so, and my Daddy was always right. duh!! The best ones, the ones my great aunt baked were so full of pork fat that when cold they looked almost like lard. So, lets get with the program.

I agree about the popcorn, incidentally.


Kirk Spencer 11.25.04 at 12:00 am

re Mincemeat containing meat – not always, but not never either. From the Oxford Universal Dictionary (and absent criticals and italics):

“Mincemeat. 1663. [Altered from MINCED MEAT.] I. a. = minced meat -1747 b. A mixture of currants, raisins, sugar, suet, etc., and sometimes meat, chopped small; used in mince-pies 1845.”


Barry R 11.25.04 at 1:01 am

What a nonsensical assertion- that because one has found a recipe for mincemeat sans meat, that therefore to have the meat therein is an aberation! Zut alor! The wonderful Lobscouse & Spotted Dog cookbook based on the Aubrey/Maturin novels suggests that the origin of mincemeat may well go back to the Romans. I think, although only from an untrustworthy memory, that the earlier editions of the Joy of Cooking had a meated recipe for mincemeat. I suspect that the more recent fruit only version is a variant on an English chutney. Pumpkin pie, especially from fresh squashes can be a marvelous dish. I note the irony in one who apparently likes fruitcake, heaping abuse on another poor dish. Cheers for the holidays!


eszter 11.25.04 at 1:03 am

I never did like pumpkin pie, but usually had a tiny slice just to be polite. However, this all changed a couple of years ago when I discovered this recipe. I’m going to make it tomorrow again. The big difference is that it uses a ton of vanilla ice cream (which I don’t even like on its own, but makes this pie very yummy). The one downside is that it makes two pies, which is a bit much (especially since I will also be making a pecan pie, the peanut butter bars are about to come out of the oven, and a guest is bringing an apple tart).. but I’m not actually complaining.;-)


Brian 11.25.04 at 2:47 am

How can you hate pumpkin pie? That stuff rules. Maybe you’ve had bad grocery store pumpkin pie inflicted on you. But the homemade stuff is great – especially if you substitute brown sugar for the white and bump up the spices a bit so it doesn’t just taste like pureed pumpkin. (Which isn’t much to write home about all on its own, I’ll grant you).

I just made two of those and two pecan pies, my second favorite. Although pecan pie is more like a candy in a pie crust than a pie.

Your mince pie sounds like a boozy raisin pie, which I’ve never had but am told was one of my grandfather’s favorites.


SqueakyRat 11.25.04 at 4:05 am

My mother used to make mincemeat with suet (which I guess is the fat surrounding beef kidneys). Not one of the major ingredients, you understand, but definitely there.


Bucky 11.25.04 at 5:58 am

Suet is key, and sadly missing now from the rare anyway jars of canned mince(d)-meat that show up on the west coast of the US beginning now.
Without suet it is a candied stew of fruit bits, mostly raisins, in a mildly brandy-flavored granular syrup.
With suet it is a fortifying assertion that winter can be outlasted.


Kieran Healy 11.25.04 at 6:03 am

With suet it is a fortifying assertion that winter can be outlasted.

You can, or the suet? I’d say the odds are on the suet to outlast pretty much anything.


Matt McGrattan 11.25.04 at 10:34 am

“What a nonsensical assertion- that because one has found a recipe for mincemeat sans meat, that therefore to have the meat therein is an aberation!”

Heh, yes, fair point. What i was trying to say was that the existence of old recipes sans meat suggests that mince pies don’t have to contain meat. But I can see how it looks like I was saying they shouldn’t contain meat.

I would go as far as to claim that they usually don’t contain meat :-) – some kind of statistical rather than normative claim.

For pie-related debates we really need Fafnir…


harry 11.25.04 at 3:34 pm

I left out the apples because although they are in all US recipes, they’re in no English recipes, and I always feel they detract from the intensity of the experience. I left out the suet –which, I agree, is normally essential, and the absence of which from commerical mincemeat in the US is one of many faults –because the analytical marxist is forbidden to eat any fat other than wlnut and olive oil. I would re-include the suet in the other pie, as the one exception fto my vegetariansim, but I can’t find good suet easily int he local stores, and figured I’ll just try with butter instead.


Bucky 11.27.04 at 4:43 am

Inasmuch as the quoted phrase is in what I believe is called passive future tense it’s magnanimously inclusive – me, you, Cousin Bob, Niece Patty, Father Gillespie…all would be fortified thereby, and enabled to withstand hibernian discomfort more readily.
Inasmuch as the heart of the comment, itself, was a complaint that I have, myself, outlasted suet as an essential ingredient in the compote under discussion, we’ll have to invert your pithy supposition, more’s the pity.
What suet there is within my compass appears to be still insulating bovine kidneys, or, when it is available as victual, rendered anonymously into wieners.

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