02 December, 2014

12 Days of Christmas, Day 2: Mincemeat Pie

Oh, Mincemeat.  Poor....POOR Mincemeat.  Mincemeat somehow gained a bad reputation since its inception.  I'm not sure how that happened.  The "save the animals" crowd or the vegetarian/vegan scene insisting that all animal products are ISIS incarnate in your body.  At any rate, somehow this pie got put into a corner and left there to rot.  Literally.  When I mentioned to folks in various conversations that I was making this for my Christmas series, there was obvious and major recoil to the word "mincemeat".  I first asked them what THEY thought mincemeat pie was.  Most folks basically described a pie filled with nothing but ground beef and a horrid one note brown gravy.  Not.even.CLOSE.folks!

Mincemeat began as a base of, yes boiled beef but added to it was a variety of hearty harvest fruits like apples, currants, sultanas (what we in the states simply call "raisins"), various spices, and....suet.  Yeah, you read that right.  Fat.  One of the basic ingredients was fat.  But hey...you gotta follow me here.  We're talkin' about the 11th century, people!  Back when living through the winter was hard as hell and food was scarce.  Back then, there wasn't even a "lid" on this pie.  Then, "mince pie" was created as a way to preserve meat without salting it to death.  Sure...yeah, they sugared it to death but, at least they did it along with fruits and spices.  It wasn't until WWII hit that we Americans began to make them through the Christmas holidays in massive quantities withOUT meat, because the meat was rationed to the point that mass production was no longer feasible if they included meat.  Thus, the modern day meatless mincemeat version of this pie was born.

Though it is without meat the name has retained that description because as a people, that is all we've known it as.  Having European ancestry, traditional or..."old fashioned" recipes weren't hard for me to find.  I sifted through them all and couldn't bring myself to cook a single one of them.  Instead I mostly used a combination of modern recipes that I could shuffle together and call alright....after I added my own flair of course.

Mincemeat Pie
4 Granny Smith Apples; peeled, cored, and largely diced
4 Gala Apples; peeled, cored, and largely diced
1 1/2 c. apple cider not from concentrate, extra if needed
1 c. regular raisins
1 c. golden raisins
1 c. dried currants
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
8 T. (1 stick) of unsalted butter
1/4 c. diced candied orange peel (I get mine from nuts.com)
1 tsp. orange oil
3 T. candied lemon peel (I get mine from nuts.com)
3 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. rum or brandy (apple cider can be used here if desired)
1 recipe of double pie crust
1 large egg, beaten
1 T. sugar

In a large pot over medium high heat bring apples, 1 c. apple cider, and the rest of the ingredient list through salt to a boil.  Once it is boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook it low and slow, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens and darkens in color, this will take about 3 hours.  Cook it until it resembles a jam in consistency, stir it about every 1-2 minutes for 20 minutes.  Add in the remaining 1/2 c. apple cider and your 1/3 c. of alcohol or apple cider to substitute and cook it until the liquid in the pan is thick like syrup, this could take 10 minutes.  If you want to stop here, you can.  This will keep for 3 days before it needs to be made into a pie.

Double Pie Crust
2 1/2 c. flour, plus more for rolling
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/2 c. lard (you can also use regular Crisco for this)
6 T. vodka (trust me...you'll never use water again!)
1 egg, beaten

Sift together flour, sugar, and salt and then cut in the butter and the lard with a pastry cutter.  When it looks like medium to large sized crumbs add in the vodka and beaten egg and mix with your hands or a large fork.  Form the dough into two discs and refrigerate for 30 minutes or roll out immediately between two sheets of parchment paper with extra flour so it doesn't stick to the parchment.

Preheat the oven to 400 F

When you are ready to assemble the pie roll the dough out on a well floured surface.  Make sure you roll the dough out a good 4 inches larger than the pan is in all directions.  You can test the size of the crust for fit by flipping your pan upside down in the middle of your dough.  Once one disc is rolled out, either fold the dough in half and drag the middle to the middle of the pie plate and unfold or roll the dough up LOOSELY onto the rolling pin and unroll it onto the pie plate/tin.   Then, fit it into the bottom of your pie plate/tin by lifting up the edge section by section and allowing it to drop into the pan as far as it will.  When the dough is into the pan, roll out the second disc of dough in the same fashion.

Don't put the filling into the shell until you're ready to fit the lid onto it.  Prepare the lid for steam to escape by making a large hole in the center of the pie lid.  This can be just a plain hole or a decorative one.  Since most of my filling was apples, I chose a small PC cookie cutter in the shape of an apple.  If you are making this for Christmas, a hole in the shape of a tree, an ornament, or even a reindeer would be appropriate.  Make sure when you fit the lid on, that the hole is as close to center as you can make it before you crimp the edges.  You can adjust it as many times as needed until you crimp the edges.

Once the lid is on and centered, trim the excess dough off of the edges with kitchen shears, leaving just short of an inch all around.  Grabbing both the bottom and top crusts, fold the edge UNDER all the way around the pie.  Crimp the edges of the pie by holding the edge of the crust between your right thumb and index fingers (unless you're left handed, then use your left hand for that part) and pushing the rounded edge of the crust in towards your right thumb and index finger with your left index finger.  Do this all the way around the pie pan.

If you wish, you can use the extra scraps of dough to cut out other shapes and lay them on the top of the crust.  I cut out a few extra apples and laid them on the top.

Either way, before you pop it into the oven brush the crust with beaten egg, then sprinkle with sugar.  If you think for ANY reason the pie will over flow, or just to be safe....put a piece of foil under your pie or on the rack below your baking pie.  Better safe than sorry

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes then REDUCE the oven temperature to 350 F, rotate the pie 180 degrees, and bake the pie for 30-35 minutes longer.  When the pie is finished allow it to cool completely before serving unless you're going the ala mode route with it, which I would TOTALLY advocate!  Warm apple pie with ice cream?  Who wouldn't?  We cooled ours though...

I love how my middle apple shaped hole became distorted.  Honest.  I think it gave my pie true character and spoke to the old fashioned nature of this traditional Christmas pie.  The ONE thing I was worried about, as my father in law stood behind me and fretted as I filled the cavity, was whether or not all of the filling would come CRASHING out into the empty spaces made by pieces eaten.  I have a pie gate and all, but...  Cooking the filling before putting it into the pan should have prevented it, and guess what??

Ta da!  It DID!  How marvelous is that!?

Well...not nearly as marvelous as getting to eat THIS was...

This pie just deserves a moment of silence....

Mostly because that prepares you for what you are going to hear for the first couple of minutes that people are eating it.  Just...quiet.  They are eating it and instantly taken back to their childhood.  I discovered that this pie is a favorite of my mother in law.  I never knew.  At holiday gatherings she usually has whatever Mrs. Smith's favorite she could find in the store and of course...no one in the states sells a prepared mincemeat pie.  I'll have to make sure I have one of these for her when we go to town for Christmas this year.

Now, I had this discussion with everyone while we were all noshing on our slices...  I don't think people understand that meat in this pie would in FACT taste wonderful.  Follow me here...  How many of you enjoy Sweet and Sour chicken or pork occasionally?  I know my Momma's favorite Chinese dish is General Tso's.  That is a breaded, fried bit of chicken covered in spicy, sticky...slightly sweet sauce.  Likewise, if you enjoy barbecue meatballs at your Super Bowl celebration....hellooooo????  You are eating meat in a spiced sweet sauce.  Period.  All it comes down to is the right combinations of sweet and spice and it makes the meat the star of the show.  I believe this pie could DEFINITELY taste wonderful with meat still in it.  You just have to do it properly.  I'll tackle that next year lol...

For now, this pie is wonderful as is, Americanized and filled with all of the best fruits of harvest and cold storage combined.  I hope that you give this recipe a try.  Don't be scared of the filling or the name...and if you've never made a pie from scratch, now is the perfect time to start!   There is NO better satisfaction than doing something yourself, for your family.  Especially during the holidays.  The best gift we all can give will always be ourselves.

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