Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Holiday Tradition: Mincemeat Pie (and a giveaway)

The winter holidays are sneaking up on us. Do you know where your family-favorite recipes are?

The Thanksgiving dinner. Edwd. Ridley & Sons., 1870
More importantly, do you know which hours are the busiest at your local grocery store or market? If not, figure that out now so you can avoid the crowds. After fifteen years on Galveston Island, I still haven’t discovered the right time to shop. However, I seem to have reached the venerable status of “old,” so I frequently find myself the beneficiary of Southern manners. Younger folks eagerly assist “sweet little old ladies” fill their shopping carts (possibly just to get us out of the way).

Though I am hardly a little old lady of the sweet variety, I’m not above masquerading as one when it serves my agenda.

Some traditional holiday foods have been around for a long, long time. Take mincemeat pies, for example. They date back to Medieval times, when savory “minced meat” filling stretched families’ meager ration of protein by adding beef suet, dried fruits, sugar, and spices to leftover meat. The recipe endured into the early nineteenth century, as illustrated by this recipe from Mrs. Child’s 1833 cookbook The American Frugal Housewife.

Boil a tender, nice piece of beef—any piece that is clear from sinews 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 sweeter and better to boil half an hour or more in 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.

[Add] 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. Bake three quarters of an hour. If your apples are rather sweet, grate in a whole lemon.

The term “mincemeat” arose about 1850 in the U.S. to distinguish traditional minced-meat pies from those containing no meat. Beef suet remained among the ingredients, though, and many cooks added nuts and some kind of liquor.

The 1875 edition of Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery included recipes for both types of filling.

Savory version:

Peel, core, and chop finely a pound of sound russet apples, wash and pick a pound of raisins, and let both these be chopped small. Then take away the skin and gristle from a pound of roast beef, and carefully pick a pound of beef-suet; chop these well together. Cut into small pieces three quarters of a pound of mixed candied orange, citron, and lemon-peel; let all these be well stirred together in a large pan.

Beat or grind into powder a nutmeg, half an ounce of ginger, and a quarter of an ounce of cloves, the same of allspice and coriander-seeds; add half an ounce of salt, and put these into the pan, mixing them thoroughly. Grate the rinds of three lemons, and squeeze the juice over half a pound of fine Lisbon sugar, mixed with the lemon-peel; pour over this two gills of brandy and half a pint of sherry. Let these ingredients be well stirred, then cover the pan with a slate; and when about to use the mince take it from the bottom of the pan.

Sweet version:

To make mincemeat pies without meat, carefully prepare, as before directed, a pound and a half of fresh beef-suet, and chop it as small as possible; stone and chop a pound and a half of Smyrna raisins; well wash and dry on a coarse with two pounds of currants; peel, core, and cut small three pounds of russet apples; add a quarter of an ounce of mixed cinnamon and mace in powder, four cloves powdered, a pound an a half of powdered sugar, a tea-spoonful of salt, the juice of a lemon and its peel finely grated, and a table-spoonful of mixed candied fruit cut very small. Let all the above be well mixed together, and remain in the pan a few days. When you are about to make mince pies, throw a gill of brandy and the same of port wine into the pan, and stir together the mince. Line the required number of patty-pans with properly-made paste; fill from the bottom of the pan; cover, and bake quickly.

I’m not a fan of mincemeat, but it remains a popular dessert for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Many contemporary cooks use prepared mincemeat filling (None Such is a popular brand, available in both condensed [dry] and jarred versions), so piemaking is quick and easy: just dump the filling into a pie crust and bake. Pillsbury offers a simple made-from-scratch (almost) recipe here.

My mother and grandmothers made their own mincemeat, which takes about three months to cure. If you’re industrious and have lots of time on your hands, you may want to try this recipe.

Makes 4 quarts

1 lb. cooking apples, unpeeled
½ lb. butter (or an equal amount of shredded beef suet)
12 ounces raisins
8 oz. currants
8 oz. golden raisins
4 oz. candied orange peel, chopped (to make it yourself, see recipe below)
4 oz. candied lemon peel, chopped
4 oz. slivered or chopped almonds or chopped walnuts
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
12 oz. dark brown sugar
2 ½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
About ½ cup brandy, or to taste

1.    Core and chop apples.

2.    Combine all ingredients except brandy; pour into a crock or large glass bowl, cover, and leave on counter overnight.

3.    The next day, preheat oven to 225° F. Stir mixture well, then pour into baking pan, cover with foil, and bake 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

4.    Remove from oven, uncover, stir well and let cool completely.

5.    Add brandy.

6.    Pack into jars or crock. Cover and refrigerate 1-3 months.

Homemade Candied Citrus Peel
Makes about 4 oz.

4 thick-skinned lemons (Meyer lemons’ peel is too thin) or 3 oranges
3 quarts water
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
½ cup sugar

1. Using a vegetable peeler, pare skin from fruit. Reserve the rest of the fruit for another use.

2. In large saucepan, combine 3 quarts water and fruit peel (either lemon or orange; repeat the process for the other fruit). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, until about 1 inch of water remains in the pan (about 1 hour).

3. Remove peels from saucepan and discard liquid.

4. In clean saucepan, combine 2 cups water with 1 cup sugar and boil over high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add peels. Let stand 1-2 hours at room temperature.

5. Return pan to heat and cook peels until they absorb all syrup (about 45 mins.). Stir frequently to prevent scorching.

6. Remove peels from pan, roll in remaining ½ cup sugar, and let stand on waxed paper or parchment overnight.

7. Place peels in airtight container and store in cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks. Do not refrigerate. (Refrigeration will make the peels gummy.)

To make a pie, fill pie shell with about 2 quarts of the filling, top with crust (either solid or lattice), and bake in 400° F oven until crust begins to brown (about 30 minutes). Reduce heat to 350° F and bake 30-40 minutes longer, until filling is bubbling and crust is golden.

Which pies do you bake for the holidays? Tell me in the comments! One of the commenters will win a copy of Prairie Rose Publications’ new boxed set of Christmas novellas, A Cowboy Under the Mistletoe. Stories by Stacey Coverstone, Livia J. Washburn, Donna Alice Patton, Kaye Spencer, Gail L. Jenner, and Tanya Hanson are guaranteed to make your holidays merry and bright.

A Texan to the bone, Kathleen Rice Adams spends her days chasing news stories and her nights and weekends shooting it out with Wild West desperadoes. Leave the upstanding, law-abiding heroes to other folks. In Kathleen’s stories, even the good guys wear black hats.

Her short story “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” won the Peacemaker Award for Best Western Short Fiction. Her novel Prodigal Gun won the EPIC Award for Historical Romance and is the only western historical romance ever to final for a Peacemaker in a book-length category.

Visit her hideout on the web at


  1. Kathleen, I didn't realize the non-meat version still contained suet. We have pecan pie. My mom also made coconut meringue and chocolate, but who needs that much pie for four people? My daughter Bea brings the pecan pie. We have "streamlined" our holidays into less food and more relaxation.

    1. I can't blame you for streamlining. Who wants to be exhausted for the duration of the holidays?

      If that daughter is Bea, I'll bet she makes a killer pecan pie. The woman is a nut. :-D

    2. I am the guilty one. But, I might point out, I am the only one in the family who doesn't actually partake of the pecan pie, and you are what you eat, sooo. :0

  2. As a kid, I loved mince-meat pie. Then I learned what was in it and changed my opinion. At Thanksgiving we like pumpkin pie and pecan pie. I used to make fruit cake at Christmas, but haven't in several years. I love it and even ate it for breakfast.

    1. I'll fight you for the fruitcake! :-D I love it.

      My parents were both history nuts, and my mother made the mistake of telling her children the history of mincemeat before we became acquainted with the pie. I just couldn't get past that suet thing...

    2. Love fruitcake--especially the Texas Fruitcake made in Corsicana!

  3. We always made pumpkin, sweet potato, chocolate, lemon, and coconut meringue and apple or peach. I'm not fond of pumpkin but the others are great.

    1. I like sweet potato pie better than pumpkin. There's just something creamier about sweet potato pie.

      Y'all sure do make a lot of pies during the holidays. I hope you have a big crowd to help eat them! Or maybe not -- that way there's more for you. ;-)

  4. Replies
    1. I just ate a piece of lemon-meringue pie the other day. Yum! I'll bet your pies are great. Your mom is always talking about making food of one kind or another, so I'll bet she roped you into helping when you were barely old enough to hold a spoon. ;-)

  5. Always loved mincemeat pie my great grandmother made. Not found anyone who can make it like she did. But then she had an oatmeal pie that has never been replicated (and the recipe is now lost) Sigh! I have the book, so do not include me in the drawing.

    Here's to pie's, oh how I miss them. (They just don't make good gluten free ones.) Doris

    1. Doris, graham crackers are gluten free. Just sayin'... :)

    2. There has got to be a way to make good gluten-free pie. We need to get busy researching that, Doris. Jacquie Rogers occasionally posts a recipe for gluten-free food. I know she's made nut crusts for some pies. Let's sneak up on her and make her tell us her secrets.

    3. Tracy, that's a great idea. I never thought about graham crackers being gluten-free. Thanks for that tip!

  6. I can honestly say I've never tried minced-meat or mincemeat pie. The senior pastor at my church in Dallas made minced-meat pie from scratch every Christmas. Guess I need to try it--just so I can say I have. :)

    1. Eat a piece before you realize what it is. Maybe that would help.

      The only way anyone will get me to eat mincemeat pie is to blindfold me a shove a bite down my throat. :-D

  7. I've never tasted mincemeat pie and, knowing about the suet, I probably never will. I usually make pumpkin pie. My son has a rich chocolate pie recipe that is to die for, which he often fixes for either thanksgiving or Christmas.

    1. Ooh! Can I adopt your son? ;-)

      The suet in mincemeat is what turned me off, too. It's just kinda disgusting sounding, isn't it? Blech.

  8. Keep the meat and suet out of that mincemeat and add some liquor and you can count me in! Mom loved minced meat pies--the sweet, no meat kind. I guess from years of having mincemeat pies, I fell in step with family tradition. She also made pumpkin pie, and homemade doughnuts and a ton of cookies for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was like one continuous holiday...and I loved it. Mincemeat pies were good (the kind that are made from apples, raisins, spices, and lots of sugar), but certainly not my favorite. I always wondered why it was called mincemeat.
    Thanks for that interesting history. Now go brush your teeth and practice being sweet, Kathleen, just in case you're in the grocery store and need some help. LOL

  9. I started making sweet potato pie a few years ago. I've always made pumpkin and fruit pies. I thought I remembered the recipe for sweet potato after the first time and accidentally doubled the butter. I realized it after it was in the oven. Now I do it every time. It quickly became a favorite.

  10. I must hide this or my dad will start in about a mincemeat pie. We've all tried but it's never "like his mom's." Well his mom put enough brandy in it to souse a preacher. Which is really the only way to eat mincemeat pie...when after the first bite you can't taste anything and you love everyone. :)

    My mom has made pecan pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas forever and my mouth is watering just thinking of it.

    Thanks for the great post, Tex!

  11. I can understand why I never even wanted to taste a mincemeat pie. Not my cup of tea at all. My favorite is pecan pie and until ten years ago, I never could make a pecan pie that turned out. A friend from Oklahoma, whom we have stated the best cook in the world, taught me the proper way and now I love making it.

    As far as fruitcakes go, I have a following and every Christmas I bake 18 cakes (6 at a time) and give them away to people in the community that have been good to us through the year. Last year I was touched when a clerk in our local grocery store asked if she could buy one from me. She took care of an older lady whose friend moved across the country. The older lady wanted to send him a fruitcake and the clerk couldn't find one she liked. So I gave the clerk a gave, she gave it to the older lady, and she mailed it to her friend. It just delighted me that one of my cakes made so many people happy. :) Did hear later that the man who ate it, loved it. Isn't that what Christmas giving is all about?

  12. Paisley--I'd love to have your fruitcake recipe. Can you put it on the Sweethearts Yahoo loop, please? Others may like, it too. Thanks, my friend.

  13. I make a great pumpkin pie, and I don't ordinarily like pumpkin pie. My mother's PP was thin, dense, and dark. I never, ever liked it as a kid or as an adult.
    But I found a recipe in my old Betty Crocker cookbook that is the very best.
    It calls for a can of sweetened condense milk and hot the eggs, pumpkin and spices. It's a thicker...taller...pie and a little fluffy. Add a dollop of whipped cream and it is die for.
    Mincemeat pie? I never tried to make one and probably never will. I did not like my Mother's, as I did not like her pumpkin pie, either. But truthfully, my mother was a great cook. She really excelled in cakes instead of pies.
    A funny story my sisters and I still tell...once, my mother asked an old aunt for her recipe for her Jelly Pie. The old aunt told mother, No, you can't make it. YOU CAN'T AFFORD IT. Well, this has become a family joke, a funny to tell and retell. Mother never made a jelly pie. I learned in later years you take all the bits of jelly in jars and mix them together...from there...I don't know. I do not remember the Jelly Pie.

    1. Don't put me in the giveaway. I have it already.

  14. Usually we have pumpkin and mince meat, since only 3 of us like them, I added chocolate cream pie. Thank you for your giveaway.

  15. Usually we have pumpkin and mince meat, since only 3 of us like them, I added chocolate cream pie. Thank you for your giveaway.

  16. My family's absolute favorite is sweet potato pie (made with Irish Whiskey of course!) as well as pumpkin, lemon meringue, apple and pecan. Yep this is one busy momma since I also make homemade oyster stew (from the Little House on the Prairie cookbook) and oyster dressing (as well as plain).

  17. So enjoyed your history of the famous Mincemeat pie. I've had it--my mother used to love it( most likely because of the boose in it), but it wasn't my favorite. My mother for years made pumpkin, apple and cherry pies for the holidays--she was a great pie crust maker and always insisted you had to have ice cold water to make your pie crust and golly if it didn't make a difference--much flakier and lighter. I carried on the tradidtion, usually making pumpkin and apple (my daughter-in-law loves apples and esp. apple pie). For Christmas I make fruitcake, lots of different cookies, sweet breads, plus the pies and a Lindy's cheesecake. Oh, I can't forget the cinnamon-sugared pecans--they're always a hit. The cookies and breads I used to take to most of my homecare patients--special ones for the diabetics. I also have the book, so count me out. Happy Holidays, Kathleen.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!