Baking, Holiday, Preserves, Winter

Mincemeat for Pies

Mincemeat, currently firmly associated with the winter holidays, is simultaneously exotic and ordinary. The technique of mincing, chopping food into tiny pieces, has existed since ancient times. Mincing meat was practical on several fronts: it repurposed leftover meat, stretched a potentially limited protein supply, and preserved meat for later consumption. In Britain, mince pie is most often enjoyed around Christmas time and consists of a miniature round pie filled with mincemeat: a mixture of dried fruits, chopped nuts and apples, suet, spices, brandy, and other flavorings.  In North America, mincemeat pie is typically larger, 8-9 inches, and serves a gathering of people. In her 1853 cookbook, Domestic Cookery, Elizabeth Ellicott Lea noted in her recipe for Farmers’ Mince Pies, “Where persons have a large family, and workmen on a farm, these pies are very useful.”[1] Lea’s recipe yield forty pies that could be kept two months in a cold place and placed on the table when the housewife something filling for her family and workers.

Lea’s recipe starts with a beef head and two hog’s heads chopped fine with suet and combined with raisins, chopped apples, molasses, cider, currant wine, brandy, cinnamon, orange peel, mace, and nutmeg. The spices in mincemeat harken to the Crusades when English soldiers encountered the Middle Eastern practice of using spices to produce sweet and savory meat dishes. When they returned home, they brought aspects of this new cuisine with them, including spices. The association between mince pie and Christmas emerged very early as the three spices (typically cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg) represented the Magi’s three gifts to the Christ Child. Early mince pies were oblong intended to cradle a representation of the baby Jesus. It was believed lucky to eat a mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas as this 1920 advertisement from Robertson’s, a popular British brand of prepared mincemeat, encourages.

The meat in mincemeat slowly disappeared over time. Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615) called for an entire leg of mutton and three pounds of suet; however, by 1747, Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery Made Easy suggests the meat could be optional. She instructs the reader to blend the sweet components then notes, “If you chuse[sic] meat in your pies parboil a neat’s tongue, peel it, and chop the meat as fine as possible and mix with the rest.” As the price of sugar fell during the nineteenth century, sweet mincemeat pies slowly supplanted the savory version. In 1861, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management provided a meat-filled and a meat-less version. Within a few decades, meat was a rarity in mincemeat.

Today, in the United States, mincemeat pie frequently receives the same derision as fruit cake. However, not too long ago, Americans numbered it among the most popular pies. An editorialist in the Washington Post opined in 1907:

Mince pie is mince pie. There is no other pie to take its place. Custard pie is good and so is apple pie, but neither has the uplifting power and the soothing, gratifying flavor possessed by mince pie when served hot, with a crisp brown crust.

While for most Americans, apple pie has deposed mincemeat as an American culinary institution, in Britain, the enjoyment of mince pies remains firmly associated with Christmas celebrations.

Mary Randolph’s recipe is my first serious foray into mincemeat. Growing up, every Thanksgiving, we traveled from Maine to Massachusetts to celebrate at my grandparents’ home. There was always a huge amount and variety of pies. Apple, pumpkin, squash, cherry, and my great aunt would always bring a mincemeat pie. As a child, mincemeat held no allure. I never sought confirmation but, based on the name and appearance, assumed it was comprised of meat and nondescript lumps. Until attempting this recipe, I had been in the vicinity of mincemeat pie but had never actually sampled it. I was pleasantly surprised.

Randolph’s mincemeat pies are spicy, sweet, and, surprisingly, since I lack food memory connecting the two, Christmasy. Randolph’s recipe is a meat-based pie; however, in order to include the pies in our bags of Christmas goodies for friends and neighbors, I opted to leave out the hog’s feet and substitute vegetable suet. The result is a mincemeat pie ready for sharing.

Mincemeat for Pies

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 115-6.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 2 cups apples, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cups dried currants
  • 2 cups raisins, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups suet, finely chopped
  • 2 cups cider
  • 1 cup brandy
  • ½ teaspoon of mace, cloves, and nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt and pepper, divided

Method

1. Combine the apples, raisins, currants, brown sugar, and cider in a saucepan. Simmer gently until the apple is tender.

2. Remove from the heat and add suet, brandy, mace, clove and nutmeg. Mix well (or as Randolph puts, “intimately”).

3. Divide into two quart jars. To each quart jar add ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Mix well.

4. Store in the refrigerator until ready to make pies. It’s a good idea to let your mincemeat rest for the flavors to combine. At least 24 hours, but the longer the better.

Yield: two quarts of mincemeat filling

Notes

The easiest method for chopping suet is to freeze and grate using a box grater.

Mincemeat Pie

Ingredients

  • Prepared and rested mincemeat
  • Pastry for 36 mini pies ( I used Nancy Birtwhistle’s recipe, doubled)
  • Candied citron or lemon peel

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Roll out your pastry and cut 9cm rounds to fill the holes of a muffin tin. Tip: Place strips of parchment paper under the pastry to easily remove the baked pies. If using a metal pan, grease well!

3. Fill pastry with mincemeat. Top each pie with a sprinkle of citron or lemon peel.

4. With the remaining pastry, roll out 7cm lids or top your pies with a star or snowflake shape. If lidded, cut a vent hole before baking.

5. Bake until the mincemeat is bubbling and the pastry is golden, about 40-45 minutes.

Yield: 36 miniature pies


Sources

[1] Elizabeth Ellicott Lea, Domestic Cookery: Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1859, reprint 2008), 86-7.

Isabella Beeton, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861)

Hannah Glasse, Art of Cookery Made Easy (1747)

Gervase Markham, The English Huswife (1615)

 Cliff Doerksen, “The Real American Pie,” Chicago Reader, 17 Dec. 2009 (accessed 11 Dec 2020), https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/mince-pie-the-real-american-pie/Content?oid=1267308.

Food History Timeline: Mincemeat

Veronique Greenwood, “The strange and twisted history of mince pies,” Taste of Tomorrow: BBC, 8 Dec. 2017 (accessed 11 Dec 2020), https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20171208-the-strange-and-twisted-history-of-mince-pies.

Ben Panko, “The History of Mincemeat Pies, from the Crusades to Christmas,” Smithsonian Magazine 22 Oct. 2017 (accessed 11 Dec 2020), https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/crusades-christmas-history-mincemeat-pies-180966981/.

Linda Stradley,“Mincemeat Pie History,” What’s Cooking America (accessed 11 Dec 2020), https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory/MincemeatPie.htm.

Preserves, Vegetable

To Pickle Onions

Mary Randolph included a handful of recipes for pickling in The Virginia House-wife. While sugar fulfilled an essential function to prevent spoiling and extend the shelf life of foods in the form of jams, jellies, and whole fruit preserves, vinegar also performed a critical role in the fight against food spoilage. Pickling in vinegar was the preferred method for preserving vegetables until the invention of safe and reliable canning methods. Vinegar pickles allowed for the preservation of vegetables unsuitable for drying or cold storage, such as green beans, asparagus, and cucumbers. Peaches, apples, plums, oysters, mussels, and clams were also preserved as pickles. Kept in a cool place in earthenware jars and crocks, pickled food preserved foods from one season to the next. Sealing options were limited. Until the invention of home canning equipment, beginning with the patenting of the screw-on zinc lid in 1858, home preserving was limited by unreliable methods to seal preserved food from bacteria. Prior to 1858, sealing methods were imperfect with domestic advisors recommending queensware pots or glass jars or tumblers covered with tissue paper, writing paper dipped in brandy, or oiled paper. Pickles could be kept by keeping the food submerged in the pickling liquid. With these imperfect methods, the housewife had to be constantly vigilant for signs of decay amongst the family’s food stores. Lydia Maria Child advised her readers to regularly, “examine preserves, to see that they are not contracting mold; and your pickles, to see that they are not growing soft and tasteless.”[1]

For rural women, especially those growing their own food, preservation was essential. Living in an urban area, food preservation likely was not among Randolph’s chief domestic concerns. Her pickle recipes make evident that Randolph pickled for flavor or substitutes for hard to find items. Among the small number of pickle recipes are cucumber pickles and a couple of relishes, accompaniments to meat dishes in an era before ketchup. Randolph’s recipes for Oil Mangos and To Make the Stuffing for Forty Mellons were popular substitutes for mango in early American cookery. Another popular substitute was pickled green peaches. British Cookbook author Dr. William Kitchener opined these were “the best imitation of the Indian mango.”[2] Pickled nasturtium served as a stand-in for capers.

This is not a quick-pickle recipe. Randolph’s recipe includes a two-week brine for the onions, a step that draws moisture out of the onions and softens them. This step allows the onions to fully absorb the vinegar and be preserved (or pickled) all the way through. Most modern recipes for pickled onions are a two-day process. One day for brining and pickling on the second day.  

Randolph’s pickled onions, simply flavored with a small amount of turmeric, were crunchy with a sharp bite from the onion and vinegar. Her instructions advise, “with a little turmeric. If the vinegar is not very pale, the onion will not be a good color.” Presumably, the tiny amount of spice is to preserve the onions’ color rather than dye them yellow with too much turmeric. I may have erred on the side of too much turmeric, as the onions were slightly yellow on the outsides even though the vinegar they steeped in was a very pale yellow. Nevertheless, the turmeric flavor was imperceptible. I thinly sliced the onions and enjoyed them on a burger. They could also be chopped and used as a taco or hotdog topping. Randolph likely served them alongside roasted meats.

To Pickle Onions

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 167.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 2-3 medium white onions (enough to fit in a 1 quart wide-mouthed mason jar)
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Brine (Note: the brine is prepared four times for the recipe.)

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons salt

Method

1. Wash your onions and cut the stem close to the root (onions purchased from the grocery store are usually already trimmed). Place the onions in the jar.

2. Prepare the brine: bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the 4 tablespoons of salt. Stir and boil until the salt is dissolved.

3. Pour the brine into the jar with the onions, ensure all the onions are covered by the brine.

4. Allow the onions to stand for two weeks. During this time, shake the jar daily to ensure all the onions are brining evenly. Every three days, change the brine.

5. After two weeks, remove the skin and outer shell from each onion. Place the onions in a new jar and add 4 cups white vinegar and 1/8 teaspoon turmeric. Shake well and leave the jar in a cool, dry place for at least two weeks.

6. Thinly slice the onions and enjoy!


Sources

[1] Mrs. (Lydia Maria) Child, The American Frugal Housewife (New York: Samuel S. & William Wood, 1838), 8.

[2] William Kitchener, M.D., The Cook’s Oracle; And Housekeeper’s Manual (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1830), 404.

Anna Hinds, “How to Pickle Onions,” Storing and Freezing, (accessed 23 September 2020), http://www.storingandfreezing.co.uk/how-pickle-onions.html.

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 120.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 206-7.

Sue Shephard, Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000).

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

To Stew Tomatos

Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife includes a variety of ways to prepare vegetables, dispelling the myth that early Americans only ate vegetables boiled to an indistinguishable pulp. The vegetable section contains fourth-nine recipes ranging from salad to broiled mushrooms. These recipes are representative of the produce available to early nineteenth-century Virginians, and the number of recipes for tomatoes suggests tomatoes were a common and widely accepted fruit for the times. Perhaps more so than historians previously thought.

Randolph’s seventeen recipes, including tomatoes as a primary ingredient, including four Spanish recipes (Gaspacha – Spanish, Ropa Veija, Olla, Eggs and Tomatos (Piperade)), are evidence of the tomato’s use in Early National Virginia and the spread of the fruit in the United States. The introduction of tomatoes likely occurred through Spanish Florida or emigration between the low country and the West Indies. Randolph’s four Spanish recipes strongly suggest Spanish Florida’s influence in the adoption of tomatoes in the southern United States. Tomatoes were standard in the southern colonies by the mid-eighteenth century. Thomas Jefferson grew the fruit in his gardens in Monticello by 1782 and noted others in Virginia did the same for personal consumption. The tomato spread more slowly in the northern U.S. However, by 1832, Lydia Maria Child wrote in her collection of recipes, The American Frugal Housewife, that the tomato “is a delicious vegetable. It is easily cultivated, and yields a most abundant crop.” Child also noted that “the best sort of catsup is made from tomatoes.”[1]


Richard J. Hooker, Ed., A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 89.

The earliest extant written culinary reference to tomatoes appears in Harriot Pinckney Horry’s manuscript recipe collection. Richard J. Hooker, the editor of the published version of her collection, A Colonial Plantation Cookbook, wrote her recipe To Keep Tomatoos for Winter Use, “could well be the earliest reference to tomatoes in any American cookbook” and likely dates to around 1770.[2] Like Horry’s recipe, Randolph’s To Stew Tomatos calls for peeled tomatoes simmered with salt and pepper. Horry specifies her recipe produces tomatoes for soup during the winter. She also includes instructions to preserve the stewed tomatoes for later use (poured into pint pots and sealed with butter). In comparison, Randolph does not provide a specific purpose for her recipe. The lack of this information suggests Randolph expected her audience to be familiar with uses for stewed tomatoes.

Randolph’s simple recipe for stewed tomatoes is a possible example of the types of tomato preparations enjoyed in early America. The recipe To Scollop Tomatos explores the fruit’s initial introduction to European foodways and the skepticism that accompanied it.

To Stew Tomatos

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 101.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 5 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt & pepper
  • ½ to 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

Method

1. Peel, core, and quarter the tomatoes. An easy method for peeling tomatoes is to cut an “X” on the bottom of each tomato and place them in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and let them sit for one minute. Remove the tomatoes from the water and the skins should peel off easily.

2. Place in a pan with remaining ingredients except sugar over medium heat.

3. Once the mixture begins to boil, turn down the heat to low and simmer the mixture. Stir occasionally, and break up the tomatoes with your spoon as they cook.

4. Simmer 30 minutes. Once removed from the heat, taste your tomatoes and determine whether to add sugar.

Yield: 2 cups stewed tomatoes

Serving: For tomato lovers, these are excellent served as a side dish. The intense tomato flavor and juice would make a good accompaniment to a grilled meat. The dish can also be used in place of canned stewed tomatoes in recipes.

Notes

Another recipe that is easily scaled up or down.

My tomatoes were very sweet, if your tomatoes are more acidic you may find the addition of ½ to 1 tablespoon of sugar will balance the taste.


Sources

[1] Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife  (Boston: Carter, Hendee & Co., 1832), 35.

[2] Richard J. Hooker, Ed., A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 89.

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 800-801.

Hooker, Richard J., Ed., A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984).

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 61-62.

John F. Mariani, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 506.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 294-6.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 590-1.

Andrew F. Smith, The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1994).

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Peach Marmalade

When we produce homemade jams and jellies in our kitchens, we often pat ourselves on the back for being particularly frugal. In the early modern period, preserving with sugar was an especially luxurious, even pretentious, means of keeping the summer’s bounty for later enjoyment. Drying and pickling were far more economical in locales and eras where sugar was expensive and firewood scarce. Early National Virginia suffered neither of these scarcities. The number of preserve recipes (and their liberal use of sugar) in Randolph’s collection suggests that sugar preserves were a popular means of putting up fruits for colder months.

Nearly all the preserves in Randolph’s cookbook, except for a few pickles, rely on sugar to prevent spoiling and extend the shelf life of foods. During the eighteenth century, sugar transitioned from a luxury item to an everyday necessity within many European societies,  including England and, by extension, Canada and the United States. The establishment of sugar colonies in the West Indies and South America dramatically increased sugar’s availability in English and American markets. In 1660, England consumed one thousand hogsheads of sugar. By 1753, that number had ballooned to over one hundred thousand hogsheads.

As sugar production increased with enslaved labor on New World plantations, a mass market emerged. Before this explosion in availability, sugar was used in small quantities by an elite few as a medicine, spice, or decorative substance. The production and sharing of fruit preserves, such as Randolph’s marmalade, manifested status through women’s “associations with the fruits themselves and, second, in their extravagant use of sugar.”[1] Alongside the increase in sugar production, were new ways of consuming it. Historian Sidney W. Mintz traced growing uses for sugar within the English working class’s diets via increased consumption of “sucrose-heavy foods – treacle, jams, raw sugar for tea and baking, puddings, and baked goods.”[2] Similar transitions occurred in American diets with jam and jellies, cakes, pie, cookies, doughnuts, and many more sweet treats.

Randolph’s Peach Marmalade is an example of the sorts of simple jams produced for short-term use during the Early National period. Currently, we firmly associate marmalade with citrus fruits. However, historically the term refers to a simple jam employing few ingredients and little effort to refine the end product. Randolph’s chunky, delicious peach preserve fits this definition perfectly. It’s an easy jam to simmer on the stove while attending to other matters in the kitchen, and the results are scrumptious served over ice cream for a simple summer dessert.

Peach Marmalade

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 156.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds peaches
  • 1 pound light brown sugar

Method

1. Peel and slices peaches. Randolph recommends paring the peaches, but a simpler method is to plunge the peaches in boiling water with an x cut into the skin. Remove after one minute and place in an ice bath.

2. Place the peaches in a pan with the sugar. Stir and allow the mixture to rest to pull out the juices (10-15 minutes).

3. Simmer the peaches over medium-low heat stirring frequently. Use the spoon to break up the peaches as they cook.

4. Simmer until the peaches become “a transparent pulp” or about thirty minutes. When the mixture thickens and no longer rushes to fill the space when you drag your spoon across the bottom of the pan, the marmalade is ready.

Yield: ~1 pint marmalade

Serving: Randolph notes, “Puffs made of this marmalade are very delicious.” My family enjoyed the marmalade stirred into plain yogurt, as a topping for ice cream, and with whipped cream on puff pastry. This final version, a take on Randolph’s suggestion to serve the marmalade with puffs, was delectable.

Notes:

Store your marmalade in a tightly sealed jar and refrigerate. This recipe has not been tested for canning.

This marmalade can be made in virtually any amount following to 2:1 ratio of peaches to brown sugar.

Randolph recommends yellow peaches for this recipe and I concur. They make the prettiest and tastiest preserves.


Sources

[1] Amanda E. Herbert, Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), 55-6.

[2] Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985), 39, 96-102, 143.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 156.

Sue Shephard, Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000).

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 477.

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Peach Chips

By Randolph’s day, sources suggest peaches and other stone fruits were plentiful in Virginia. Peaches (Prunus persica) originated in China. Traders spread the fruit into Persia, Greece, Italy, and parts of northern Europe. The earliest accounts of fruit growing in colonial Virginia suggest the first orchards dated to the 1630s. In 1633, a Dutch sea captain recorded peaches growing at George Minifie’s estate between Blunt Point and Jamestown. Of the first peaches he had seen in the Americas, the sea captain wrote, “Arrived at Littleton, where Menifit [sic] lives. He has a garden of two acres full of primrose, apple, pear, and cherry trees . . . Around the house there were plenty of peach trees, which were hardly in bloom.”[1] By the early eighteenth century, Robert Beverly recorded an abundance of stone fruits in Virginia, including peaches: “Peaches, nectarines, and apricots, as well as plumbs and cherries, grow there upon standard trees. They commonly bare in three years from the stone, and thrive so exceeding that they seem to have no need of grafting or inoculating.”[2] With this profusion, it is unsurprising The Virginia House-wife includes nine recipes for peaches. Aside from recipes for peach ice cream and pudding, all aim to preserve the sweet fruit for later enjoyment. In Virginia, peach varieties ripen from early June until mid-September, providing the enterprising housewife plenty of time to produce a few of Randolph’s recipes and enjoy peach flavor year-round.

One such recipe is “Peach Chips.” The recipe itself is straightforward with instructions to thinly slice the fruit, boil the slices until transparent in a simple syrup, and dry in the sun. The results are reminiscent of fruit leather, and a tasty, simple way to preserve some summer peaches for later enjoyment. Since I had raw, local honey on hand, I made mine with honey, and the combination of honey and peach was fantastic!

Peach Chips

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 156.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe peaches, any variety
  • 3 oz granulated white sugar or honey
  • 3 oz water

Method

1. Thinly slice the peaches as uniformly as possible. A mandolin would work well here but is not required.

2. Mix together the sugar (or honey) and water. Simmer gently until the sweetener dissolves.

3. Add the thinly sliced peaches and boil gently until transparent (to check this simply slide your cooking utensil under a peach slice, if you can see the utensil, the slices are sufficiently transparent).

4. Carefully remove the peaches from the syrup and place them on a silicone baking mat or parchment paper-lined sheet (Don’t discard the simple syrup, save it for cocktails!).

5. Bake at 200 degrees for one hour. Gently flip the peaches and bake another hour.

Yield: ~15 peach chips

Storage: Randolph advises storing layered in jars with powdered sugar between the layers. Mine kept nicely in an airtight container without powdered sugar for one week.

Note: This recipe is easily scaled up or down. For testing purposes, I used just two yellow peaches; however, it’s worth the effort to make more.


[1] H.P. Gould, Peach-Growing (New York: Macmillan, 1918), 5.

[2] H.P. Gould, Peach-Growing (New York: Macmillan, 1918), 7.