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By Emily-Jane Hills Orford
What’s that?” I wrinkled my nose in disgust. The large mixing bowl was full of dark sludge. At least, that’s what it looked like to me. I recognized the raisins, I think, and, of course, the apple chunks Grans was tossing into the mix. The rest? Honestly? To me, it just looked strangely like the muck I used outside to make mud pies.
“Mincemeat.” Gran scraped another mound of chopped apples from the cutting board into the bowl and stirred it with labored intent, using Mom’s large wooden spoon. When Gran came to visit, she used Mom’s kitchen to whip up something special for the family. Usually it was her special rice pudding. No one could make rice pudding like Gran. But this stuff?
“Yuck! I don’t like meat.” I scrunched my face as much as I could and shook my head vigorously.
Gran chuckled. “It’s not meat, dear. It’s a blend of dried fruits. An English tradition at Christmas time. I make mincemeat pies and tarts with this special blend.” I was confused. “If it’s fruit, not meat, then why call it mincemeat? Why not call it mincefruit instead? And why are you adding apples?” “So many questions for a six-year-old.” Gran continued with her mission. “This is a special blend that I helped the church ladies make just last week. We make it every year. I like to add chopped apples just before packing it into pie and tart shells.” She stopped stirring for a few minutes and turned towards me. “Do you want to stir?”
I shrugged my shoulders. I liked helping in the kitchen. As long as I didn’t have to eat anything with meat in it. I had to admit that it smelled good. Gran pushed a chair over to the counter and I climbed up. Taking the spoon handle from Gran’s grasp, I started to turn. I managed two swipes around the bowl before giving up. “It’s too hard.”
Gran retrieved the spoon and took up stirring again. “As for why it’s called mincemeat. You see, it used to have meat in it.” That garnered another ‘yuck’ from me. Gran chuckled again. “It used to be, way back in the 1400s, that dried fruit would be mixed together with beef suet, beef or venison. And there would be spices. That’s what makes it smell so good. The idea of sweetening meat for a pie filling was, and still is, very popular. Nowadays, we just use the beef suet when mixing it with the fruit.” “What’s suet?” I asked. “Beef fat,” Gran explained. I grimaced. “But this batch is made with vegetable shortening, so there’s absolutely no meat or meat fat in the mix at all.” “Oh! But why call it mincemeat?” “Because that’s what it was originally called.” Gran set down the spoon and turned from her mixture. “Now come and help me roll some pastry for the pies and tarts.” Now that I was good at.
Over the years, I have come to enjoy mincemeat at Christmas. When Gran’s church ladies stopped making mincemeat, I started making my own. It’s quite simple, really, and one can use a wide variety of dried fruits, catering to one’s preferences. For me, with my food allergies, I have created my own mincemeat version, based on Gran’s original. You can find the recipe here.
Emily-Jane Hills Orford’s nonfiction stories mostly about her family. Growing up in Toronto, then Hamilton and finally London, Emily-Jane has lots of family stories to warm the heart.
Emily-Jane Hills Orford has published several books, creative nonfiction stories mostly about her family. Growing up in Toronto, then Hamilton and finally London, Emily-Jane has lots of family stories to warm the heart. For more information about the author, check out her webpage at: http://emilyjanebooks.ca