What is the one food, besides turkey, that defines Thanksgiving for you? What is that one delight which has stood out for you since childhood? Cranberries? As in Cranberry Relish made by running those tart orbs through a grinder with bits of oranges and apples? Or do you just heat the berries in sugar until they burst their skins making a lovely tangy tart red goo. Yes, oh yes. How about those yams and pineapple bubbling under the toasted crust of marshmallows? Is that brown sugar and molasses in there? m-mmm. But is it the one? What did you hope would be found in the leftovers the next day? For me, there is no contest, it's mincemeat pie.
Good. I was hoping you would say you didn't like mincemeat pie, more for me!
My father's mother made mincemeat the pioneer way, meaning there was actual meat in her mincemeat pie along with the apples and raisins, dried figs and dates all chopped together. The family had been poor, dirt poor, and Grandma Jeff never lost the art of using up. If there wasn't stewmeat to be stirred in the mince at least there would be some bits of pork fat or goose fat and maybe just a dollop of lard. She was still cooking her pies in a wood stove oven in 1968 when she was nearing ninety. Every year as fall deepened my brothers and I would join the uncles in cutting and stacking enough wood for Grandma to get through the Connecticut winter. Those pies were heavy things, every piece a meal, the kind of thing that sticks to your ribs and your memory.
My mother's mincemeat was a bit more refined, made without the smoky meats but with huge flavor -- more rum and dried citron and currants added to the mix of raisins and apples with ground cloves, nutmeg, allspice and ground cinnamon. And some more rum. The whole lower orchestra of aromas and scents combined under piecrust. Somewhere in the family archives are the recipes for both but for the past twenty years or so I have been surviving on Cross and Blackwell's sticky sweet version poured into a my own homemade crust. I can still make pie crust, but I can't make mincemeat like Mom's or Grandma Jeff's.
We have been ordering our groceries from Fresh Direct. We had gone through the big list: turkey -organic and unfrozen -, yellow veggies, smashed potatoes for the gravy and a couple of things for pre-eating, healthy and otherwise, I was on mop up duty for the missing items. The first thing on the short list was Mince Pie Filling. Snap, right? I was a little shocked when they didn't have any kind of mince on their website but I didn't think I was going to have any trouble finding Mincemeat in the Capitol of the World.
Well, let me tell you. I have become the Night Stalker of Mince. Merrily cruising down the Baking aisle at Associated Foods, this bright, innocent soul- I am too!-was unable to locate any cans of Mince Pie Filling and the look on the face of the person I asked for help told me that not only did he not know what I what talking about but he was pretty sure I was doing a spoof video for Youtube. Let's all be Borat this year.
Onward. Off to Union Square where four days a week the farmers bring their wares for sale, apples, potatoes and beets, ciders and wines, breads of every shape and crunchiness and forty kinds of winter squash. There was the goat meat lady with her statuettes of frolicking goats right next to the frolicking goat meat sausage and the neat slices of frolicking goat steaks next to the very nice, jumping for joy, goats plaque. Won't she sell more chivo if people didn't see the happy goats next to their pinkish harvest? Dunno. The bottom line is no one at the Square had Mince Pie Mix. They had twelve kinds of honey, fifty kinds of jam, including Quince, which due to traffic going by caused a slight mis-communication which you can probably guess how it went -
Sure! Right here.
Um. No, I said Mince.
Oh. Mince? Well, no, no then.
Luckily, I was a baseball's throw from Whole Foods, the premier supplier of all that is richly good in the way of food and other things. Sixty kinds of Greek Cheese, count'em, sixty, and fourteen kinds of Hot Italian Sausage, one was good enough for my mother's Lasagna, now I have to choose from fourteen. How about some squash that looks like big overcoat buttons?
I headed for the When You Want to Bake
aisle still full of hopeful anticipation. On the way I saw a whole counter of one of the other things, something called Organic Body Polish. Sadly, I did not take the time to read the instructions.
In the When You Want to Bake
aisle I would find Blueberry filling, Pumpkin filling in Organic, Solid Pack, and Regular, Cherry Filling, a large can with what looked like a Kodota Figs. There was even, I kid you not, cans of Gooseberry Pie filling which my dad would have loved, but no jars or cans of mince. Rebecca, the very nice stocking persona, rushed off to the back to see if any had arrived. Rebecca was gone a long time, so I played two games of chess on my Palm (lost both badly) and listened to a little of my running music, Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe and the Rain King. Rebecca came back empty handed. Crestfallen, she told me that there would be no mince until after Thanksgiving. Well, thanks.
So I headed for the Westside Market with the idea that I would go to the Chelsea Market if I came up dry there. At Westside (Seventh Ave near Fourteenth) all the usual goodies of the upper scale market are crammed into the space of a corner deli. The shelves are ten feet high and groan with every edible product from the ends of the earth. They have cheeses that look alive. They had two dozen kinds of salsa. They have fifty kinds of jams and jellies, including Quince. They have no mince.
I went home. I didn't even try the Chelsea Market. I changed my mind. I've decided since I can't find it to make the mince and here's how you can help.
My sister, the keeper of the recipes, is in Japan helping with the birth of the latest grandchild in our tribe and won't be returning until two days before Thanksgiving. So what had you got? And don't Goggle me up some Best Recipes Site, I've seen those and find something lacking, I want what your mother cooked for you. Come on, give, it's raining and I'm not going out there for citron unless you show me the family's secret recipe.
Joe(pass the Half and Half)Nation