American cookery before the Civil War was, to a large extent, about food preservation, as there was little refrigeration. Most foods were local; railroads had not yet been built out from coast to coast. Mince pie is part of that tradition. Beef was a large part of the American diet, and there was always a great deal of leftover cooked beef. Mince pie was an obvious and easy way to use leftovers creatively. A real mince pie was more than just dried fruit and spices; it was based on leftover meat that was minced and combined with spices, rum, dried fruit and sugar. The process helped preserve the meat, which was an added benefit. Mince pie was so much part of the culinary landscape in the early days of the republic that it even made its way into song:
Can she make mince pies, Billy Boy,
Can she make mince pies,
Yes she can make mince pies
Quick's a cat can wink its eyes;
But she's a young thing and cannot
leave her mother.
- 1 pound venison or lean beef, boiled and chopped
- 4 ounces suet
- 1 pound tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped fine
- 3/4 cup beef broth (or reserved cooking liquid from meat)
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup cider
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- Juice from one lemon
- Juice from one orange
- 1/4 cup brandy
- Pastry dough for 9-inch double-crust pie
- 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
One dozen mini-pies
- For the filling: In large stock pot or Dutch oven, combine all ingredients except brandy and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add brandy and cool to room temperature.
- For the pies: Place oven rack in middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into 12 4-inch circles and 12 2-inch circles.
- Line standard capacity muffin tin with larger circles, pressing dough firmly into pan edges; chill for 30 minutes if dough becomes soft.
- Fill each cup to the top with about 1/3 cup mincemeat, top with smaller dough circles, then cut a slit or small circle in the center of each. Brush with egg white and bake until dough is golden brown and filling is bubbling, about 30 minutes.
- Cool on wire rack 15 minutes, remove pies from pan, and continue to cool another 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.