View From Lodi, CA: Mincemeat For Thanksgiving!
November 19, 2004, 04:00 AM
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Thanksgiving signals the beginning of six weeks of culinary yin and yang for Americans.

We gorge. We diet.

Americans need to rethink our on again, off again relationship with food. We should develop a more European attitude. The French, for example, consider chocolate mousse a pleasure but we look at it with guilt and apprehension.

The nation is constantly counting calories.

Witness the recent low carbohydrate craze—another in a long list of dietary fads that I have ignored.

Some of the wackiest over the years have been:

  • The Grapefruit Diet promised a total weight loss of 52 pounds over 2 ½ months if you follow its instructions. Namely you must eat everything listed on its menu. Triple portions are okay; substitutions are not. Under absolutely no circumstances can either the bacon or the salads be skipped at any meal. Apparently bacon and lettuce wage a gastrointestinal battle and in the process burn fat from your body. Acceptable foods in the curious Grapefruit Diet are anything fried in butter. Celery, on the other hand, is forbidden.

  • The Cabbage Soup Diet is designed for people who want to lose weight fast—up to 14 pounds in 7 days. The obvious problem is that dieters must eat cabbage soup. And, not surprisingly, many have found the soup objectionable. Side effects include, but are not limited to, light-headedness, energy loss and an inability to concentrate.

  • The Ice Cream Diet promises that ice cream eaten daily with any of 625 specially created meals can result in weight loss up to 30 pounds. The incredible secret—according to the claim— is calcium from dairy products! (Author's note: ice cream portions are stingy: 1 ½ cups for men and 1 cup for women.)

Short is the life span of a fad diet. The bloom is already off the low carb diet.  The recent issue of Mayo Clinic Women's Health Source warned dieters to beware of the distinction between "good carbs" like oatmeal and brown rice versus "bad carbs" like sugar. Dieters were also cautioned against paying any attention to marketing phrases like "carb wise" or "carb fit."

Thanksgiving is hardly the time to obsess about calorie counting. Let prudence prevail but when you do give in, relax and enjoy yourself.

This year, I recommend that you reach back in time to try what was once a Thanksgiving staple, the mincemeat pie.

The pie suffers the same indignity as our old friend the fruitcake. Say "mincemeat pie" or "fruitcake" and noses turn up.

But if you have ever eaten a good one, nothing is better. That means you have to bake it from scratch.

Mincemeat pie predates the Crusades. In medieval England, the pastries were a luxury eaten by the aristocracy at winter feasts.

But in the 1500s, mincemeat pies were banned in Reformation England because the pastry shells were considered symbolic of the cradle of the baby Jesus and the spices, the gifts from the three kings.

For five centuries, the filling never varied: minced boiled beef, ox tongue, mutton and suet with huge amounts of currants, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.

Once the pie landed in North America in the late 19th century, the recipe was altered and the meat—except possibly for the suet—was eliminated.

Here is the recipe for one large pie or eight- 3 ½ inch pies—a nice touch if you are having a large group:

  • One Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced with ¾ cup each of raisins, golden raisins and currents; 3 tbsp. each candied orange and lemon peel; 1 tbsp chopped blanched almonds; 6 tbsp. Dark brown sugar; ¼ tsp each ground nutmeg, cinnamon, mace and cloves; the grated zest and juice of one half a lemon and one half an orange and 4 oz of chopped suet. Add ¼ cup of brandy or rum and stir well. (The suet is optional but recommended and available on request at Lakewood Meats)

  • Transfer the entire mixture into a large glass bowl with a tight fitting lid. Refrigerate for at least three days, preferably two months and up to one year. The longer the mixture ripens, the jammier your filling will be.

After putting your filling into pastry crusts, bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Mincemeat pie is best served warm.

A note on the pastry shell: you will need a sturdy crust so look for a recipe that uses either egg yolks and/or heavy cream.

Not only will your mincemeat pie wow the guests but also you can do most of the work in advance to avoid a pressure-packed Thanksgiving morning.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.