Thursday, December 22, 2011


Between Thanksgiving and New Years I have had an hankering for a GOOD fruit cake and for a REAL Mincemeat pie. Alas they both seem to have joined the Dodo Bird, the twice a day mail delivery, personal letters and even social telephone calls. Two more American traditions that have disappeared in this rushing age of cell phones. twitter, supermarkets, and McDonalds.

It is true that for a few weeks the A&P has boxes of Jane Parker cakes, and other markets also may carry their own brand which are nothing more than a poor imitation . Most countries have their own variation of the "fruit cake" as for an example the Italian Pannettone, or Panforte. Gerrmany has its "Stollen" and ours has derived from the old English cake which may have had its origin with the Druids.

Perhaps what made the old American Cake [popular was the tradition of "soaking " it in Rum or other alcoholic beverages until it reach a degree of respectability.

In the 50s through the early 60s the Plainfield Lions Club prime source of funds came from the sale of Benson's Fruit Cakes. Since we had sort of a quota to sell I had a reserve supply that would last well into the next year. Those caked could be prepared.

Similarly, mincemeat pies can be traced back to the Crusaders who brought them back from the east. They oft en had a religious significance being associated with the "church. Thus Mincemeat pies were banned for a time in England during the reformation.

As the name suggests the original recipes called for "mincemeat's" which were preserved with spices. The fruits were an added supplement. My mother in law who grew up on a farm in Highland County Virginia used to make a great pie. Today's fruit concoctions when you can get them are an abomination. Her pies served with a scoop of ice cream with or without a local still proof beverage was heaven.

And, not to be forgotten are Latkes. Not the out of the box mix but the real homemade from scratch pancakes with fine grated potatoes and minced onions a little garlic and whatever spice the secret called for all held together by the egg. Another lost art to Streits etc.


  1. Dear Old Doc,

    As a stay-at-home mom I often find myself perusing cooking and housekeeping old books at flea markets and second hand stores and if I am not mistaken there is a an "American" cooking book from the '40s on my shelve that might just have the recipes for mincemeat, fruitcake and maybe even latkes. I'll try them and if they come alright, then we can have a party. As cooking is my new found passion I'd love to try to replicate the cooking of your memories.

    I wonder who else is up for the challenge to make home-made mincemeat, latkes and fruitcake?

  2. Doc, your post made me think about my grandmother.

    My mother (born and raised in West Virginia) talks about my grandmother's "real" mincemeat pies. They were densely packed with meat, spiced and a bit of fruit. Not a dessert, but a meal.

    Mom has her recipe. I'll have to try to make it sometime!

  3. My wife makes a terrific fruit cake and an equally tasty mince meat pie. The fruit cake is a recipe that my grandmother had for some type of spice cake to which she added candied fruit and raisins and nuts. It is quite moist, certainly not brick-like as the store-bought varieties often are characterized.

    One problem with the pie-making is getting the right mince meat. Most stores sell the jar of ready-to-use mince meat, which is overly flavored and...well, commercial. We scoured the markets last year to find the condensed mince meat (NonSuch brand), which you have to cook first and then use in the pie crust. Bought about five or six so we'd have them, and recently used the last (at Thanksgiving). Tried to find more this season, but no luck so far. Not surprising, since the new "homemade" comes either pre-made or straight out of a mix.

    My wife still makes her own pie crusts (with lard, which is also hard to find at times) - they are light and flaky and deserving of that delicious mince meat (or apples, pumpkin, cherries, blueberries...whatever she fills them with.

  4. Mincemeat pie aficionados. I am a part of your group. I remember so well mincemeat pies during the holidays. My Mom made the pies as a dessert without the meat part. I've surfed the internet and there are recipes. Perhaps I need to try my hand at it. Why or why didn't I learn from my Mom?

    Merry Christmas!!