Poor old mincemeat pie has fallen out of favor in many quarters though lots of Mainers, wise souls that they are, still make homemade mincemeat and relish it in pie at Thanksgiving.
Historically, mincemeat-making was a sure sign of the coming Thanksgiving holiday. In the early 1800s, seeing mothers and aunties making mincemeat from beef and venison engendered pure joy in anticipating the great day. Children joined in by picking out the seeds in raisins, in the days before seedless raisins, so they could be chopped with suet and apples and stirred into the cooked meat, adorned with cider or brandy, and several spices. Mincemeat was a preservation process using tough cuts of meat, even beef tongue — or famously in Maine, venison neck meat. It was packed into crocks, kept in a cold place and scooped into pie whenever needed. In the 20th century, lots of Maine housewives canned it.
I’ve collected a couple of recipes which measure out the mincemeat ingredients by the bowlful. One comes from Edna Durkee on Islesboro who was famous for her cooking. Her mincemeat recipe called for two bowls of ground meat, five of ground apples, one of ground suet, one bowl of raisins, one of meat cooking juice, two of sugar, half a bowl of molasses, a scant bowl of vinegar, then cloves and nutmeg. “Simmer for hours and hours till apple and suet is done,” the instructions say.
The size of the bowl doesn’t matter as long as you use the same bowl for each item. Spice is added to taste. I’ll bet that mincemeat was delicious.
Then one of you kind readers sent me a recipe for Cheesecake Mincemeat Pie, and labeled it “Delish.” (I’m sorry that I lost the sender’s name and hope that the person will recognize the recipe and let me know so I can give credit.)
Talk about gilding the lily. A layer of mincemeat in the pie plate, with cream cheese, sugar and egg poured over, then topped with slightly sweetened sour cream and vanilla makes for a very tasty wrinkle on old fashioned mincemeat pie.
In fact, even if you don’t care for mincemeat, you could bake a pumpkin pie, filling the pan about halfway, and float this cheesecake mixture on top. Extend the idea to other berry or custard type pie fillings for some variations on your holiday dessert table.
I made my cheesecake mincemeat pie with Julia Craig’s Grapenuts Mincemeat recipe that I offered last December. Mincemeat made with suet, to my personal taste, is better served warm because I don’t like the grainy texture of cold suet, so Julia’s mincemeat served very well. Commercial canned mincemeat, which is usually thickened with cornstarch and has scarcely a whiff of meat in it, might be just the ticket for this cheesecake-enhanced version which is best chilled before serving.
Here are all my best wishes to you for your Thanksgiving holiday. I have much to be grateful for, not the least of which is your friendship and generosity as we share recipes here in the Bangor Daily News. Many, many thanks to each and every one of you.
Cheesecake Mincemeat Pie
Yields 1 9-inch pie
1 lightly baked pie shell
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups mincemeat
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry and bake for about 15 minutes, or until light brown and firm.
Combine the cream cheese, sugar, and egg in a food processor, or beat it together very well with a mixer, until it is smooth and liquidy.
Spread the mincemeat in the pie shell, then top with the cream cheese mixture, spreading it evenly over the mincemeat.
Bake it for about 25 minutes or until it is set but not browned.
Whisk together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla, and pour that over the top of the baked pie, and return it to the oven for another 5 minutes.
Cool slightly, then chill for 6 hours (or overnight) before serving.