December 11, 1997
The Melting Pot
Marlene Adler Marks
My Thanksgiving column a few weeks ago was aboutpumpkin pie, the sine qua non of non-Jewish desserts. In passing, Imentioned mincemeat, which I had never seen nor tasted but feltcertain was the Maginot line separating "us" from "them." Spam, lacedwith lard and pieces of raw tongue, is what I imagined it tobe.
Turns out, I had stumbled upon a widely sharedethnic blind spot.
"Mincemeat -- that's real goyishe food," manyreaders wrote of a dessert that has become synonymous with defeat anddestruction. ("He made mincemeat of me," we say when we're trouncedin a tennis tournament.) Here's one part of America's British pastthat Jews envy not at all.
Clearly, an ore of passion was ready to be mined.Mincemeat: Is it a sweet? Is it a pie? Is it meat? Yet for all thatreaders wanted to know, they were nevertheless (as with all mysticalknowledge) afraid to find out.
About this reluctance, I have one thing to say:The time to hide from mincemeat is over. Take a look around you. ThisDecember, menorahs stand next to evergreen trees in the shoppingmalls. Huge ornamental presents wrapped in blue and silver lurecustomers into shops, right alongside those papered in green and red.Self magazine has Cynthia Ozick explaining the Sabbath as part of aneditorial roundup on the Ten Commandments. And LIFE magazine includesRabbi Adin Steinsaltz as one of 35 celebrities (including ShirleyMacLaine and Willie Brown) defining the soul!
("The soul is worse than politics," the greatTalmudist writes. "Everyone talks about it without having thefaintest notion of what it is.... Where does a dream go after you'vedreamt it? Where does love go when it disappears?")
We have dreamed of belonging to the great Americansmorgasbord, and have succeeded, indeed. Bagels and coffee havereplaced the Egg McMuffin as the national breakfast (at least amongthe latte crowd). Rugelach in 10 flavors is sold at the local market.Chanukah pizza -- a bed of potato latkes topped with cream cheese andsmoked salmon -- is served at Wolfgang Puck! Yes, America has indeedbecome a melting pot. And if America can open up its palate to us, wecan know about mincemeat, even if we'll never taste a bite.
Yes, mincemeat pie was once a symbol ofChristianity, the obligatory Christmas dessert in 19th-centuryAmerica, even more than fruitcake. No wonder, back in an era whenJews and Christians didn't mix, mincemeat pie (filled with beef, vealor venison) was untouchable, a sign of the other world.
But from this sense of "other," we've concocted atzimmes. Certain foods are off-limits not because they are treif butbecause they are "not us." Mincemeat is as good a place as any tolook at this discernment of the "dark side." It, like so much else inthis American life, has undergone revision. In an era of porcinimushrooms and tofu, meat pies, especially as desserts, have gone outof favor, even in Glendale. In fact, in the just-published "All NewJoy of Cooking" by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and EthanBecker, the meat is gone, replaced by enough fruit and nuts to make agood fruit compote. (The new Good Housekeeping cookbook, however,still uses canned mincemeat.)
In the interest of dispelling prejudice, I hereprovide, for the first time in any Jewish newspaper in America, theMince Pie recipe as a testimony to faith in our country. I use therecipe from the old "Joy of Cooking" I got when I moved into my firstapartment. You will note that there is no lard, no tongue, no Spam.It seems like nothing so exotic as brisket.
Prepare 9 quarts sliced, peeled apples. Combinewith:
4 lbs. lean chopped beef or ox heart
2 lbs. chopped beef suet
3 lbs. sugar
2 quarts cider
4 lbs. seeded raisins
3 lbs. currants
1 1/2 lbs. chopped citron
1/2 lb. each dried, chopped, candied orange andlemon peel
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon each cinnamon, mace, cloves
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 whole grated nutmegs
1 gallon sour cherries with juice
2 lbs. broken nut meats
(1 teaspoon powered coriander seed)
Cook slowly for four hours. Stir frequently. Sealin sterile jars. Before serving, season with brandy.
For Mince Pie, use two pie crusts. Bake at 450degrees for 10 minutes, then at 350 degrees for about 30minutes.
I know you won't eat it, but now you won't perishthe thought.
Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal.Her new series of "Conversations" at the Skirball Cultural Centerbegins on Jan. 11 with guests Gordon Davidson, Gil Cates and MarciaSeligson talking about Los Angeles theater.