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Faggots and mince - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Faggots and mince

Having begged shamelessly on behalf of good causes for Christmas (see the immediately preceding post), I feel it only fair that I now reward you lot.

I have never been terribly enthused by turkey. My lack of interest in the Yankee bird is however a positive affirmation of turkey when assessed against the views of my family on the subject. Duck; goose; capon: these certainly met the family standard. Pheasant and grouse were yet more gratefully received, as were hare and partridge and woodcock; and venison, naturally, was most welcome. Equally, no one in this family has ever turned down mutton or beef. The fact remains, even so, that only the Chinese can match my people in devotion to the pig (well, bar the subset of my cousins who are Jewish, obviously). Christmas to us is a time for ham.

Whatever you intend as the mains for your Christmas dinner, however, it is simply not Christmas without mince pies – ‘mincemeat pies’ in American. And it is by no means too early to begin making your own mincemeat, and allowing it to mature so as to be ready for Christmas.

This is especially so for my own luxury mincemeat recipe, which I here give for the first time outwith the family.

For six pounds of mincemeat:

1 lb peeled, cored, and minced apples: desserts or cookers. A West Country mix of Corsley Pippins and Profits would do nicely. Pitmaston Pines are lovely. If you take sweets exclusively, one crab in the lot would do you no harm at all.

2 oranges, grated rind and juice. You might add a Clementine as well.

2 lemons, grated rind and juice.

4 oz cut mixed peel (various citrus)

12 oz seedless raisins

8 oz sultanas

8 oz currants

4 oz chopped mixed dried fruit: dried apricots, dried pears, and dried plums (the dreaded prune)

8 oz shredded suet (and this is precisely where I lose the Americans)

12 oz soft brown (moist) sugar

4 oz chopped mixed nuts: the usual almonds-and-pecan-nuts – oddly American, that – are dull. Walnuts and hazelnuts work well.

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3 oz chopped crystallised ginger

1 tablespoon mixed spice: make your own, with allspice, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg all ground in roughly equal measure, to taste

5 fl oz brandy: and make it the good stuff. Armagnac or cognac, five-star. Separate the brandy into two equal measures.

Dashes of Madeira, port, and sherry

Reserving half the brandy, mix the ingredients well in a large ovenproof bowl and leave to stand overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 110 °C / 225 °F / Gas 1/4, cover the bowl with foil and place in the oven for about 3 hours.

Allow to cool, then mix in the rest of the brandy and put into jars that have been sterilised. Store and let stand for at least a fortnight; a month is better.

Christmas cheer to you all, then!

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27 comments or Leave a comment
fpb From: fpb Date: November 26th, 2009 11:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'll take panettone, thank you. And capon if I can find it - that's the Italian Christmas bird. And zampone or cotechino with lots of lentils. A couple of years ago, I kept a local deli open past its closing time on December 31 while I purchased the appropriate zampone - but the owners were Italian too, so they understood the urgency.
From: 17catherines Date: November 26th, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have to comment because I can't resist talking about food, and also you've just made me crave panettone (though we always had it on New Years Eve, possibly because there was so much other food on Christmas Day, but perhaps that is the tradition in the Basilicata Region, and I just don't know it).

The rats part is that I don't know anyone else who likes it, and I am not yet a good enough baker to make my own, which means if I want panettone, I have to be prepared to eat it for days...

When we had Christmas with the Nonni, we used to have roasted chicken and vegies, with the chicken all jointed up and cooked with lots of herbs and garlic. And we used to start with oregano pizza and/or tomato pizza, and sometimes Nonna's spicy sausage, or sometimes Nonna would make gnocchi in tomato sauce for a first course. I'm fairly sure Oma always provided an english Christmas pudding, though, even if we weren't at her place.

And always, always spaghetti alla vongole on Christmas Eve, which I detested utterly!

Zampone or cotechino with lentils are new to me, though. I'm guessing your family traditions are from further north than mine (admittedly, this is a fairly easy guess to make, given the location of the Basilicata)? And if cotechino is what I think it is, it may have to stay new to me.

Buon Natale!

fpb From: fpb Date: November 27th, 2009 09:48 am (UTC) (Link)
if I want panettone, I have to be prepared to eat it for days...
And that is bad because -?

My family traditions include varying portions of Ferrara, Rome, Taranto province, and Milan, with Milan tending to prevail. Cotechino and Zampone are two very excellent if calory-heavy ways to deal with pork, both from Emilia-Romagna, so I rather think that this must be the Ferrara BArbieri part of us coming up. I am surprised you do not know about lentils - I thought it was a pan-Italian thing, since both my father's Ferrara people and my mother's Puglia dynasty have them in abundance. They are more a New Year's Day than a Christmas kind of thing, because they are supposed to be good luck, looking like coins. All I can tell you is that I could eat lentils any time of the year, I just like them! And they go well with pork, hence cotechino and zampone. Capon is Roman, I think, but Roman Christmas food, for some reason, is supposed to be Capitone - a kind of eel. I never tried it. Finally, in Rome and neighbouring towns (the Castelli Romani) there is a general holiday tradition of eating Porchetta when outside. It is spiced cold cooked sow's meat (at least, it is supposed to be the female only), the spice being mostly pepper and rosemary, eaten in a sandwich. It tastes wonderful, though like most Christmas and New Year food it is fantastically heavy on the calories.

The most bewildering thing you said was the idea of pasta e vongole for Christmas. We used to eat it all year long - both my parents being fans, though I was emphatically not - but never in the holidays. Weird!
From: 17catherines Date: November 27th, 2009 10:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, panettone does get awfully dry after a few days, you must admit. Though I'm told you can make rather a good bread and butter pudding with it. Actually, I suspect steeping it in marsala might be the first stage in a ridiculously good dessert... though I might be conflating it with Torta di Verona, which I made earlier this year for a reading of Two Gentlemen of Verona and which was so rich we thought we would die. Or maybe I'm contemplating an unnatural cross between this and tiramisu? Food for thought (initially, at least. Later, I trust it will be food of a more physical kind).

The vongole were a Christmas Eve and also a Good Friday thing - remnants of the Lent and Advent fasts, I imagine. My brother and I would agitate for fish and chips, but my parents felt that this would be rather missing the point, since we both really loved fish and chips and it wasn't terribly penitential.

Re lentils, I know they are common in Basilicata cooking (and it's interesting, because while we never had them at New Years, I did have the lentils/coins/good luck/New Year association, I think from Jewish tradition), but I don't recall my Nonna ever cooking them. Ever. And she cooked a lot. I think they were something nobody wanted to eat unless they had to... my father's family were really grindingly poor when they lived in Italy (there are stories of my Nonno subsisting on bread and onions as a child), and perhaps it was something they never wanted to eat again. I can't think of any other reason - Nonna's spicy sausage would have gone exceptionally well with lentils.

I believe we have family in Milan now, but I think that, again, they originated around Potenza and Corleto. Our culinary traditions are definitely southern Italian, and rooted in poverty. Polenta and risotto were both things I discovered as an adult. In cookbooks.

And while I am indulging in Italian food remeniscences, it seems worth noting that tonight's dinner consisted of a tomato and oregano pizza similar to one my Nonna used to make (though the dough is quite different and I don't think I'll ever figure out her recipe), and a three-cheese pizza with gorgonzola which I think is from rather further north. And salad, of course. So in between discussing Italian culinary traditions with you, I have been indulging in Italian culinary clichés in my own kitchen. Still, at least I made my own dough, and didn't commit the cardinal sin of putting pineapple and ham on it!
fpb From: fpb Date: November 27th, 2009 10:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Polenta and risotto are also rooted in poverty. (And polenta is southern enough, at least if Abruzzo is southern - I remember my sergeant-major, who was as Abruzzese as brown bears, making a gigantic cauldronful of it one evening when our army unit was having a sort of party.) You must not imagine that the North did not know hunger and indeed starvation until quite recently. You should read Horace Greeley's account of visiting Italy in 1851 - it is absolutely startling. One poverty-related piece of Milanese folklore: chestnuts used to be called "poor man's bread" (pane dei poveri) because when everything else had failed, people could still go and collect them and roast them Which is why you have to make two cuts in the shape of a cross in the chestnut's wooden skin before you cook it; it is to thank the Lord for it. (That, and it explodes if you don't.) Of course, like many things that began as poor man's fare, chestnuts and risotto are both regarded as delicacies these days.
From: 17catherines Date: November 27th, 2009 10:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh dear, I certainly wasn't intending to say anything of the sort, just reflecting on my own family's experience! Actually, I'm more than usually aware of the conditions in northern Italy in the early twentieth century because I've just finished reading a book called Death in the Mountains: the true story of a Tuscan murder, which my father recommended to me because it was the closest thing he'd read to what he remembered about growing up in Italy, despite regional differences (and, as it happens, the protagonist spends quite a bit of time considering whether it is better to move to a larger, more productive farm that may provide cash income from a smaller farm that nonetheless has a very large number of chestnut trees, and thus guaranteed food). I like the tradition of the cross on the chestnut, which I haven't encountered before. But I do recall my father getting really upset when I put the bread down upside-down, because bread deserved to be treated with respect.

Oddly, I first encountered polenta as a Romanian peasant food, not an Italian one, though I was aware of it being an Italian thing too. I had an idea that rice had always been something of a luxury, but clearly I was wrong about that.
fpb From: fpb Date: November 27th, 2009 09:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I forgot - one emphatically Romagna thing - on festive occasions, the first piatto is always and emphatically tortellini (but in my family we call them cappelletti), in brodo for choice. My father usually throws in some red wine and pepper, and so do I every now and then.
From: 17catherines Date: November 27th, 2009 10:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I have a recipe for that! I really have to try it some time. My pasta machine has been languishing, which is a crying shame, since I have the perfect table to make pasta on.

We didn't do tortellini, but now I think of it, we started a lot of festive meals with homemade gnocchi - the pasta kind, not the potato kind. Though this might have been because I liked helping Nonna make pasta, so she tended to make it whenever we visited (along with a sultana pizza she invented for my sweet tooth as a child). Tortellini were only ever found at the ubiquitous two-kinds-of-pasta entree featured at Italian wedding receptions (generally right before the rubber calamari).
fpb From: fpb Date: November 27th, 2009 10:25 am (UTC) (Link)
My mother's mother had the wonderful Puglia habit of making home made orecchiette, shaped with her thumbs. Wonderful stuff, but since she got too old to do it herself - she has passed away now - we can only see them if we buy them, and then we cannot be sure that they are hand-made as they should be.
From: 17catherines Date: November 27th, 2009 10:38 am (UTC) (Link)
We used to shape the gnocchi with our thumbs, to get the ridged shell shape. I somehow lost the knack when I was twelve or so, and I've never managed to regain it.
fpb From: fpb Date: November 27th, 2009 10:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Calamari and other sea stuff were one thing we never had at home, because I was adamantly opposed to them as a child. The only seafood I can face, even today, is tunafish. I will eat fish if offered it, but I still haven't got around to loving it. Which makes me a very poor kind of Italian, because there is no Italian cuisine province - except I suppose for the mountain ones - in which salt and sweetwater fish does not play an important part.
From: 17catherines Date: November 27th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC) (Link)
I share your feelings about seafood - I would *like* to like it, but I just don't. Except tuna, and flake (which I suspect doesn't really count, because that's more about the batter and the chips, though not entirely).

The only seafood I ever recall us having was the aforementioned vongole and anchovies, which I did not like. I only ever remember having calamari at weddings, which is odd, because I also remember my Nonno regularly going fishing for crab and octopus, and you'd think some of that would have ended up on the table... or maybe it did but my brother and I refused to eat it and thus don't remember it...!

(you know this whole reminiscing about food thing is absolutely addictive. I am going to get off the computer now, or else I will be here all night...)
From: 17catherines Date: November 26th, 2009 11:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, yummy. That sounds much more complex than the one I've made up over the years, which involves a lot of good marmalade as a binding agent (because citrussy is good!).

I think I'll have to give it a try this weekend. Though, with your permission, I'll leave out the nuts - I know too many people who can't eat them, and it's no fun making Christmas goodies that you can't feed to *everyone*.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: November 27th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Not at all.

I leave out the nuts when I know the elderly will be getting stuck in to the mince pies, also. British dentistry being what it is, you know....
From: 17catherines Date: November 28th, 2009 12:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Not at all.

Well, it underwent a few changes, due to local ingredient issues, but I think the dried figs and dates which replaced the nuts should fit in nicely (and give it an appropriately Coburg feel!)
shezan From: shezan Date: November 27th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I actually like turkey, because you so rarely get it in France. And partridge, duck, goose, pheasant or capon - I had a very bad experience with grouse at the Athenaeum of all places, where they'd obviously hung it so long that all I could think of when it showed up on my plate were bloated corpses in Southern Lebanon long ago. I toyed with it miserably on my plate for twenty minutes.

Picture my dismay when last Christmas in London my kind hosts decided that all this hackneyed Christmas dinner fare would be best replaced by seafood - the kind I can have everyday three block away at Le Beuf Sur Le Toit. I had a great time because they are so nice, but still regret my traditional Christmas meal. We don't really do it very well in Frogland.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: November 27th, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

The ox out on the (roof-) tiles for seafood? Really, my dear!

That's why God created Wilton's.

(The Frog notion that they alone can cook.... Bless.)
fpb From: fpb Date: November 27th, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The ox out on the (roof-) tiles for seafood? Really, my dear!

Of course not. It is to remind them otherwise that God made Italy. Well, that and two-three other reasons.
tekalynn From: tekalynn Date: November 27th, 2009 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)
"Mince pie" is the standard term in US English, to the best of my knowledge. However my grandfather always reminded us that the correct term would be "mock mince pie", as true mince pie contains mincemeat, and what we call "mince pie" does not.

I prefer pumpkin pie (which is really made from squash), in any case.
From: 17catherines Date: November 27th, 2009 10:16 am (UTC) (Link)
I've made a medieval-style mince pie which had beef mince in addition to prunes, dates, orange juice, cointreau, spices, and all sorts of other things. It was actually quite delicious, once you got past the fact that you were eating something with meat in it that tasted like a dessert.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: November 27th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Ah. Well.

The Americans I know seem all to be either Jewish from New York or 'high-cotton' Southerners, and I know that the latter always called it (roughly) 'meee-ans-meht pah' in a low, long drawl.
tekalynn From: tekalynn Date: November 28th, 2009 05:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Ah. Well.

Ah, well, I can't swear to Southern usage, as that's a whole book to itself and one I haven't looked much into. They do seem to have kept some of the older terms that have dropped into disuse in other idiolects.

Here is Fannie Farmer's recipe for mincemeat (with actual meat). "This is enough mincemeat for ten pies," it warns. Also bear in mind that all spoon measurements are leveled, not heaped. I have never had the nerve to try this recipe myself.

4 pounds chopped lean beef
2 pounds chopped beef suet
3 pounds dark brown sugar
2 cups molasses (treacle)
2 quarts cider (hard or soft? doesn't say)
3 pounds dried currants (sultanas?)
4 pounds seeded raisins
1/2 pound citron, chopped
3 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 quart brandy
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon mace
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons salt.

Put the beef, suet, brown sugar, molasses, cider, currants, raisins, and citron in a large pot. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until the sugar and citron melt. Add the apples and cook until tender. Add the remaining ingredients and cook 15 minutes more, stirring frequently. Spoon into clean, hot jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. Close the jars and process at 10 pounds pressure for 20 minutes. You can then store the mincemeat indefinitely. If you do not want to process it, it is safer to refrigerate.
tekalynn From: tekalynn Date: November 28th, 2009 05:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Ah. Well.

(Rereading my comment, it comes off as ungracious in a way I didn't expect it to. I apologize for my rudeness.)
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: November 27th, 2009 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)

and a Safe and Happy Black Friday...

We know there's suet in mincemeat, we just don't like to think about it, so we buy it in jars. Pretty much everything else, though, goes into your dark fruitcake; too late for that, as the mix should have been macerating since Halloween. I'd bake the cake tomorrow and put it soak till Christmas. And I'd use dark Jamaican rum.

Pumpkin pie is generally made with actual pumpkins, or any other squash with firm yellow flesh. Or you can substitute sweet potatoes, yams, or pureed beans and be perfectly happy.

Italian-Americans like lasagna on Christmas for reasons which were explained to me a long time ago. Dinner didn't matter to us, as we ran around visiting; as long as you had apple cider, eggnog and cookies, you were fine. Or you could roast (bake, really) a duck or a goose.

We're at the age now where Thanksgiving feasts are attended only by those without the foresight or wherewithal to be out of town. There was a new baby, and Cousin Joan's grey-haired forty-something daughters made up the "children's table".
wemyss From: wemyss Date: November 27th, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

So long as you're happy.

Pureed beans, though?

Dear. God.
fpb From: fpb Date: November 27th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: So long as you're happy.

Properly done, they can be wonderful. I have a real thing for pureed chickpeas.
From: el_staplador Date: November 28th, 2009 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Alas, no one thought to give us a mincing machine as a wedding present. I have acquired bun tins, though, so am a small step nearer Real Mince Pies. (Incidentally, my book on English Cookery has a mincemeat recipe that actually involves meat. I am determined to try this some day.)

I approve of the ham. This is my first Christmas married to a man with a Polish grandmother, and the tradition is apparently to have a Proper Polish Meal (as you might expect, pork, cabbage, potatoes) on Christmas Eve. Goodness only knows what we'll eat on Christmas Day. I'm not fond of turkey, though; I find it rather dry.
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