Sunday, January 1, 2012

Meatless Mince Pie

Until last year, Mincemeat Pie was a Gondring family tradition that I never embraced. Sweet pie with meat in thank you. I'm pretty sure that my Grandpa Gondring, who is only four years shy of owning the title "Centenarian," has eaten and enjoyed his mincemeat pie on Christmas Eve since he was able to eat solid foods. Last year, my ninety-three year old grandma called to ask me if I would make the pie because she really just didn't have the energy anymore. There was a hesitancy in her voice, so I paused before giving the obvious "yes." Why the hesitancy, I wondered? Mincemeat pie filling comes in an $9 jar, so screwing that up was unlikely. And years ago she'd taught me to make her pie crust, so she knew there was a good chance I'd get that part right. Surely, she didn't think I'd say no? And then I got it. This hesitation wasn't about doubting me; it was about her giving up something she'd done well for more than 60 years. More specifically, I think it was difficult for her to pass on the responsibility of mincemeat pie making because she loved making a pie for the man she loved just because that man loved this pie! [did you get that? ;)] So I felt like I had some big shoes to fill!

I dutifully went to the store and purchased the pie filling; however, when I opened the jar I couldn't bring myself to pour the contents into my pie shell. As my friend, Beth, can attest, I am not a big fan of prepackaged anything (she learned this when she tried to make mashed potatoes from flakes in box and looked up to see the horrified grimace on my face). Instead, I opened up my trusty Joy of Cooking cookbook, turned to the index, found the pie section, and scrolled past "Apple" and "Blueberry" until my finger landed on "Mince." Figuring this must be the same thing, I turned to page 877 and started reading. As it turns out, what my grandparents have probably been eating for the last forty years is mince pie not mincemeat pie (lots of people don't put meat in it anymore). Less scared of the filling now knowing what actually went into it, I began from scratch, using the recipe as a base, adding some of my own touches to it.

Gifts and pie in hand, Jason, Stephen, and I arrived at my grandparents'  house on Christmas Eve. As the family gathered around the table to enjoy another delicious dinner with lively conversation, Grandpa was downright dour. When I asked him if he was okay, sternly asked me if I knew the poem of the wise old owl. I smiled and silently shook my head side-to-side, knowing I would soon be enlightened. The conversation ceased as all eye turned towards Grandpa. He dramatically glanced at his attentive audience and cleared his throat.

"A wise old owl lived in the oak
The more he saw, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?

We all laughed, as this is just par for the course with him. After squeezing his shoulder and tousling his hair, I returned to my seat to finish my meal and he returned to his silence.

Thankfully, post-pie Grandpa was much more pleasant. He demolished the giant helping of pie we served him, his fingers firmly gripped to the plate, as if he was afraid someone might force him to part with his precious pie before he had ingested every crumb. Few compliments to a cook rival a clean plate and a smiling grandpa.

Mince Pie
adapted from The Joy of Cooking

In a large saucepan, combine:
3 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled and diced
1 small Pink Lady apple, peeled and diced
1 ripe Bosc pear, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups raisins, coarsely chopped
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup apple juice
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Turn heat on high, stirring constantly so the fruit doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and let cook 35-45 minutes or until sauce is thickened.

Preheat oven to 400ยบ

While the fruit is cooking, prepare two pie crusts.
Place one of the pie crusts in the pie pan. Pour filling inside. Baste the edge of the crust with water. Roll out second crust and lay on top. Cut off the excess dough. Crimp edges together. Set pie aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together:
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water

This amazing little mix is an egg wash. Using a basting brush, coat the top crust with the wash, being careful not to let it pool in any crevasses. Cut the several air vents in the top crust. Bake for 50 minutes. If crust gets darker than golden brown, cover with aluminum foil.

Eat up!

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