By Don Stuart
---- — Every Thanksgiving, I pile one helping (okay, sometimes one-and-a-half) of every dish available onto my first plate. I know even while I’m doing this that it’ll escalate my Waistband Distortion Warning System to “Severe.” (Which I compound by piling one of everything on those third and fourth plates too. But that’s another story.)
However, there is one traditional holiday foodstuff that has never played a role in distorting my waistband: Mincemeat pie.
One reason for this is that nobody at our Thanksgiving celebrations has ever brought any mincemeat pie for me to shove into my voracious maw. But even if it had been there, I might well have passed. This is partly due to my instinctive “Don’t eat stuff with weird names!” filter. This has protected me countless times over the years from consuming stuff with names like “rutabaga,” “blood pudding,” and “head cheese.” And you gotta admit, “mincemeat” is kind of a weird name, especially for a pie.
I only began thinking differently about mincemeat after a long weekend avoiding chores by doing research on the Internet. First, there was a poll about “Favorite Thanksgiving Pies” on The Old Farmer’s Almanac website, and mincemeat got votes, even though it wasn’t on the ballot. (I should note that the endorsement for mincemeat wasn’t exactly ringing; one poll participant admitted “My grandmother and I were the only ones who ever ate it.”)
Still, there were plenty of reasons to remain skeptical. For one, mincemeat pies were originally called “chewets,” a term that brings to mind a bunch of my waistband-distorted relatives lounging around my house long into Thanksgiving evening and chewet-ing up all the leftovers before I can get to them.
My interest further dwindled when I learned mincemeat pie consumption is accompanied by many superstitions, including “Eat mincemeat pie in silence or you’ll endure bad luck.” Everyone at our Thanksgiving get-togethers is a talk-with-your-mouth-full eater; they couldn’t eat mincemeat pie in silence even if I threatened to turn them into mincemeat. My life would be riven with ill fortune that would make the events of that “2012” movie look like minor annoyances.
Then there’s this: Oliver Cromwell, who booted the Stuart royals out of England for a while in the mid 1600s, completely and utterly banned mincemeat pies. But wait; Cromwell was apparently a bit of a wet blanket, or at least not nearly as wacky as the Stuart royals, and he banned mincemeat pie for representing holiday frivolity and merry-making. I’m a big fan of holiday frivolity and merry-making; so maybe I’d dig a mincemeat pie after all?
First, I had to learn what the heck mincemeat is? It turns out it’s something it doesn’t sound like. I blame this on the people who invented it, the British, who are notorious for foods that aren’t what they sound like, such as “puddings” that aren’t, and “chips” that are really fries, and “haggis,” which. . .okay, haggis actually IS what it sounds like: a collection of inedibles stuffed into an unmentionable.
In its original incarnation, mincemeat pies did in fact contain meat. The specific meats mentioned on Wikipedia.com are:
> Other meats.
I’m pretty sure “other meats” means parts that not a single one of us would knowingly put on our Thanksgiving plates, whether it was our first or fourth helping. Maybe liver is the real reason Cromwell banned mincemeat pies.
But – and this is a big “but” – nowadays, the typical mincemeat pie doesn’t contain any meat, as the name implies; instead, it’s filled with a sort of preserve, containing stuff like apples, dried fruits, such as raisins and sultanas, and spices.
I like apples and raisins and spices. But wait; what’s a “sultana”? My “Don’t eat something with a weird name!” sense was tingling. I mean, “sultana” is actually a good-weird name, what with its vaguely exotic sound and rhythm. But what if sultanas are one of those evilly mis-named foods that isn’t at all what you think it is, like “sweetbreads,” which are actually calf thymus glands.
Turns out a sultana is totally fine; it’s merely a type of grape, albeit one with an exotic and rhythmic name. And I like grapes.
So it is now resolved. I will try mincemeat pie if one shows up this Thanksgiving. Even if it escalates my Waistband Discomfort Warning System to “Irrevocable.”