Thanksgiving Treat: Does Your Family Eat Mincemeat Pie?

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to find various mincemeat recipes for holiday pies. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

When I was growing up, one of my paternal great-grandmothers would make all the pies for Thanksgiving. Now to be honest, I have no idea what all she made because there’s only one pie I cared about. I seem to think there was a number of fruit pies (apple and cherry) and the best pie, pumpkin.

But there was also this one pie on the table that I never understood why anyone would eat it. My guess was that maybe some of the older men in the family ate it but no one who was a true pie connoisseur would turn down the best pie (pumpkin) for something with such a curious, non-delectable name. That pie? Mincemeat.

Photo: homemade mincemeat. Credit: Stuart Caie; Wikimedia Commons.
Photo: homemade mincemeat. Credit: Stuart Caie; Wikimedia Commons.

What Is Mincemeat??

What is mincemeat? A search of John F. Mariani’s Dictionary of American Food and Drink for the word “mincemeat” revealed this definition:

A mixture of chopped fruits, spices, suet, and sometimes meat that is usually baked in a pie crust. The word comes from mince, “to chop finely,” whose own origins are in the Latin, minuere, “to diminish.” …In colonial America these pies were made in the fall and sometimes frozen throughout the winter. (1)

Mincemeat has long been a tradition that harkens back to England and a way to preserve meat without salting, curing, smoking or drying. (2) However, I think most of us have only heard of it as a filling for pie. If you ask people what mincemeat is, they will either say it’s all fruit or that it’s a combination of meat and fruit. There might even be those who ate mincemeat with just meat. Typically, it’s a dessert pie and not a savory pie like what we would think of as a pot pie (like chicken pot pie). Today, fruit mincemeat filling can be purchased to help make pie making easier.

Mincemeat Pie Recipes

Is mincemeat a family tradition in your home? Whenever I hear someone talk about it, I instantly think of my great-grandmother. I’m actually sad that I didn’t put the pumpkin pie slice down for a second and at least try that mincemeat. It seems that it is a taste that no one in our family today remembers. If you are like me and need a recipe to continue your family tradition, historical newspapers can help.

This 1911 food column of mincemeat recipes proclaims that without these “dainties” Christmas and Thanksgiving would be dismal. What surprises me is the different types of mincemeat recipes found here including:

  • New England Mincemeat #1
  • New England Mincemeat #2
  • Old English Mincemeat
  • Vegetarian Mincemeat
  • Plain Vegetarian Mincemeat
  • Southern Mincemeat
  • Kentucky Mincemeat
  • “Diet” Mincemeat
  • Green Tomato Mincemeat
  • Green Tomato Mincemeat #2
  • Carrot Mincemeat
Mincemeat recipes, Oregonian newspaper article 19 November 1911
Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 19 November 1911, page 6
Mincemeat recipes, Oregonian newspaper article 19 November 1911
Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 19 November 1911, page 6
Mincemeat recipes, Oregonian newspaper article 19 November 1911
Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 19 November 1911, page 6
Mincemeat recipes, Oregonian newspaper article 19 November 1911
Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 19 November 1911, page 6

So, what is the difference in these recipes? Some have meat and that meat is either cooked, minced beef or tongue (no word on what animal’s tongue), or a mixture of both. Some recipes include liquor, and in some cases a lot of liquor. And then there are all kinds of minced fruits and spices that can be found in the recipes. The term mincemeat is very general and can really mean various types of pie filling.

This recipe from Pennsylvania appeared in newspapers just after the WWI armistice and laments the high meat prices. Although the U.S. government didn’t require food rationing during World War I, citizens were heavily encouraged to self-ration as food was needed by allies and allied civilians – so the price of meat may have been prohibitive. This mincemeat recipe skips the meat. It includes raisins, currants, lemon, nuts, orange marmalade and suet (beef fat) as well as spices like nutmeg and cloves.

Mincemeat recipe, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader newspaper article 26 November 1918
Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 26 November 1918, page 14

My guess is that mincemeat pie is slowly growing out of favor in the United States and eventually won’t be as well known.

Mincemeat Pie Anyone?

I asked my Facebook friends about Mincemeat Pie and it was about evenly split between those who had a family tradition of including the pie for the holidays and those who didn’t. But of the ones who did remember mincemeat, not all of them had actually tried it. Answers ranged from parents warning the child they wouldn’t like it to just a distaste for the meat/fruit combination.

If you’re curious what it tastes like, my friend Miriam Robbins, webmaster of the Historical Directories Online website, says that the fruit version of the pie has an apple pie texture and is very rich and sweet with a raisin/apple taste.

What pie are you eating this holiday season? Is Mincemeat Pie part of your tradition? Let me know in the comments below. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying my pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Note on the header image: a plate of mince pies with decorated crusts and spicy fruit filling served sprinkled with sugar, one broken open to reveal the filling. Credit: christmasstockimages.com; Wikimedia Commons.

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(1) Mariani, John F. The Dictionary of American Food & Drink. New Haven, Connecticut: Ticknor & Fields, 1983. p. 254.
(2) “The History of Mince Pies,” Walkers (https://www.walkersshortbread.com/the-history-of-mince-pies/: accessed 17 November 2022)

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Treat: Does Your Family Eat Mincemeat Pie?

  1. I love mincemeat! My mother made mincemeat and canned it when I was young. I still make mincemeat cookies at Christmas even though the store-bought mincemeat is not nearly as good as Mother made. If Mother didn’t use up the whole quart, I would sneak bites until it would disappear!

    1. Lela, thank you for sharing your memories. Mincemeat cookies sound like a perfect compromise for those who don’t want to eat a whole pie slice.

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