When I was a kid, I remember taking a bite of mince meat pie wondering why this would be a dessert, and being very surprised at how yummy it was.  I am sure it was some frozen store-bought version, but I thought it was just so amazing that they had made meat taste like fruit and spices.  (Little did I know it had no meat whatsoever in it.)

The mixture of fruit and meat with strong spices was brought to England from the Middle East during the crusades.  It became a Catholic custom to eat it at Christmas, and during the English Civil War, was outlawed by Puritan leaders.  According to an excellent wikipedia page on Mince Pie, in his History of the Rebellion, Marchamont Needham wrote “All Plums the Prophets Sons defy, And Spice-broths are too hot; Treason’s in a December-Pye, And Death within the Pot.”

It continues: In the December 1733 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine, Samuel Johnson explained the popularity of “Christmas Pye” as perhaps “owing to the Barrenness of the Season, and the Scarcity of Fruit and Milk, to make Tarts, Custards, and other Desserts”, but also possibly bearing “a religious kind of Relation to the Festivity from which it takes its Name.” The author also mentions the Quakers’ objection to the treat, “who distinguish their Feasts by an heretical Sort of Pudding, known by their Names, and inveigh against Christmas Pye, as an Invention of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, an Hodge-Podge of Superstition, Popery, the Devil and all his Works.”

Any pie that provokes this much controversy must be delicious.  And trust me, it is a very special pie–  a Christmas pie.  Mince meat pie was made with mutton typically. But having a lot of pears on hand, I chose a different recipe.  I think whether there is meat in it or not, the key to this pie is the umami flavor– from the molasses.  Also, unlike other mince pies with double crust, this has an oatmeal molasses topping that adds a nice texture and contrast to the intense spice of the filling.

Christmas Mince Meat Pie

adapted from Megan Miller’s Brandy Pear Mincemeat Pie published by Bon Appetit

Makes one 9-inch pie

INGREDIENTS

Filling

  • 1 lb. pears, peeled and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. clove
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Crust

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Topping

  • 5 Tbsp. flour
  • 5 Tbsp. oatmeal
  • 1 two-finger pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. molasses

Procedure

  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan large enough to hold all the filling ingredients.  Add all the ingredients, and cook on medium heat. stirring occasionally, until the liquids become thick and syrupy.  This takes about 20 minutes.  Set aside to cool.
  2. Make the crust:  mix the flour, salt, and sugar together with a whisk.  Cut the butter in using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until you have pea-sized clumps.  (I know everyone has their food processor recipe these days, but frankly cleaning one of those things for something as simple as a cutting butter than flour seems like more work than doing it the old fashioned way).  Combine the water and vinegar, and quickly stir this into the dough using a fork.  Form the dough into a disc, and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Roll out the dough and place in the pie plate.  Flute the edges.  This crust is not blind baked.
  5. Pour the filling into the unbaked crust.  Combine the topping ingredients and mash together with a fork, or crumble using your fingers. sprinkle this on top if the pie.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees, and bake for 30 more.  Allow the pie to cool for at least an hour.  Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
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