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'Tis the season, and all that sort of thing. There are not many
Christmas feasts in the Aubrey/Maturin novels, nor is there much
variety in the farebut such as it is we present it here.
Christmas at sea can be a fairly depressing business, and as
often as not it is signalized by little more than a double ration
of salt pork and plum duff.
Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reproduce some
of the more exotic Christmas dinners. We could not obtain the
salted penguins and "the wrong kind of turtle" eaten to such
dramatic effect in The Mauritius Command; not to mention
the porpoises, "rather strangely jointed by the ship's butcher,"
which "were served out for Christmas dinner and declared better,
far better, than roast pork" in The Yellow Admiral.
We have had to content ourselves with Goose (shown here in the
guise of Goose and Truffle Pie), Roast Pork, Ship's Biscuits (weevils not shown),
Rum-Punch, Christmas Pudding, and of course the featured recipe, Mince Pie.
Goose and Truffle Pie
'I will just see my people aboard,' said Jack... When he
reached the cabin, Captain Lambert was calling for 'a glass of
brandy, there, and mince pies; but only small ones, d'ye hear me,
only small ones,' ... 'What did he mean by mince pies? ... Mince
pies. Why, of course: it must be Christmas in a day or two.'
- The Far Side of the World, p.
Mince pies are indelibly associated with Christmas. Indeed, until
the mid-17th Century, they were known exclusively as Christmas
Piesthey were usually rectangular, to represent the cradle of
Jesus, and the dried fruits and spices were supposed to symbolize
the Gifts of the Magi. The Christmas Pie of Little Jack Horner
was a mince pie, though in his case it contained something more
than meat and fruit. Sir John Horner was responsible for the
delivery of a Christmas Pie to Henry VIII; and the plum he pulled
out was the deed to a piece of confiscated church propertyone
of several hidden beneath the crust.
Under Puritan rule, Christmas Pies were briefly outlawed as
emblems of Popery, but they resurfaced shortly afterward in less
controversial guise, as Mince or Shrid (Shred) Pies. Under any
name, they represent a very old traditionthe practice of
preserving meat by combining it with dried fruits, spices,
sugars, and alcohol dates back at least as far as medieval times,
and may even have originated in ancient Rome.
Today, alas, mincemeat has lost something in translationtoo
often it is neither minced nor meatbut in Aubrey's time it was
still faithful to its roots.
[Note: the two pastry recipes mentioned below appear
elsewhere in Lobscouse and Spotted Dog and are not
reproduced here to save spacebut you can substitute any
good short pie crust and/or any puff paste.]
2 recipes (1 pound) Short Pastry
1/2 recipe (1/2 pound) Puff Paste
1 quart Mincemeat (see below)
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- On a lightly floured board, with a lightly floured rolling pin,
roll out the short pastry until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Cut
the sheet of pastry into 4 circles big enough to line 4 small pie
dishes (the ones we use are 4 1/2 inches in diameter).
- Fill the pies with mincemeat.
- Re-flour the board and rolling pin, and roll out the puff paste
until it is 1/8-inch thick. Cut 4 circles slightly larger than
the pie dishes. Cut a small hole in the center of each, and place
them on the pies. Crimp the edges together.
- Bake 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees for
about 20 minutes.
- Makes 4 small pies.
3 pounds shin of beef
1 pound suet, finely grated
1/2 pound currants
1/4 pound raisins
1/4 pound sultanas
1/2 cup candied orange peel, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup candied citron, coarsely chopped
1 pound tart apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
(about 3 cups)
juice and coarsely chopped zest of 1 lemon
juice and coarsely chopped zest of 1 Seville orange
2 tablespoons grated ginger
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cider
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup red wine
- Put the beef in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil,
reduce heat, and simmer, covered, 2 hours, or until the meat is
tender enough to fall off the bone.
- Take the meat out of the pot (you may want to season and save the
stock, as we do, for future use). When it is cool enough to
handle, remove and discard the bones, fat and gristle. You should
have about 1 pound of meat.
- Shred or coarsely chop the meat, and mix it thoroughly with all
the other ingredients. Put the mincemeat in a sealed container
and set it to ripen in a cool dark place. It will be ready for
use after about 2 weeks... or it can be refrigerated for several
months (ours has been aging for about a year now, and it gets a
little more interesting every day).
- Makes about 3 quarts.