Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gram Werner's Mincemeat Tarts

A funny thing happened the other day. I was wandering round in the grocery store and noticed a huge table of marked down items so, naturally, I stopped to have a look and there was a treasure! Several jars of Grandma's Mincemeat marked down from $8.99 to $1 per jar! Now, let me tell you, even if I wasn't a mincemeat fanatic that would be tempting but --- wow! --- how can I pass that up.

I fell in love with mincemeat before I can remember. Gram Werner, my mother's mother, made mincemeat tarts that were so delicious the thought of them can still make me drool. I remember standing beside her at her kitchen table when I was barely tall enough to see over the table, helping her to make mincemeat tarts. For one thing, she had the prettiest tart tins. They were much like a muffin tin except the bottoms were fluted so that when you pressed the dough down into them they came out with this lovely rippled shape. I still have 2 of them and, though I haven't made tarts in years, well, you never know when you might have to.

Anyway it was my job to put the “lids” on the tarts. Gram would cut out the dough for the tart and press it into the tin, spoon in the delicious, cinnamony filling, and then cut out little round dots to place on top. That's what I was there for. The next hour was agony as the whole house filled up with the fragrance of cinnamon and cloves and apples and raisins. And when the tarts came out of the oven they were just so cute. My brother Wayne and I fought over them all the time.

Gram always started her tart filling with a jar of Grandma's Mincemeat but it never stopped there. She'd chop up apples, and stir in raisins, and add more cinnamon --- sometimes some extra grated orange rind. Her tarts were juicy and fresher tasting than the kind made straight out of the jar. Hot, in a bowl with milk --- there was never anything better.

Years later when I lived in Erie I lived on Plum Street and my neighbor's name, I'm not making this up, was Mrs. Lemmon. Mrs. Lemmon on Plum Street. Mrs. Lemmon made mincemeat from scratch with apples and raisins and suet --- lots of booze and plenty of spice. But her mincemeat turned out very dry. It was delicious but didn't have the juiciness of Gram's. Some years later I tried it myself and I realized that what you had to do was make the mincemeat and age it in the traditional way but then add fresh apples when you made the tarts. That was Gram's secret.

My Grandmother Valentine had recipe in her cookbook for green tomato mincemeat. My mother made it one time when we had a surplus of green tomatoes and it was delicious though very different from what one might expect. Well, the truth is if you pour enough cinnamon into most anything it will be delicious. As an adult, I've given up most pies and tarts but I found that I could still get a mincemeat fix by shelling out the $8.99 for a jar and then parsimoniously using a couple of tablespoons of mincemeat in the center of an apple as it baked. That is still one of my favorite treats, mincemeat-filled baked apples.

Now I sometimes buy a jar, especially round the holidays, and keep it in the fridge. I use a small spoonful of the succulent, spicy stuff on a piece of buttered toast --- it is far superior to any jam or preserve in my opinion. And I always think of Gram when I eat it.

So, well, I went nuts in the grocery store. I cleaned them out. For $5 I have $45 worth of rich, gooey, spicy, tangy mincemeat. I feel like I won the lottery. I'll spoon it on toast or into apples as they roast. I might even get out Gram's pretty fluted tins. And I'll think of her while I make tarts. I still remember how to put the lids on.

Thanks for reading.

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