Christmas is a time for traditional foods, and a baker in Midway is reaching into the past for a unique taste.
Carrie Warmbier of Midway School Bakery is making mincemeat and lots of it.
If you've ever wondered why it is called mincemeat, when it doesn't have meat in it ... well, it used to. And Warmbier has put it back.
"We actually put in beef chuck roast that you slow cook until it falls apart," she said.
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Add that to dried fruit and apples, spices and sugar, add a bit of brandy, and you've got traditional mincemeat.
"I was always intrigued by it, I'd never had a traditional one until I tried to make one myself," Warmbier said. "You can buy canned mincemeat, but it doesn't have meat. ... I don't know much about the tradition, I know it's very European, and very country.
"They probably used scraps of meat that were cheap and you could slow cook for a long time."
Mincemeat is a kind of culinary antique, with a surprisingly controversial past. Sometimes attributed to Crusaders, who allegedly brought back a taste for Middle Eastern spicy fruit and meat pies, mincemeat pies in England long were associated with Catholics. As such, Protestants, particularly Puritans and Quakers, eschewed it. But the sweet never really disappeared and Victorians repopularized it, but usually without meat. Today, the British baking giant Greggs sells millions of tart-sized ones every Christmas.
Last year, Warmbier decided to try her hand. She found some recipes, reworked them, adding her own twists. She made a batch of eight pies last year and sold them all.
How does it taste?
"It's different — some people think it's a little weird, with a stringy texture," she said.
It's very rich, dense and sweet. She makes her mincemeat pie with the traditional suet, the solid beef fat, for extra richness; brandy for extra flavor; cinnamon, all-spice, clove and nutmeg; plus loads of dried fruits: golden and dark raisins, cranberries, apricots and currants.
"It's the traditional way to make it," she said. "It's a two-day process. You've got to cook the meat by itself, let it sit all night and then cook the filling for four hours."
She uses sorghum instead of molasses and a few other things, like apple juice, to give it more local flavor. Warmbier suggested using bourbon instead of brandy for an even more Kentucky taste. That all goes into a full-size double crusted pie shell.
"I took one last year to a friend's dad, and he ate it for breakfast with a slice of cheese on it. You can eat it for any kind of meal," she said. "I think there's a market around here for it, with all the horse farms, and all the Irish and English."
Warmbier plans to make two or three batches of mincemeat pie and will sell the pies at Midway School Bakery, 510 Versailles Road, Midway, for $21.95 each.