The holiday season approaches and as with many holidays past, I would like some of my family's traditional foods. The problem is that after so many generations the ingredients are getting harder and harder to find.
My family has a policy, we eat no fruitcake other than that someone in the family has made from the family recipe, otherwise who knows what we might be eating. This year I'm going to give it a try. I did it a few years back with my mom in Massachusetts, but this effort is to be all on my own. Except, she has had to help me a bit. Currants are not to be found in this area, I've checked all the stores. So, after a few discussions, she located a box and mailed it to me.
The other item we perennially have an issue with is mincemeat. Now I know there are many folks out there who haven't a clue as to what this mysterious stuff is, in fact I spoke with many of them in my search. At each grocery store where I inquired I was faced with a quizzical look, "Oh, you'll find that in the meat department." Nope. I'm not talking ground beef or pork or chicken or meatloaf mix, I'm talking good old raisins, apples and suet, yep, suet. After a brief discussion, I'm usually asked what the heck would anyone do with that stuff.
Once I have found an employee who knows what the stuff is, then I spring on them that only the boxed stuff will do, the mincemeat in a jar has funky thickeners and an an extra bit of flavoring that no one in the family finds appealing. The grocery clerks scratch their heads trying to get their brain around how anyone would box the mush that comes in a jar. (It's all dried, it needs to be rehydrated before using.) Out come the handheld inventory computers and the cell phones to the folks in distribution. Everyone seems really puzzled by all of this. I stumbled upon the right employee in Safeway, my fourth grocery. After four other clerks hadn't a clue, she pipes up, "Oh that's back in the dairy section on the end cap." The mystified four all drop their jaws, astounded that this stuff made of raisins, apples and suet is real. We took a walk to the far back corner where the dairy is always kept, and there it was, next to the jarred stuff. The clueful clerk noted that the type of tag on the shelf indicated that it was to be discontinued.
I bought eight boxes. I'll share with my family, a little.The magical filling rivals Twinkies in shelf life, so I know I'm set for a few years, even if a few boxes head north in a suitcase after Thanksgiving.
Pies, lovely pies, I've found there's a bit of a trick. The package has directions for several different sized pies and how many boxes you'll need to make each pie. The rule is to make the smallest pie with one box, because the larger pies have the wrong filling to crust ratio. The big ones are too sweet, and seem soggy, a small pie gets two crusts and just enough of the filling to go with a cup of tea, without feeling overwhelmed.