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Clifford Doerksen
December 29, 2010 8:26 AM   Subscribe

19th-century newspaper ads for patented stomach cures and digestive aids [...] foregrounded mince pie as the K2 of digestive summits. But for every published warning on the dangers of mince, the newspapers published a poem, essay, or editorial praising it as a great symbol of American cultural heritage or a nostalgic reminder of mother love and better times bygone—or even, as the State of Columbia, South Carolina, asserted in 1901, a beneficial Darwinian instrument that had "thinned out the weak ones" among the pioneering generations.
So wrote Cliff Doerksen in his wonderful, James Beard award-winning article Mince Pie: The Real American Pie. Doerksen not only gives the history of this once most American of foods, he also makes two mince pies from 19th Century recipes to see if they are indeed all that. This is but one of many great articles Doerksen wrote for The Chicago Reader in recent years (links to a selection below the cut). Sadly, Cliff Doerksen passed at the age of 47 just before Christmas.

But let's not be maudlin and rather celebrate all the wonderfulness Doerksen produced through the years, starting with a story from the wild and wooly days of radio When Zion Ruled the Waves, examining how a Christian commune in Illinois became one of the most popular radio broadcasters in America. Then there's the long, sordid history of payola, Same Old Song and Dance. It should come as no surprise that Doerksen was a historian of radio, publishing a book called American Babel: Rogue Radio Broadcasters of the Jazz Age. You can read a sample chapter here. He was also a critic of music, literature and film. He wrote a series of three articles about being a father in today's media landscape, making sure your offspring like music and films worth liking (1, 2, 3). His main profession was being a critic, and for a sample of his many reviews check out his piece on the 1947 film noir Nightmare Alley and his harsh evalutation of Lou Reed as a lyricist. His final piece was this lovely interview with a Franciscan friar. And last but not least, check out Doerksen's blog Bad News from the Past, where Doerksen posted old newspaper clippings with his comments.
posted by Kattullus (73 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, I forgot one link. Here's Cliff Doerksen talking about his days of working room service and faking a pizzeria on This American Life.
posted by Kattullus at 8:32 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Weird. I don't believe I've ever seen mince pie in America, not even around Christmas. Like the Christmas cracker it is one of those traditions that is weirdly absent - so finding out that people here ate giant onesyear round is very strange.
posted by Artw at 8:36 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's mindboggling. As Doerksen points out, it's as if Americans just stopped eating hamburgers and no one noticed. Also, the pie in "to a Vermonter a Yankee is someone who eats pie for breakfast" is mince pie. I always used to think it was apple pie (and thought it was kind of weird that hardy farmertypes ate apple pie for breakfast).
posted by Kattullus at 8:42 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


We have a family recipe for mincemeat pie that sounds very similar to the ones he describes. I believe our recipe used hamburger, rather than chopped roast, and I don't remember apple cider being involved at all, but it sounds like a great idea.

Our version may not be quite as good as the recipes he's describing, but is nonetheless absolutely freaking amazingly good, probably my single favorite food. I don't have it handy, or I'd write it up for MeFi.

We also do 'hard sauce' on top, which is a whipped butter/sugar mix with with a little vanilla and a lot of brandy.

It is somewhat indigestible, so you don't want to overindulge... and that can be a difficult act of willpower, lemme tell ya. At a guess, I think it's the combination of currants (a form of raisin) and the high fat content. But I never noticed any particular effect on dreams and/or nightmares. Might be true for some, but I don't think it's a universal outcome.
posted by Malor at 8:55 AM on December 29, 2010


Of course, there's no actual meat in the mince pies you get in the UK, hasn't been for decades - I'm sure your 19th century Brit would find that just as weird.
posted by Artw at 8:59 AM on December 29, 2010


Oh, and as an aside, I suspect it's fallen out of favor purely because it's a big pain in the ass to do properly. IIRC, our recipe makes four pies, and takes several hours of active attention to finish. And it's fairly expensive, as it takes specialty ingredients (like suet) that are hard to find.

But, man, if I could find a source for the stuff without having to make it myself, I'd probably buy several pies a month. There is just nothing better in the world than a proper mincemeat pie.
posted by Malor at 9:01 AM on December 29, 2010


We see mincemeat filling and premade mince pies for sale here in St. Louis, particularly from Thanksgiving through the winter. You can also get the little Walker's shortbread mince pies. I'm a big fan of mincemeat and usually have it a couple times per year at least.
posted by jedicus at 9:02 AM on December 29, 2010


Mincemeat pie with hard sauce used to be holiday tradition in our family, but I was, sadly, really the only person who liked it. I need to make it again.

I can't wait to read these articles. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 9:02 AM on December 29, 2010


My grandmother used to make a mince pie and a pumpkin pie at Christmas, but as she got older she stopped making the mince. It's kind of a pain in the ass, and no one liked the mince from a jar. I imagine with refrigeration and supermarket cuts of meat, there was far less of a reason to spend a full day making mince pie.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:04 AM on December 29, 2010


I suspect it's fallen out of favor because meat? In a pie? Seriously?

Then again, chicken pot pie.
posted by DU at 9:14 AM on December 29, 2010


Great article!

Thinking about the cheeseburger in that way truly is interesting... like maybe future generations will be disgusted by the huge amount of waste that's present in your typical fast food burger. Which typing this has suddenly given me a perverse craving for.
posted by codacorolla at 9:14 AM on December 29, 2010


I suspect it's fallen out of favor because meat? In a pie? Seriously?

Americans are daft.
posted by Artw at 9:16 AM on December 29, 2010


No! I loved his blog! This is really sad!

I may have to make a mince pie in memoriam.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:25 AM on December 29, 2010


jedicus, where? I am now fairly interested in getting a premade mince pie, if it .
posted by adipocere at 9:28 AM on December 29, 2010


I canned (meat free) pear mincemeat pie filling this summer. I haven't made pie with it yet though. It was pretty easy to make several quarts of it and can it and it was delicious going in the jars. I need to try it over vanilla ice cream when I get a chance.
posted by hecho de la basura at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2010


There is an excellent scene in the movie State Fair in which the mother and father both surreptitiously add brandy to the mince that the mother is entering in competition. Results: drunk judges and winning mince!

My love of this film has not inspired me to actually make mince though. Reading a bit of the article actually makes me want to make some mince pie especially since it's an "addictive gateway pasty." (The writing of this is really great. Sad there won't be more like this to read in the future. )
posted by vespabelle at 9:42 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


jedicus, where? I am now fairly interested in getting a premade mince pie, if it .

Some Schnucks carry frozen mincemeat pies around the holidays, and mincemeat filling is usually in the baking section. You could dump the filling into a premade frozen pie crust and be 90% of the way there. I think the frozen ones are Sara Lee brand. The mini Walker's pies can be found at World Market this time of year. I don't know if any of the bakeries in the area will make a fresh one.
posted by jedicus at 9:50 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meat Pies are common near where I grew up (Natchitoches, LA, is famous for them), though those are more "hand pies" that resemble big empanadas. And they're by no means as common as mince pies are made out to have been - more like a special treat if you're in that neck of the woods.
posted by Sara C. at 10:07 AM on December 29, 2010


From the article:

I can't shake the feeling that the abrupt fall of mince signaled some profound but undiagnosed shift in American culture, some seismic rearrangement of who we are—since we are, after all, what we eat.

Well right after WWII things started going downhill. I think I've found the root of the problem.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:13 AM on December 29, 2010


meat? In a pie? Seriously?

Yes.
posted by yerfatma at 10:17 AM on December 29, 2010


From the article: The crazy taste is accompanied by a hot, fatty mouth feel that's almost obscenely pleasing.

What crazy taste? He never details what it tastes like. Is it sweet and savory? Describe, please.
posted by iconomy at 10:20 AM on December 29, 2010


I really enjoyed reading those articles. Thank you for posting them.

Mom occasionally makes mincemeat pie at Christmas, though it's the all-fruit version. It was always a mysterious thing, this weirdly spiced pie with 'meat' in the name and no meat inside. Somehow it never seemed interesting enough to look up myself, so I'm overjoyed that someone else wrote such a fantastic article about the whole situation.

(I just watched Nightmare Alley for the first time on Christmas Eve, too.)
posted by heatvision at 10:20 AM on December 29, 2010


*screeching tires to World Market*
posted by adipocere at 10:22 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Not to take anything away from the thoroughly delightful essay, but it appears that (in the literary world at least) mince pies were only modestly more popular than apple for a brief period of time.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:32 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the article: "I promise to keep researching (and baking) until I figure it out or die trying." :(
posted by mecran01 at 10:34 AM on December 29, 2010


Wow, Homeboy Trouble - check out the Great Pie Crisis of the 40's through 60's. Every single item in your selection plummeted, even the much higher-ranked apple!
posted by Sara C. at 10:35 AM on December 29, 2010


Great now, I want mincemeat pie, too. I read his last published piece, the interview with the Franciscan Friar and was really impressed how Doerksen let the interview breathe yet still managed to wrap it up really nicely and succinctly. What a great writer. It's unfortunate that the news of his death was my first introduction to his writing.

.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:39 AM on December 29, 2010


I suspect it's fallen out of favor because meat? In a pie? Seriously?

Oh, Good Lord, you've never had French Canadian Meat Pie?

Finely ground pork and beef and homemade breadcrumbs, spiced and seasoned, cocooned in a flaky crust three inches deep... with a side of fresh mashed potatoes, it will do you for dinner hot, and do you better for breakfast cold with a small squirt of ketchup. I always thought that the "Eating Pie for Breakfast" Vermont thing was because there were so many French Canadians there.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:55 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, rad:

Ideally I should have have next poured half a quart of brandy on the Chronicle batch and then packed it in a stone crock to "ripen and blend" in a cool, dry place for three weeks

That's another recipe to add to my ask.me question!
posted by Greg Nog at 10:57 AM on December 29, 2010


Well right after WWII things started going downhill.

My father came back from WWII with a life-long nostalgia for Spam, and creamed meat on toast, ("shit on a shingle,") we had army food on a regular schedule once a week. Also, canned food was a modern miracle, we had a huge pantry of canned food, and we would occasionally practice how long it would take, as a family working in concert, to transfer all the cans to the awaiting shelves of our lead-lined bomb shelter.

Antique, old-fashioned food was anti-patriotic, progressing into new modern technologies was a duty. Mother shouldn't be fussing around the hearth, and for the male children to help in the kitchen was grounds for a stern talking-to, and even threats of professional psychological intervention.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:08 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


And it's fairly expensive, as it takes specialty ingredients (like suet) that are hard to find.

Huh? What do you put in your dumplings then? Crisco?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:08 AM on December 29, 2010


iconomy, part of the reason he doesn't describe the flavor well is because it doesn't taste like anything else. A properly done mincemeat lights up everything in your mouth and palate at once. The strongest sensations are probably 'sweet' and 'umami', but then there's brandy and strong spices and raisins. (In these variants, it looks like there's also a cider flavor, but our recipe doesn't use cider.) The fat fills it out and gives it incredible mouth feel, and the crust adds texture. I can't think of anything similar.

I've tried a number of store-bought varieties, and none of them ever taste right. They do it on the cheap, and it's not the same. A true, proper mincemeat is expensive, and there doesn't seem to be much of a market for it. Supermarket mince is a vague hint of what it should actually taste like, but only a hint. Adding some brandy improved the last variety I tried, but even then, it was nowhere close.

It's worth making at least once in your life, and give yourself some time to acclimate. It's not for everyone, but if it tickles your tastebuds, nothing else ever quite measures up.
posted by Malor at 11:11 AM on December 29, 2010


Huh? What do you put in your dumplings then? Crisco?

Dumplings? I've think I've had dumplings maybe a dozen times in my whole life. :)
posted by Malor at 11:15 AM on December 29, 2010


PeterMcDermott: Butter. Per Joy of Cooking of course. The sight of them bobbing around in the yellow, glistening home made chicken stock surrounded by bits of parsley and hunks of chicken is profound.

Suet sounds interesting though.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:24 AM on December 29, 2010


I suspect it's fallen out of favor because meat? In a pie? Seriously?

we have cornish pasties in michigan and some parts of our state take them VERY seriously
posted by pyramid termite at 11:24 AM on December 29, 2010


I have a couple old recipes for mincemeat from my hardy Nebraska forebearers, where the "meat" called for is pigeon, pheasant, quail, or grouse. And it kind of makes sense that such pies would have fallen out of favor with the extinction of the once ubiquitous American passenger pigeon. Pies made on beef, with beef suet, would have been pretty expensive in the 19th century, and I bet a lot of what went down as "mince meat" in 19th century pies was really pigeon breasts and other game birds, with hog suet as the extra fat (as my recipes call for), particularly in homemade mince meat.
posted by paulsc at 11:29 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


paulsc, the bird version sounds really good, more appealing than the beef version.

Mark Twain in his autobiography tells of enormous flocks of pigeons landing in the woods when he was a boy, and saying they were never shot when hunted, just conked on the head with a stick. He must have been describing passenger pigeons.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:34 AM on December 29, 2010


My grandparents remembered throwing out handfuls of alcohol soaked grain (corn, mostly) which the birds would scoff up, get too drunk to fly or run well, and then be easier to just go pick up as they staggered around on the ground. When the birds came in large flocks on windy Nebraska days, boys and girls would go stand under the windmills, and catch birds stunned by spinning windmill vanes, as they fell from above.

Passenger pigeons never won any prizes for intelligence.
posted by paulsc at 11:42 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Meat in pies is very medieval. Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books lists many variations on what we would today call mincemeat pie with raisins and currants, etc, and lots of spices along with the meat.

Oh, I am so now craving a mincemeat pie--a real one, not one of those pansy-assed no-meat fakes. When I was a kid down in Cape Girardeau MO, we'd get mincemeat from a local . . . well, in French it would be called a charcuterie--a prepared/preserved meat shop called Esicar's. They made it every year about a month before Thanksgiving and kept it mellowing in a big barrel in the middle of the meaty-smoky scented shop. The shop person would come out with a big metal scoop to squidge it into plastic tubs for us. Mom would get enough for a couple pies at Thanksgiving and a couple more at Christmas. And Esicar's mincemeat had actual meat in it, along with the little white shreds of suet--that's crucial in keeping the pie all moist and cutting the intense sweetness; without it, it's really just a raisin pie with accessories. Esicar's is still there--looks like they call themselves a smokehouse--and they still sell mincemeat (old-fashioned sherry mincemeat!) but it's all safely sealed up in jars and I don't know whether it's exactly the same recipe they used to make or not. If you want to get some, they claim that they ship everywhere!
posted by miss patrish at 12:17 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dear Askme Hivemind: I just found these three pounds of old roast and beef fat that I left under the sink three weeks ago in some booze that had already turned. Should I eat it?
posted by Webnym at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2010


I made mincemeat this year. It's a bit like chai or mulled cider with a pleasing fatty texture and then an alcoholic bite to round it out. It's definitely not savory.

I suspect it got a bad reputation in the past because you can hide some real crap in there because it's all minced and brown anyway. I made it with good ingredients and it certainly didn't make me feel bad. But if you are outside the urban locavore scene, good suet might be hard to find. I bought mine at Dickson's Farmstand in Chelsea. I then used some grassfed lamb braised in wine, calvados, homemade candied citrons, Zantes currants, dates, and raisins.
posted by melissam at 12:27 PM on December 29, 2010


I once asked my Mom why she didn't make real mincemeat pies at christmas like she used to. She said it was too much work. But I begged her and she agreed, if I'd help her buy all the ingredients. I saw the list and I was appalled that there was suet in the pie. I had two pieces of the pie, that was way too much for one sitting. I pretty much got over my mincemeat pie desires forever.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:42 PM on December 29, 2010


@Homeboy Trouble
it appears that (in the literary world at least) mince pies were only modestly more popular than apple for a brief period of time.
If you just use the word "mince" you get a much different pictuire.

A lot of the hits for plain "mince" seem to be about making mince for pies (even when pie or pye is not mentioned), not a funny way of walking. See mince 1789-1882, mince 1700-1788.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 1:57 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hate it when I discover interesting writers after they die. This is exactly the kind of weirdo history that I love, and that we need more of. His article on academic peer review and presenting at conferences is outstanding, as well (although peer review pales in comparison to pie).

.

(BTW, here is an awesome anti-mince-pie temperance lecture from 1879: "From the mince pie to the tomb is but a step."
posted by heurtebise at 1:58 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Malor, thanks for that, it sounds so amazing. I'm going to have to make one this weekend for sure!
posted by iconomy at 2:00 PM on December 29, 2010


heurtebise: peer review pales in comparison to pie

To be fair, what doesn't?
posted by Kattullus at 2:18 PM on December 29, 2010


This graph reveals the precise moment when the English-speaking world lost its way. Personally, I blame the House of Hanover.
posted by jedicus at 2:41 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


paulsc: My grandparents remembered throwing out handfuls of alcohol soaked grain (corn, mostly) which the birds would scoff up, get too drunk to fly or run well, and then be easier to just go pick up as they staggered around on the ground.

That is absolutely hilarious. I hope I can try that some day.
posted by paisley henosis at 2:53 PM on December 29, 2010


Again, re jedicus, what the hell happened to dessert between 1940 and 1960? Both cake and pie are down!
posted by Sara C. at 3:21 PM on December 29, 2010


That is absolutely hilarious. I hope I can try that some day.

I have some bad news.
posted by jedicus at 3:21 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, Good Lord, you've never had French Canadian Meat Pie?

Tourtiere, s'il vous plait
posted by Hoopo at 4:02 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


jedicus: I have some bad news.

Well yeah, obviously I couldn't do it with passenger pigeons, but the same principle should apply to other small, stupid, delicious birds.
posted by paisley henosis at 4:04 PM on December 29, 2010


I suspect it's fallen out of favor because meat? In a pie? Seriously?

Son, you need to come to Australia, we will show you there is nothing that cannot be made more awesome by putting it in a pie. We have several stores and chains - Pieface, Harry's cafe, Janet's Pies, Jesters - that sell nothing but meat pies. Meat pies are god's way of saying, "hey, I know things can get rough, but you still get pies, buddy. It could be a lot worse."

Patrick Rafter - onetime Australian tennis champ and US Open winner- credited part of his early success to a teenage consumption of "Pie Sandwiches" (meat pie, in two slices of buttered bread with tomato sauce [like ketchup but thicker, sweeter, better, and less vinegar]).

New Zealand had a chain of "Pie Restaurants", like McDonalds, called Georgie Pies.

Life without meat pies. God, I cannot fathom it. No wonder America has so many problems.
posted by smoke at 4:25 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Meat in pies is very medieval.

At that time everything was a pie. The dough was used to make the containers in which the food was baked. There were no casserole dishes. The pie crust could be inches thick, and was not intended to be eaten, although when it was discarded it could be retrieved by the less fortunate classes who could crush and boil it to keep from starving.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:13 PM on December 29, 2010


Thank you for this Kattullus, it's been a wonderfully bittersweet rabbithole to fall into... but I would like to share the thing that made me laugh hardest today, from his last piece "Into the Friar" , about the franciscan friar who wears the full-on habit around Chicago, Jason Welle:

"Actually, I can tell you a funnier story than that," Welle went on. "I used to volunteer at a place called the Port Ministries in Back of the Yards—they run a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, a wide range of social services stuff. One day I was walking in my habit at 51st and Ashland—kind of a rougher neighborhood, you know? And a woman with a very small son came up to me and stopped me, saying 'Hey brother, brother, brother! I just want to thank you for wearing your habit today, because I know that you don't have to, and our neighborhood is starved for signs of hope. I want my five-year-old son to meet a man who's living his life for God.'

"And I was just shocked! I stopped and prayed with them for a second, and blessed her son, and it was the sweetest thing that anyone has ever said to me.

"So they leave and I've got the warm fuzzy butterflies. I keep walking down the street. I don't take more than ten steps before I run into a teenager who looks at me and goes, 'Who the fuck are you, Harry Potter?'"

posted by thusspakeparanoia at 7:13 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I feel a little bit bad that Cliff Doerksen's obit thread has become a pie fest, but maybe it's the best remembrance. Still, because his was a life ended early:

.

And now, as I imagine Mr. Doerksen might have enjoyed, a bit more about pigeons and pies.

The big passenger pigeon flocks were really an Eastern U.S. phenomenon; according to my people, it was common to see and catch great numbers of pigeons as far west as Illinois, but into Iowa and eastern Nebraska, the frequency of seeing great flocks quickly diminished, even in their heydays. Still every 4 or 5 years, weather and wind conspired to bring millions of pigeons as far west as the Platte River basin, even to what we now know as Hall County and the city of Grand Island, and such events were memorable enough, even to children, to become events of some excitement.

Mince pies, on the recipe of my fore bearers, were almost exclusively a fall event. They needed abundance of tame or game birds, whether pigeons, doves, quail, grouse, pheasant, chicken or even duck, goose, or crane, and even more, they needed apples, dried muscadines, citrus and peels from Texas, butchering fat from fall pigs, and various roots, herbs, and spices, that generally came in to their gardens at the end of summer, and early fall, to make mincemeat. They made it, most years, but not every year's mincemeat was as good as the next, or the previous one.

But sometimes, the pigeon flocks would appear in spring, probably as a result of disorienting weather coming up the Mississippi river valley from the Gulf, and then, whatever ingredients and time might have been available to make mince pies after fall's harvest, weren't available. Spring demanded horse drawn plowing, planting, weeding/cultivation and tending to buildings, livestock, fences and roads, and if the great flocks suddenly appeared, it was catch as catch can, and glad for it, to stretch the last of the winter bacon and salt meat.

Still, spring pigeons could be caught, pretty easily, by the dozen. And it took a couple dozen, or more, to make a meal for a family. Pigeons, being small birds, like doves or quail, in those days before mechanical plucking machines, weren't generally fully plucked and dressed, like larger game birds. It just wasn't worth the human work to fully pluck and dress a pigeon, a dove, or a quail, like it would have been for a chicken, a goose or a big pheasant, although really hungry sodbusters would sometimes singe off every feather of even the smallest bird, over open fire, to get every morsel of meat. But generally, just the meaty breasts were ripped out of the pigeon carcasses, for use as food.

So, with a lot of spring pigeon breasts in hand, and only hard root vegetables, like onions, garlic bulbs, turnips and mealy potatoes still left in a root cellar, a spring dinner based on pigeons was often just the pigeon meat, browned in butter, flour and salt, baked into a thick crusted pie, made with turnips, onions, and maybe, if the canning had held out over the winter, canned vegetables like carrots, peas and beans. It was much more the "4 and 20 blackbirds, baked in a pie" kind of pie, with a thick onion/garlic gravy binding every other ingredient into submission, than it was the fragrant, richly spiced mincemeat of fall bounty.

But it was welcome, when it was. And as my very young great aunt Mary Reeb, in the spring of 1874 or 1875 was heard to exclaim, down by the windmill, with her 8 year old's apron held out to plenty from above, dashing madly to catch falling birds, and not get hit in the head while doing so, "Come look, Ma! It's raining dinner!"
posted by paulsc at 7:32 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


So much of Laura Ingalls Wilder suddenly makes sense. Thanks for that, paulsc.
posted by Sara C. at 7:40 PM on December 29, 2010


Oy, another mid-career writer down. Is it me, or is middle-aged scrivener suicide a Great Recession trend, or am I just sensitive because I'm in the target demographic? (I'm assuming Doerksen died by his own hand, until I'm corrected.)

Kattullus, thanks for this really nice post. I read the Mince Pie article on Longform.org last week. Not sure if they posted it before or after his untimely demise. It spurred me to dig deep into the Reader archive, and appreciate someone who is (was) rare in the 21st century (or the late 20th) -- an American public intellectual who made a living doing his work, without resorting to becoming a media figure or strident advocate of a political side (both of which should get you kicked out of the PI club anyway).
posted by turducken at 8:13 PM on December 29, 2010


So I've learnt two astonishing things today:

1. Americans used to be crazy for proper old-fashioned mince pies, the like of which you don't even get in Britain any more

2. Americans don't have meat in pies.

Hold on. You don't have meat in pies? No steak and ale/mushroom/kidney pie? No chicken and ham/mushroom pie? No pork pie? No sausage rolls, pasties, slices? No meat in pies?
posted by Summer at 3:34 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


We do have meat-and-veg pies in the US, usually called "pot pies," the most popular being chicken pot pie. We also have a number of variations on pasties (my husband makes 'em Cornish style), from various cultures called various things, as well as other pie- and pasty-like dishes. (What's that thing where they fold a pizza in half in a more pastry-like crust? Calzone?) And we DEFINITELY have sausage rolls and their ilk, even in nasty frozen microwaveable form in the "crap food for teenagers" aisle at the supermarket.

I make a mushroom-and-cheese pie for dinner sometimes, and an egg-and-onion pie as an appetizer, and tiny mini pies/quiches-with-crusts as appetizers sometimes that often have spinach, bacon, cheese, etc. And if I made chicken pot pie every single night, my husband would be a happy man.

I think the root problem is you say "pie" and Americans think "fruit" and "dessert." If you want to get to the meat thing you'll have to try words like "pot pie" and "appetizer pastry" and things like that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:31 AM on December 30, 2010


Son, you need to come to Australia, we will show you there is nothing that cannot be made more awesome by putting it in a pie. We have several stores and chains - Pieface, Harry's cafe, Janet's Pies, Jesters - that sell nothing but meat pies. Meat pies are god's way of saying, "hey, I know things can get rough, but you still get pies, buddy. It could be a lot worse."

2. Americans don't have meat in pies.

Hold on. You don't have meat in pies? No steak and ale/mushroom/kidney pie? No chicken and ham/mushroom pie? No pork pie? No sausage rolls, pasties, slices? No meat in pies?



And we DEFINITELY have sausage rolls and their ilk, even in nasty frozen microwaveable form in the "crap food for teenagers" aisle at the supermarket.

Disregarding things like pizza pockets and greasy microwave bullshits, we do have meat pies. In every city. We just call them empanadas and they're delicious. Thank you immigration!
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:26 AM on December 30, 2010


2. Americans don't have meat in pies.

Hold on. You don't have meat in pies? No steak and ale/mushroom/kidney pie? No chicken and ham/mushroom pie? No pork pie? No sausage rolls, pasties, slices? No meat in pies?


We have meat in pies. Shepherd's Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, calzone, emapnadas, Natchitoches Meat Pie, Pigs in Blankets, pierogi... they are just not as ubiquitous as they are in the UK or Australia. (and certain kinds you would be really hard-pressed to find- steak and kidney pie is a rarity. Blame the Englanders who came here and promptly began putting steaks on grills instead of in pies, thereby failing to pass down the tradition). As EyebrowsMcGee pointed out, we don't really use the term "meat pie", so much as the specific name of the thing. "Pie", to Americans, is dessert.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:22 AM on December 30, 2010


I stayed up late last night reading the mince pie article and the article about the Zion radio station. Great stuff. What's really cracking me up is the title for the pie recipe - "Harmless Mince Pies: They are Said to Be Hygenic and Safe to Eat."

Madam, do you have a recipe for harmful mince pies? I have this rich uncle who adores pies...
posted by gamera at 11:06 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, that interview with the Friar was fantastic. Thanks so much for posting this!
posted by Greg Nog at 12:37 PM on December 30, 2010


"Oy, another mid-career writer down. Is it me, or is middle-aged scrivener suicide a Great Recession trend, or am I just sensitive because I'm in the target demographic? (I'm assuming Doerksen died by his own hand, until I'm corrected.)"

One might. Some sensitivity, though, is in order, considering that he left a bright 6-year-old daughter who'll be fully capable of reading well and running her own searches in a few years.

It spurred me to dig deep into the Reader archive, and appreciate someone who is (was) rare in the 21st century (or the late 20th) -- an American public intellectual who made a living doing his work, without resorting to becoming a media figure or strident advocate of a political side (both of which should get you kicked out of the PI club anyway)."

It is rare, the living is not at all good or steady, and this is a considerable problem. I would expect to see more of it as the universities and paying media outlets shrink; people, in particular men, are frightened of doing as Cliff did, and while it came natural to him the world did not exactly repay the way he used his talents. Mince is all very nice, and I never knew a man more serious about his pie (see his facebook page), but this was essentially unserious work -- as was the film criticism -- and he was a very serious guy. There are no institutions I know of that would have supported him in any serious, interesting, off-roading tiny-market work that took years to come to fruition, and the world does not look kindly on middle-aged non-independently-wealthy fathers who are all hot to self-actualize for free, especially if they're likely to self-actualize like writers -- which is to say sporadically and crankily -- and not at some Andrew-Carnegie pace. We missed the good stuff, I believe. A lot of people missed his good stuff.

There was an agent who wanted him to do an entire book on mince, which he thought silly, and it's unlikely the money would've been much anyway.

He'd have laughed like hell, I think, to've heard someone call him a public intellectual. And then remembered it the rest of his life.

It's tough to be a luftmensch in this town. Any town. Helps if you're not so much a mensch, but the guy I knew was. It also helps if you have cooperative biochemistry.

gamera, see Cliff's blog at the Chicago Reader; I think you'll find your answer there.
posted by amy charles at 2:20 PM on December 30, 2010


We have meat in pies. Shepherd's Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, calzone, emapnadas, Natchitoches Meat Pie, Pigs in Blankets, pierogi..

Sorry, dude, those aren't pies. This is a pie. Circular or maaaaaybe rectangular in shape. Filled with a combination of meat and gravy, and most importantly, pastry - not mashed potato - encasing every side of the filling.

Calzone as a pie, dumplings as pies, ha ha ha ha! If you guys are reduced to that, I feel even sorrier for you.
posted by smoke at 2:55 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pork pie.
posted by Summer at 3:07 PM on December 30, 2010


Sorry, dude, those aren't pies. This is a pie. Circular or maaaaaybe rectangular in shape. Filled with a combination of meat and gravy, and most importantly, pastry - not mashed potato - encasing every side of the filling.

Well, dude, that's not everyone's definition of pie, but you just described a "pot pie". Which Americans are very familiar with.

Calzone as a pie, dumplings as pies, ha ha ha ha! If you guys are reduced to that, I feel even sorrier for you.


Um, sorry because we have so many options for meat in pastry we can't possibly choose?
posted by oneirodynia at 7:13 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes we can. French Canadian Meat Pie is objectively superior to all other meat-baked-in-pastry applications, up to and including Beef Wellington. We know this because family-owned Arcadian butcher shops selling nothing else have been in business in Fall River since the 30 Years War, and the one I brought home for X-Mass eve was ossum in every way.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:18 PM on December 31, 2010


OK, so now I am sorted: Pie to open on Wednesday - wait, do they mean today???
posted by Artw at 4:56 PM on January 5, 2011


Well, did you go? What was it like?
posted by Kattullus at 9:57 AM on January 6, 2011


We were all set, and we were going to take my daughter, and then we found out that she;d gotten into a fight at school so we went straight home with her to have A Very Serious Discussion with no distractions like pie along the way. A sad day for all.
posted by Artw at 10:20 AM on January 6, 2011


It's true, only good little girls deserve pie. Hopefully pie will be had in the future.
posted by Kattullus at 1:54 PM on January 6, 2011


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