My wife and I have noticed for a while that our toddler has some unusual tastes in food. In many cases, we’re not sure where he got them from. Put a bunch of capers in front of him, and he’ll suddenly look like Garfield eating lasagna. Ditto for kalamata olives, curry dishes, Mexican-style black beans and rice, pickles, refried beans mixed with imported Mexican picante sauce, jamaican jerk black beans and rice, New Orleans red beans and rice, jambalaya, papayas, palak paneer with naan, and many other things that escape my mind right now.
Yesterday night, at a holiday dinner with my parents and my mother’s parents, we discovered another unusual food that he loves. Liking this one definitely runs in the family, even if it has completely skipped a generation: mincemeat pies.
My sister and I hate mincemeat, along with anything that serves as a vessel for it. For much of the rest of the family, though, it’s a different story. My mother grew up splitting time between the United States during the school year and England during many summers, and my grandmother is originally from outside Manchester, having come over to the U.S. after meeting my grandfather during World War II. A good chunk of my mother’s family still lives over there in ancestral places like Stretford and Macclesfield (recently named the least cultured place in all of Britain!), although some have moved on to London and to be scattered throughout the British Commonwealth. I have a ton of second cousins that I’ve only ever seen on a scant handful of occasions, if at all.
Because my entire father’s side of the family is absurdly Pennsylvania Dutch, my immediate family’s Englishness tends to pop up in completely random and strange ways. Some of them include our kid getting birthday cards addressed to “Master [insert name],” my mother’s ownership of sheet music for various Beatles and Rolling Stones songs brought home from England prior to the British Invasion, afternoon tea, my otherwise inexplicable Manchester United fixation, our sense of humor that tends to leave most people around here very confused rather than laughing, my mother’s completely straight-faced assertion that her favorite sport is cricket, my grandmother’s half-cocked attempt to teach my friends and I netball when we were kids, and the inescapable presence of mincemeat pies and/or eccles cakes every winter holiday season, often supplemented with the presence of lemon tarts, hot rice pudding, scones, and other random baked goodies in lieu of the Christmas cookies that most people in the U.S. would find familiar.
My sister and I always did our best to avoid the damn things while growing up. It wasn’t an easy task, because there were years my mom and my grandmother skipped baking American-style Christmas cookies altogether. The baking of miniature mincemeat pies, however, was never, ever skipped. Such was the case this year when, at dessert time, the mince pies were trotted out with nary a cookie in sight. We decided to let the kid try a mince pie broken up into little pieces. True to form, it turns out he loves the things.
I’m just hoping this doesn’t mean I’ll have to start making them each December in the future, because neither I nor my wife will ever touch them, except to perhaps use as door stoppers.
If you, for some bizarre reason, ever wanted to try your hand at making some of the traditional English holiday treats mentioned here, I’ll gladly steer you in the direction of the Salford City Council web site, original home of the eccles cake, which has helpfully posted a recipe here.
I must warn you, though, that the Salford City Council is wisely holding back. The recipe they provide is most definitely not the real recipe. For starters, it does not include any brandy and/or whiskey. The recipes for real eccles cakes are protected with a level of security generally reserved for nuclear launch codes. My family has one, but if I ever divulged it I’d probably have to hire the mafia to protect me afterward.
The same goes for the rice pudding recipe — there’s something I ought to try on the kid sometime. At least I like that one.