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November 17, 2008

Thanskgiving, Pie, and Plum Pudding

In times past, the Thanksgiving holiday was ushered in by pie making as it is even today in some homes. In their memoirs, some Victorian era writers recalled their childhood excitement when they saw their mother begin to assemble mincemeat, knowing that the holiday was right around the corner. Mincemeat pie making began with chopping meat, suet, apples, picking over currants and asking the children to pick out the seeds in raisins. The words "seedless raisins" are virtually meaningless today since seedless grapes have been common since the late 1800s in America. Formerly, raisins were larger, dried grapes, really, and their seeds had to be picked out by hand.

Early American mothers also recruited their children to pound and sift spices. Cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg bought whole had to be pulverized in a mortar and pestle, then sifted through a sieve before cooks added the spices to mincemeat, pumpkin, or apple pies.

All this activity resulted in many pies, some of which were devoured at Thanksgiving dinner or shared with needy neighbors. Others were set away in cold parts of house, in pie safes, often to freeze. For a month or more, a hostess had pies ready to warm up on the hearth when company arrived.

In some houses, plum pudding was another Thanksgiving treat, one we associate with Christmas. There is a good reason for this. Early New Englanders, Mainers included, tended not to celebrate Christmas until the later 1800s. Instead, they indulged in all their favorite festive foods on Thanksgiving. When the irresistible attractions of Christmas prevailed in the 1890s or so, few people could envision a nicer meal than the one they had on Thanksgiving, so recreated it on December 25, turkey, pie, plum pudding and all.

Sandy Oliver, Food Historian, Author, MF&L columnist: The Way Things Were

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