by Mike Sula
There's nothing I can say about mince pie that the late Cliff Doerksen didn't write a thousand times more brilliantly in his James Beard award-winning story The Real American Pie. But the occasion of Cliff's memorial service two weeks ago presented me and former Reader art director Sheila Sachs with the opportunity to make the meaty pastries that everyone agreed "reliably caused indigestion, provoked nightmares, and commonly afflicted the overindulgent with disordered thinking, hallucinations, and sometimes death."
I've read and reread the piece numerous times, so I don't know why my thinking was so disordered when I bought enough ingredients to double the San Francisco Chronicle recipe he cites—especially since he clearly indicated that he scaled it down just to make two pies. I think I was emboldened by the promise of Sheila's German-engineered steel apple peeler, which, as it turned out, apparently only works efficiently with German-engineered apples. We learned a few other things during the three day-process: don't leave boiling apple cider alone in pricey enameled Dutch ovens, beef suet makes an excellent skin moisturizer, and you can't add too much booze to your mince (though you can definitely add too much sugar).
We made a whopping 12 quarts of mince seasoned with dangerous levels of nutmeg and mace. The following night Sheila made dough from Sarah Kavage's Industrial Harvest flour. And the morning of the service we filled and baked seven pies in two ovens, which still left enough filling for several more (I'm currently aging a few cups in brandy).
The combination of raisins, apples, and sirloin gives an alarmingly chewy texture at first bite. But this stuff is incredibly tasty. Guests at the memorial service devoured the pies, and I've since heard no reports of indigestion, nightmares, or murder. If anything, the challenges of making mince are largely matters of scale. Don't try to feed 200 people and it should only be slightly more difficult than making any other sort of pie.
Cliff will be remembered for a lot of things, but I sincerely hope that a mince-pie comeback is part of his legacy.