Northern Colorado, 1937-1955, and Kenai, 2017
Mom started early getting ready for the Holidays. Dad and some of his relatives or friends would go deer hunting and when the deer was processed Mom would get a big chunk of venison to make mincemeat for our Irish dad, so he could enjoy his very favorite pie at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In the fall, out would come the big enamel pot and the hand meat grinder. The pint jars were scrubbed and sterilized so she could can her mincemeat for the holidays. She felt if it was canned it would improve the flavor. Sometimes she made a big batch for two years’ worth of mincemeat, just in case Dad did not bring home a deer that year.
The process of making the mincemeat took all day starting early in the morning, by putting the venison in the oven to be roasted slowly until very tender or in a pot on the stove and gently simmering all day.
It was my job, when I got older, to chop the apples, gather up all the spices and locate the jars and lids, find the pressure cooker and wash it out. When the venison was cooled it would be ground in the hand-cranked meat grinder. I liked doing that!
Mom did her magic and added the spices, and other ingredients, brought it to a boil, then canned it in the trusty pressure canner.
What brings this story to mind, is it was my the great pleasure to be invited by Virginia Walters to the Writer’s Guild last Wednesday. The subject of making mincemeat came up and we had a discussion about the way pie crusts used to be made with lard or Crisco. Then I was asked if I had ever made mincemeat. Well, yes, I say — Moose Mincemeat. That was followed by more discussions.
I came to Alaska with very few things — three kids, three suitcases and $100 in my pocket. I also packed my recipe box that I had received for graduating from high school. When Thanksgiving rolled around, I did not have Mom’s mincemeat recipes. My sister Elaine, still living at home, copied Mom’s recipe which appears below (adjusted to my moose version), and sent it to me.
We lived on Daniels Lake in Nikiski, and at the time there were six kids in our family. My good friends Leatha and Jo Anne, helped me process and can the concoction so we could have mincemeat pies for Thanksgiving. First it required a chunk of moose, as deer in our area was not available. All I had to do was ask and I had a nice moose roast in my hands within two days. My then-husband and his friends went out and “found” me one. We shared the meat with three other families. That helped us through the first winter in Alaska.
I tell everyone that we survived for about four years in Alaska on moose and fish and fish and moose. We traveled to Anchorage for the rest of our food supplies. While we were there we went to Army-Navy Surplus and bought boots, shoes, hats, gloves and clothes to last through the winter for school. Between all the three families, there were 13 kids, most school age. We had big holiday feasts usually at our house on the lake because we owned saw horses and plywood to make tables!
Holidays in Colorado, relatives would come to our house at Christmas. Thanksgiving was at Grandma and Grandpa’s. They lived in an 80-acre cherry-apple orchard, so Grandma made cherry and apple pies and Mom made two mincemeat pies. All pie crusts were made with lard.
Grandpa had a large chicken coop where he kept turkeys besides chickens. He took orders in the spring for the turkeys, fattened them up and in some cases, killed, plucked feathers and took out the innards for older relatives and older neighbors. He hung them in the cold coal house to cool out and age — about for days. He kept coal in it, for the coal stove that heated the basement house they lived in.
In the spring he got baby chicks. They grew into layers so he could gather eggs and take them to town to barter for groceries and more chicken feed. (Oh yes — and those wonderful chicken feed sacks with which Grandma and Mom made dresses for me and my sister, and shirts for my brother. She also made my feed sack doll clothes and quilts.)
At Christmas time our relatives came to our house on the farm and we had a big table full of food that Mom had planned starting in October. The table was set with a beautiful Irish linen table cloth and matching napkins and Mom’s beautiful china dishes and silverware. The buffet held all the pies that Mom and Grandma made. Dad was the first to say after the large meal, “Loretta, how about some of your fine mincemeat pie?” We learned to like mincemeat pie from Dad sharing a bite with us when we were little. Grandpa liked mincemeat too. The rest ate Grandma’s cherry and apple pie. They all had a big scoop of vanilla ice cream piled on top.
Oh what memories! I thank my new friends at the Writers Guild to jog my memory bank so I can write this story!
Below, I wish to give you recipes for fish and one for moose.
The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self-taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or look for her on Facebook at Grannie Annies COOK BOOKS, where you can find details and ordering information for her cook books.