Meat and Trees

Hopefully everyone’s Thanksgiving was peaceful and happy. It may have included two items that are indisputably associated with the holiday season, but not Italian staples: Buche de Noel and Mincemeat pie.

Buche de Noel or Christmas log is a rolled cake created in France sometime in the 1700-1800s that is still made today to mimic the Yule log during the holidays. The log is usually made of a sponge cake called a Genoise, named after the city of Genoa in Italy. The cake can be simply rolled with jam or buttercream, or elaborately iced to look like the texture of bark on a tree branch. It can be festively decorated with holly leaves and mushrooms made of marzipan (sweetened almond paste) or meringue. Or it can be a swiss roll cake filled with ice cream or mousse or any creative filling you desire.

Another must-have for many Christmas tables is Mincemeat pie, a type of pie that has evolved over the centuries, and has its origins in the Middle Ages. Yes, it originally was a pie of meat, much like the shepherd’s pie that is a British staple.

The word mincemeat referred to the preparation of the meat—cut into small pieces or “minced.” Today, mincemeat pie is known for the variety of chopped dried fruit, liquor, and spices that make it taste fermented. The original beef or venison, and beef fat that was part of the recipe is now commonly replaced by butter or shortening.

English recipes dating back to the 15th, 16th, and 17th century say a mixture of meat and fruit were used as a pie filling. They also included vinegars and wines. By the 18th century distilled spirits such as brandy were being used instead. The use of spices, like clove, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon, was common in late medieval and renaissance meat dishes. Added sugars, and sweetness from fermentation, made mincemeat more of a dessert than a savory dish.