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Christmas is ... mince pies

"I love a mince pie - that tiny, tender tart that somehow manages to hold the very essence of Christmas in its crust; the flavours, scents and spices, the luxury and richness of it all." Nigel Slater

And so do I Nigel, so do I, but this year there won't be any. And it's not because of my broken wrist. I was going to do it. I had Friday earmarked for the task. David would have helped a bit maybe, but I could probably have managed it on my own, if somewhat more slowly. It's not a hard thing to do if you have a mixer in which to make the pastry, and a couple of jars of Robertson's fruit mince. And there's the problem.

It began on Friday in Woolworths. As we were shoppping we thought to buy some. It's always somewhat difficult to find - with the jams, somewhere near the flour and sugar, sauces - or maybe a special Christmas display? So I asked, admittedly making the mistake of asking for mincemeat which is what they call it in England, which met with faces of blank incomprehension. So I tried to explain - dried fruit mix in a jar for mince pies. Still incomprehension. I mean they barely knew what mince pies were. One lady thought they had sold out which was eventually confirmed by a more senior lady who said there had been a couple of small deliveries and then nothing. Which is a bit of a problem for those readers of their magazine who want to make their Fruit mince jam drops.

I started to feel a little bit nervous, but put it aside. Today we tried Coles. Same thing, but at least this time they knew what we were talking about, and also why. Deliveries have been very problematic and so Coles management have given up and put it on their cancel supply list. Is that forever I wonder, because that means, from their magazine, no Cherry mince tart bombe Alaska can be made. And no more mince pies. Ever?

So we went to Aldi where the guy thought he had never seen it. I suspect this is wrong. (He is.) I vaguely remember it around Christmas time once. But there certainly wasn't any in store today. Last resort was the mini supermarket almost next door who also didn't really know what we were talking about. All of which - the lack of knowledge that is - tells me a few things. Either people are not making their own mince pies anymore but buying commercial products, or the tradition of the mince pie is dead in Australia.

As I later trawled the net to find an answer, I also found that there is also a problem with availability of commercial mince pies - well in Canberra at least, where one cynical commenter said:

"At this time of year it might be because they're busy making hot-cross buns." JulieRush-46/Reddit

Sorry, couldn't resist that one.

And yes we searched the net - somewhat half-heartedly, but not much there either and besides delivery would surely not be in time. So I have given up. There will be no mince pies because I refuse to buy commercial ones. They are uniformly awful as many commentators will attest.

"the long list of “mince pies” clearly created in an attempt to sell mince pies to people who do not like mince pies – spawning myriad culinary disasters in the process." Tony Naylor

This afternoon I idly searched to see how difficult it is to make your own mincemeat. Not very in fact and also you don't have to make it ages in advance, but you do need suet, which you cannot get here. Yes you can substitute butter bu then it would be different. Besides everybody's recipe is also different, so how to choose what goes into it. This is one of Delia's two versions, and Felicity Cloake, whose Perfect mince pies are at the top of this post also has a version.

But this won't do. It has to be Robertson's fruit mince - used in my family forever.

I"m not at all sure who owns Robertsons any more. Since it's founding in 1874 in Scotland it has gone through a number of takeovers, the last of which seems to have been to the American company Haig. However it seems that it is now back in the hands of the original family although they only seem to produce Mincemeat classic which I have never seen here. Maybe what we have in Australia is called fruit mince so as not to confuse the Australians, and also because it's actually made by somebody else. Whatever the answer you would really think that at this time of year the company would be in full production and blitzing the market. Very, very poor management. Or is it sadly just a sign of the times?

Once upon a time others made fruit mince too and one year, probably because there was no Robertson's I bought the competition's version. Big mistake. The son who loved mince pies (the other hates them) without being told, detected the difference and pronounced them a failure. He was right. Interesting is it not how a few commercial products make themselves completely irreplaceable?

So this year there will be no mince pies and so a little piece of Christmas - a little bit of magic - in our case Christmas Day breakfast - and night-time snacks thereafter - will just be lost. I'm with Nigel Slater on this:

"One year I made mincemeat muffins instead, stirring a few spoonfuls of mincemeat into a standard muffin mixture. They went down well but I couldn't help feeling I had broken some ancient Yuletide law and that it would bode ill for the year that followed." Nigel Slater

And he uses a commercial mincemeat too. I bet it's Robertsons.

"The very best mince pies have pastry so fragile that it collapses in the palm of your hand, and a stuffing so hot you have to jiggle it round your mouth as you eat." Nigel Slater

Hot - yes we do eat the first ones almost straight from the oven, and you do have to watch that you don't burn your mouth. These are not mine, but they look similar. After those first one or two however we eat them cold, and lovely they are too, although Tony Naylor is very definite that they should be eaten hot:

"Heat transforms even the most half-arsed mince pie: butter and fats melt, pectin softens, scents are liberated. The whole thing takes on an almost supernatural lightness, as if the mince pie has been borne aloft by the oven’s hot draughts" Tony Naylor

They date back to medieval times, when in fact they did contain meat - quite a lot - and mutton at that. Not what you'd fancy for a Christmas Day breakfast though, and also not very tempting anyway apparently.

"Not for me the real medieval McCoy with its minced steak, suet, rosewater and mace, but the sweet modern version with raisins, currants, lemon and nutmeg. History buffs might like to note that sometimes things go out of fashion with good reason." Nigel Slater

I sincerely hope that mince pies will not be so out of fashion that we will never see Robertson's fruit mince again. There are so many other things you can do with it as well - Delia has at least twenty for a start and I saw a really enticing pie the other day, which I now can't find. So if I see any Robertson's fruit mince during the year I shall be buying a few jars. It keeps forever.

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