How funny we found it! So much that we laughed not but were aghast. That such a man – an educated man could have deceived himself so. And yet he asked me; Me. Of all the class.
The class was not filled with fools either. For in it there were several future educators; a future sports author; a financial adviser and investor; a Health Care official and a future international musician.
Many are the classes that can support such people. Yet it is fairly uncommon still to find a small class which was made up of these people alone. Such was the class.
We were shocked. Our great teacher ate in front of us. This was unheard of. His marks book and our exercise books were all that he carried – save for the mandatory chalk and board duster. Today was different. Atop the marks book was a paper bag. The sort – with tell-tale paper-twist ears – that once one might have received having bought an individual item from a confectioner’s shop. (Individual here equating with the luxury of having one’s own – and God Bless the Child Who etc etc. – as opposed to a plated good which would perforce be presented whole, then cut and shared). Deduce as we might attempt at this late stage in our existence, the total singularity of this event rendered us unnerved.
As we ploughed through our Turgenyev, or was it the Chekhov – or the Gorky, the bag was pulled slightly. The rustling caught our ears and the vision of elder statesman sitting back and enjoying a pastry treat tumbled into memory and lived there for ever more. That was a significant day.
Our general horror of which we spoke often (indeed, one of our former classmates on being taken by “the lads” to see a sex film at one of the studio cinemas then in fashion had pronounced himself “fed up with it” as he had been hoodwinked by the gang, who lustily gawped at the lithe spectacles taking place to their fore. To the whole cinema he announced his grievance and to his friends his disgust in the immortal tones “A fawt it woz ‘orror” and thus spent of words at least, left to tramp home) was aroused.
As I say, our horror was just that of the unbelievable spectacle of magisterial self-indulgence and gorging. Such food as we ate in that dismal place was under the heading of First or Second Sitting only and took place at 12.40 or 1.10pm depending on time of year and allocation.
I had noted the dentures in earlier lessons and having them myself now, wonder all the more at the ill-advisedness of eating corner-shop pastry plus filling without a cup of tea to help it down. We all (as they say) exchanged glances – a thing seldom done (for fear the strap) except in cases of heard but unseen wind (cor who done that?) etc.
It will be noted that the educational tone of this seat of learning was not necessarily of the highest and that, coupled with the occasional caustic remark and catty aside was what passed for wit, of which there was very little of either kind.
No matter. The day and the lesson hove on. The steam on the windows (really made up of the condescension of many of the masters) collecting the detritus of other breathers in there and rolling down in racing dribble and filth and wetting the coats and outer garments of some of the chaps who stored them on the window ledges, the cloakrooms having been shut for seven years in order to dissuade assault.
Out came the pie.
He tried to speak.
The top set, cleft from the palate proper, fell crashing and we, as we had been trained, saw nothing, said nothing, did nothing.
We continued. Lopakin said something to Firs or something or Anna spoke to Luka or Rudin died. In France apparently. In a war. Nobody ever mentioned the lesson.
But many days afterwards, our master collared me in the corridor. “Minss pie,” he spluttered, “enn vott is dat? I vont minss meat. Dis voss not minss meat it voss sveet enn shoogar. Vot is diss minss? You tell me now”. “Well Sir,” I said, it is called mincemeat but it is not minced meat, although historically, it did contain some meat. It is a speciality, a treat, for the Christmas Season. It’s very English, Sir”.
Satisfied – for he did trust me – he spoke softly “Zey need new lebbel”. “Yes Sir” I said. “It voss naiss,” he continued “it is an earld food from former tames?” “Yes Sir.” “Very good,” he said. “Well sank you – and Next Tame I knaow.” “Of course, Sir. Good Morning”.
Mincemeat is an old sweetmeat and here are some old recipes if you want to try to make it at home rather than buy a proprietary brand. You are warned beforehand about allergies and correct cooking procedures that you must observe; that you must not eat mincemeat raw, that you must not eat it mouldy, and that although these recipes are written here, no guarantee or statement of safety is either written or implied. Neither should you give hot or heated mince pies containing alcohol to little children or old people who might burn their mouths or scald their hands.
So here are three quite old and traditional Mincemeat recipes, in time for Christmas. Have a read and see if you might like to have an experimental try. (I also have another recipe that contains tripe although I suspect that there would be few takers now). (We think nowadays that mincemeat is usually made at least six weeks before it is going to be used.)
If you do make some mince pies for Christmas and hand them round, don’t forget to make tea or coffee to go with them!
Mincemeat pre-1920. Three recipes:
A Plain Mincemeat:
Pare, core and chop up finely 2lb of apples, then add 1lb each of currants, stoned and chopped raisins and brown sugar, 1/2lb of very finely chopped suet, 1/4lb of candied peel chopped very small, a level dessertspoonful of powdered allspice, a pinch of salt, and the juice and grated rind of 2 lemons. A little brandy or rum may be used to moisten it, and a little raisin or other wine. Mix the ingredients very thoroughly and cover with a cloth and let the mincemeat stand for some hours before putting into small jars and tying them down.
A Rich Mincemeat:
Chop 1/2lb of beef suet very finely, and mix with it 1/2lb of currants, and six ounces of mixed candied peel, cut up very small. Add 1/2lb of chopped, stoned raisins, 1lb of apples pared, cored and chopped, and 2oz of blanched shredded almonds and mix all together. Next chop up 1/4lb of lean cold roast beef, or of fresh boiled ox-tongue, and add it to the other ingredients with 6 oz. of brown sugar, 1/2 oz. of allspice, and the juice and grated rind of a lemon. When all these ingredients have been thoroughly blended, press them down in the basin and pour over them 1/2 gill of brandy and 1/2 gill of port or sherry. Cover the basin and let it stand for 24 hours before putting the mincemeat into small jars and tying them down.
A Lemon Mince Meat:
Is made by putting 2 lemons into a pan of boiling water, boiling them until they are tender, then chopping them finely, and adding 1/2lb of white sugar. Leave the chopped lemon overnight, and next day add 1/2lb each of currants, stoned and chopped raisins, and finely chopped suet, also a heaped teaspoonful of allspice and 1/2 gill each of brandy and port. Mix the ingredients thoroughly and let the mincemeat stand for a few hours before putting it into small jam jars and tying them down.
Mincemeat should be made at least a fortnight before it is required, so that the flavours of the various ingredients will have time to blend. It should be stored in a cool, dry place and preferably in small jars for, if a large jar of mincemeat is opened, the portion that is not used dries out rapidly. Mincemeat should never be dry or crumbly, nor should it be too moist, or the undercrust of the mince pies will not rise.
All the ingredients should be chopped very finely. This is most important in the case of suet because it otherwise does not get time to cook thorougly when mince pies are in the oven. It is a good plan to stand the jar of mincemeat in a pan of water and boil for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This will ensure the suet being cooked, but the mincemeat must be allowed to get quite cold before it is put into the pastry.