CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Margery Edington arrived in Gallipolis, Ohio, as a World War II bride in 1946, she brought along some customs from her home and family in Plymouth, England. Perhaps the most delicious tradition is her holiday baking of the mincemeat tarts her mother used to make.
She bakes them in specially made tart pans and cutters she's had for more than 60 years. Her mother made mincemeat, which contained suet, but no meat, but later relied on ready-made mincemeat, as Edington does today. She tweaks the ready-made mincemeat. Allan Hathaway, owner of The Purple Onion in Capitol Market, special orders jars of mincemeat for Edington, who lives in Charleston.
Mincemeat pies probably originated as a Christmas tradition centuries ago and included minced meat, fruit and Far Eastern spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. They were baked in an oblong shape that resembled a cradle. Eventually suet replaced the minced meat. Today most prepared varieties do not include suet.
Her mother's mincemeat recipe is labor-intensive and reflects a time before convenience products were reproduced. It calls for one pound each of currants and sultanas, cleaned, and one pound raisins, cleaned and stoned. "They had to take the seeds out of the raisins. They didn't used to remove the seeds in the raisins before they were sold," Edington said.
The recipe also calls for optional bitter almonds, which are banned for sale in the United States because they contain traces of toxic prussic acid when raw.
The tarts are a fragrant and tangible reminder of the home she left when she married Navy Seabee Gordon Edington in 1944. She was 18 years old. Margery met Gordon while they were walking home from church during a blackout. Her aunt was concerned that he wouldn't find his way back to the base in the dark, and asked him to walk with the family. Several Sundays later, her mother invited him to dinner.
"It was the custom back then to invite servicemen for tea or a meal," she said. The couple married in 1944. Following military protocol, Gordon was discharged as a married man and reluctantly left his wife and their infant son, Stephen, first to return stateside. The Navy arranged for Margery and Stephen to be transported six months later.
"We came across on the Queen Mary, which had been fitted as troop transportation," she said. "Stephen got sick with a stomach flu that a lot of the babies had. He was very sick when Gordon met us in New York City."
The couple's first stop was at Macy's, where Margery purchased diapers. They spent the night in the city, but she didn't sleep well because the sounds of sirens unnerved Margery.
"It was so noisy with all the sirens. It really bothered me. I was used to air raids. Plymouth was bombed often and we spent many nights in the air raid shelters," she said.
The next day, they took their ill son to the hospital, where he was treated and quickly on the mend. They traveled to Gallipolis, her husband's hometown, and her husband resumed his career as a painting contractor. She joined war bride organizations. They later lived in Charleston, South Charleston and St. Albans with the three daughters who were born after Stephen.
Today, daughter Rose Edington lives near her mother's East End townhouse. She cherishes memories of her mother's mincemeat tart baking tradition. "I would smell them baking on Christmas Eve. I really thought it was my Christmas duty to sit down in the kitchen and eat six of them with a cup of tea," she said. "Now I know how much work they are."
Rose makes her tarts in the pans her English grandmother sent her as a wedding present 40 years ago. The shallow wells hold just the right amount of pastry and mincemeat for the bite-sized treats. Miniature muffin tins could be substituted.
Rose still follows her mother's hand-written recipe that she included in a weekly letter to her daughter when she lived in Rochester, N.Y. "I enjoy getting it out every year and reading all the family news from that time," she said.
After she quit making her own mincemeat, Margery used a condensed brand called "Nonesuch," made by Borden. She couldn't find it in the local markets and didn't have a good replacement until she found "Grandmother's" brand mincemeat during a visit to her son in New Hampshire. Hathaway ordered it for her.
Margery uses an old recipe for Crisco Pie Crust Mix for her crust. She makes 10-12 dozen every year and ships some to her daughter's family in Texas and to her son in New Hampshire. She delivers some to her minister and to Hathaway, who raves about them. "He says they remind him of his grandmother," Margery said.
Her holiday baking also includes Chocolate Nut Drops and Holiday Fruit Drops, recipes below.
"The mincemeat tarts are famous in the family. Everybody wants them," Rose said.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
As recipe appears in Edington's 1940s era English cookbook
1 pound currants, cleaned
1 pound sultanas, cleaned
1 pound raisins, cleaned and stoned
1 pound cut mixed citrus peel
1 pound cooking apples, peeled and cored
4 ounces sweet almonds, blanched
1 pound dark brown sugar
8 ounces shredded suet
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
MINCE or finely chop prepared fruit, peel, apples and almonds.
ADD brown sugar, suet, spices, lemon rind and juice.
MIX all ingredients thoroughly.
COVER mincemeat and leave to stand for two days.
STIR well and place in jars.
COVER as for jam and allow to mature for at least two weeks before using.
Crisco Pie Crust Mix
6 cups sifted enriched flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 1/3 cups Crisco shortening
MIX flour and salt in large mixing bowl. Cut shortening into flour with two knives or pastry blender until mixture is uniform and very fine.
STORE in a covered container. No refrigeration needed.
Double Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups Crisco Pie Crust Mix
4 tablespoons water
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon water
Sugar for sprinkling
Yield: 24 tarts
1 recipe Double Pie Crusts