Of Mincemeat Pies and Memories

I knew I had reached a milestone in my life this year when I was able to walk past jars of mincemeat in the supermarket during the weeks before Thanksgiving without having tears well up in my eyes. Some of my fondest memories of the years when my children were growing up are of the hours we spent together in the kitchen baking treats for birthdays and holidays. Chief among those bake fests was the annual creation of the lattice crust mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving.

My grandmother had taught me the art of slicing and weaving her perfectly moist homemade dough, and I had passed this tradition on to my son and daughter. Grandma Forsyth made the filling from scratch and although it was store bought at my house, it was part of the tradition nonetheless. Just the scent of that heady mix of currants, raisins, apples, candied citrus peel, and spices when we popped open the jar made me all goose-bumpy. Then when our masterpiece was baking and the heightened aroma wafted all the way to the family room, I was transported back to 411 Whittlesey Street in Fremont, Ohio and I could see my grandmother’s quintessential grandmother smile.

She could have been the model for Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting of Thanksgiving dinner. When I was little, I thought I would grow up to be her – the revered matriarch with the softly wrinkled face framed by silver hair. I would preside over family celebrations year after year. And at Thanksgiving, there would always be lattice crust mincemeat pie.

For a long time, that seemed to be where my story was in fact going. Even after my divorce when the kids were teenagers, and even after we moved out of our suburban house and back into a New York City apartment, we all got together and made the Thanksgiving pie. Then my son left for college in the Pacific Northwest and never moved back East. At first he trekked home for the holidays but eventually we found that it was more fun for me to visit him in the summer. He would call on Thanksgiving and tell me that he had made a mincemeat pie to bring to his friend’s potluck and I loved that. At the time, my daughter and eventually my son-in-law and I were still making the traditional pie at my place so all was well.

The next chapter, though, changed everything. My daughter and son-in-law relocated to Phoenix, where my two precious grandsons were born in short order. In terms of time and money for all of us, limiting my visits to Arizona for the Christmas holidays make the most sense. I’m fine with that – most of the time – but at first those shelves full of jars of mincemeat that started showing up at my local Food Emporium every October pushed all my heartache buttons big time. A dear friend always invites me to her potluck at Thanksgiving so I would make and bring a mincemeat pie but it wasn’t the same. I would talk to my son and my daughter and hear that they had made pies, too, but it still wasn’t the same.

At one point last year, I said as much to a friend who is also a long distance grandmother. She laughed and shook her head. “Don’t bake the pie!” she counseled. “Buy one at Zabar’s on your way to the party. The whole point of all that baking was doing it with the kids. Live in the here and now!”

Even as she spoke, the wisdom of her words began to liberate me. As she had advised, I marched into Zabar’s and bought a pecan pie. I felt wonderful.

This year, I looked at those jars of mincemeat at the Food Emporium and simply enjoyed the memories. I am blessed with good health, work I love, many dear friends, and my far-flung family who live in places that are wonderful for visiting. Why wallow in what might have been since I have no idea whether it would have been any better — or even as good — as what is?

Kerry’s electronic party invitation just showed up in my inbox with a reminder to sign up to bring something. I clicked on “dessert.”

Zabar’s, here I come! I honestly won’t miss all the fuss and bother of baking the pie one bit. Fron now on I’ll embrace new moments to remember in every chapter of my life while still cherishing the old. That, indeed, is something to be thankful for.

Sondra Forsyth is Senior Editor at ThirdAge.


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