a place setting in time: shakespeare “minced pies”
“Blagged? Speak English to me, Tony. I thought this country spawned the f-ing language, and so far nobody seems to speak it.” Avi (from the movie Snatch)
Not the quote you would expect when you are reading about William Shakespeare. However, it is the quote that most of us might have thought of when we were first introduced to the works of Shakespeare.
My first encounter with Shakespeare was an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet. I was in 7th grade. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what I was reading. I muddled through it like the rest of my fellow classmates. In high school I was, once again, given Romeo and Juliet to read, but in its entirety. I had to read Romeo and Juliet in college, as well. With each reading of Romeo and Juliet I understood and appreciated the beauty of Shakespeare’s work more than the last reading. And, it did make me wonder: Did educators not know that Shakespeare wrote approximately 37-40 plays?
I would have loved to have read A Midsummer’s Night Dream or The Merchant of Venice or Much Ado About Nothing to name a few. I often wonder if educators felt repetition allowed students to develop an “ear” for the language. In which case, I’d say that repeatedly reading and discussing Romeo and Juliet (not to mention watching the movie(s)) did, indeed, help. Maybe the educators had the right idea.
As a friend once said, after watching 137 minutes of Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, 1989), “I just sat here for two hours and didn’t understand a thing that was said.” To which I replied, “Read it a few times, watch the movie a few more times and you’ll develop an “ear” for the language.” The response from my friend is censored.
At this point you might be wondering why I am discussing Shakespeare. According to tradition, William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 in Stratford-on-Avon. The date might not be his exact birthday for that is unrecorded. His baptism, however, was recorded as April 26, 1564. The custom of the time was to baptize the infant when he was 3 days old, making sense that his birthday was the 23rd of April. Shakespeare’s death was recorded. He died on April 23, 1616 at the age of 52 years. I find that to have poetic symmetry.
As stated before, Shakespeare penned between 37 and 40 plays. He is, without a doubt, the world’s most famous playwright. Son of a leather trader and town bailiff, Shakespeare’s life was not noted as, say a noble’s life. There is not much that is known that can be confirmed other than by the records of the time; baptism, marriage and death.
Shakespeare, with such humble beginnings became the rock star of the literary world and he remains so to this day. But, why is his work so much better than that of his peers and everyone that came afterwards? Shakespeare Online gives the following 4 reasons that Shakespeare’s work has withstood the test of time:
1. Illumination of the Human Experience
2. Great Stories
3. Compelling Characters
4. Ability to Turn a Phrase
Shakespeare’s talent has withstood the test of time. There are many great storytellers, many who can create characters of note and tell of the human experience, but it was the way in which Shakespeare accomplished this, the fourth reason, his ability to turn a phrase, that set him so far above that no one could possible match his talent. As the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson said, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”
If you went back in time to share a meal with Shakespeare you might have dinned on mince pies. The following recipe was found at Celtnet.org I love that they present the original recipe from the Elizabethan period. I used a different modern recipe from Gourmet. I know you might think that mince pies are for the holidays only, but these are wonderful anytime of the year.
My Lady of Portland’s Mince Pyes Elizabethan Recipe
My Lady of Portland’s Mince Pyes (from Sir Kenelm Digby The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digby Opened,)
Take four pounds of Beef, Veal or Neats-Tongues, and eight pounds of suet; and mince both the meat and Suet very small, before you put them together. Then mingle them well together and mince it very small, and put to it six pounds of Currants washed and picked very clean. Then take the Peel of two Lemons, and half a score of Pippins, and mince them very small.
Then take above and Ounce of Nutmeg, and a quarter of an ounce of Mace, some Cloves and Cinnamon, and put them together, and sweeten them with Rose-water and Sugar. And when you are ready to put them into your Paste, take Citron and Orangiadoe, and slice them very thin, and lay them upon the meat. If you please, put dates upon the top of them. And put amongst the meat an Ounce of Caraway seeds. Be sure you have very fine Paste
Modern Recipe (from Gourmet)
Note: This takes 3 days because you have to prepare the mincemeat mixture and chill for at least 3 days.
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and finely chopped
2/3 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup dark raisins
2/3 cup dried currants
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 oz shredded beef suet (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup brandy
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Short Crust* (from Martha Stewart)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, and salt on medium-low speed to combine. Add butter, and continue mixing until coarse crumbs form. Add egg yolk; mix just until dough comes together. Roll dough out, about 1/8 inch thick, between two layers of parchment paper. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
Making the Pies
1. Stir together all mincemeat ingredients. Chill in an airtight container at least 3 days.
2. Put a baking sheet in middle of oven and preheat oven to 400°F.
3. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface and cut to fit your tartlet pans. If you want to top the pies with dough also cut out the tops at this time. Place tops on a parchment lined tray and refrigerate until ready to use.
4. Stir mincemeat, and then spoon into shell.
5. Take the tops out of the refrigerator, cut out centers or poke holes, with a fork, in the top to create a vent.
6. Bake until pastry is golden brown, 30 minutes to 45 minutes. (If pastry rim gets too dark, tent with foil.) Cool 2 hours before serving. Serve with whipped cream or premium vanilla ice cream
Note: If you have extra short dough wrap in plastic and freeze for later use. It is always handy to have dough in the freezer and I always make a double batch when I make dough. I use one batch and freeze the other for use when I might be in a hurry.
Model: Canon EOS 350D DIGITAL