A US website went viral this week after it confused mincemeat and ground beef in a recipe – but would the resulting dessert taste as bad as it sounds?
Dale’s version of the Spruce Eats’ beef-mince pie
Dale’s version of the Spruce Eats’ beef-mince pie. Photograph: Dale Berning Sawa
In one episode of Friends, Rachel makes a trifle for Thanksgiving. Joey and Ross ask what is inside, so she tells them: a layer of ladyfingers, jam, custard, raspberries, more ladyfingers, beef sauteed with peas and onions, bananas and whipped cream.
“The beef?” she asks, when Ross looks alarmed. “Yeah, I thought that was weird, too,” she says. “But then, you know what, I thought: there’s mincemeat pies and that’s an English dessert, too. These people, they just put very strange things in their food.”
And so to this week’s viral 123movies tweet, in which the British journalist Luke Bailey pointed out that a US food website had only gone and done a Rachel. Indeed, a few months ago, the Spruce Eats published a recipe, with step-by-step pics, for a large mincemeat-and-apple tart.
As the site has since explained, its photographer confused sweet mince-pie mincemeat with beef mince to create the “abomination” over which Bailey was obsessing: a fluted shortcrust pastry case filled with pink, raw mince, topped with sliced apple, butter and sugar, ready to be baked into what the website said would make “a lovely tea-time delicacy” to serve with custard or brandy sauce.
Dale’s half-and-half take on the Spruce Eats’ beef-mince pie
Dale’s half-and-half mince base. Photograph: Dale Berning Sawa
Of course, you, me and everyone else looking at the shot of an oversized, uncooked burger smashed into a crust will have the same reaction Ross does to Rachel’s misstep: BEEF? IN DESSERT? Oh, no no no no no. But if you take a step back and look at what else we do to our meats, you will realise that the combo really isn’t all that odd. We caramelise pork ribs and simmer lamb with prunes or apricots; we dose curries with chutney as sweet as jam; and we glaze chicken with honey.
Besides, our Christmas treats were once named rather more literally. Until as late as the 19th century, it was perfectly acceptable to mix in ox tongue, say, with your dried fruit. To this day, any fruit-only mincemeat made to a traditional recipe will include suet – AKA beef fat.
Sure, it wasn’t the Spruce Eats’ intention to give its readers a history lesson. But is the pie it originally shot truly inedible? I determined to find out.
Following the recipe as stated, I make an egg-enriched, all-butter shortcrust pastry. I fry the meat off with some butter, though; since I am supposed to get people to taste this, I can’t risk the mince not being cooked. (I also salt it, because of course I do. Wouldn’t you?)
Mince pie made with minced meat by Dale Berning Sawa
The final flourish: apple, sugar and butter. Photograph: Dale Berning Sawa
Next, I fill one half of the pastry with straight beef, the other with beef mixed with a dollop of sweet mincemeat, so I can compare the flavours. Finally, I top it all with apple, sugar and butter.
A friend pops round just as the tart is coming out of the oven, so we tuck in. “How yum,” she says. “I was not looking forward to that, but it’s surprisingly good.”
And she is right. The pastry is a dream – and crucial, I think, to the whole thing working. The sugar is plentiful, the apples cooked down into something moreish, the combination delicious. I have a jar of chutney on standby, in case it is the only way to stomach the tart, but it doesn’t need it. So long as I wasn’t calling it dessert, I would happily serve a pie made just with ground beef. Who would have thought it?
You’ve read 72 articles…
… in the last two months, so we hope you will consider supporting our independent journalism today. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. Unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.
The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.
Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.
We hope you will consider supporting us today. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.