Mincemeat Cake Recipe
In the Beginning Was the Recipe…
I was looking for my mother’s recipe for Mincemeat Cake. It was not in the yellow binder where I keep the family recipes copied out by my sister in her meticulous art school handwriting and decorated with whimsical drawings.
The recipe wasn’t in the manila folder where I keep the loose recipe cards and the torn magazine pages and the newspaper clippings and the scribbled instructions on the backs of envelopes, school notebook paper and old invoice forms from my grandfather’s general store. (There’s even a recipe copied out on a soft paper napkin worn to the consistency of Kleenex.)
My mother had a recipe box like all good mid-century housewives and she kept many recipes in that box, but the ones she cherished the most and used the most often were in an old school binder with a coarse cloth cover that was rubbed through to the cardboard beneath. When I inherited the binder in the late 80s, it was falling apart and I transferred the contents over to the aforementioned yellow binder.
A lot of the loose recipes in the folder are starting to fade with age. Some of the oldest date back to the early 50s and the paper has browned and the ink lightened until you almost need to be a forensic documents examiner to piece together the instructions. My mother’s recipes are written out the way she talked and almost seem interactive with their asterisks and inserted comments. “I usually use twice the amount of ginger,” she notes on a recipe for ginger snaps, making me wonder why she didn’t just write out her version of the recipe.
Sometimes she addresses the recipient of the recipe directly as she did with all the family recipes she typed out and sent to me in Los Angeles when I first moved here. (“Will feed six unless they are Tomlinsons,” she wrote on her recipe for macaroni and cheese, which was the best I’ve ever had.)
Reading some of the recipes is like traveling in a culinary time machine—all those references to “oleo” and directions to melt chocolate in a double boiler, instructions rendered obsolete by the invention of the microwave. The recipes also show a high degree of brand loyalty. It was always “Pet” Evaporated Milk and the 10X brand of confectioner’s sugar. (In fact, that’s what it’s called in all my mother’s recipes—10X sugar.)
When I finally found the recipe—stuck between the pages of Jane and Michael Stern’s Square Meals, I realized two things right away. It was the recipe I remembered my mother making but it was not her recipe. The instructions were written out in a hand unfamiliar to me. It’s fussy writing, with little circles dotting the Is.
My mother had two kinds of handwriting—the elegant, grown-up penmanship she used to sign her canvases and our report cards and the messy scrawl she used to communicate with herself in grocery lists and refrigerator reminders and notes. She doodled on her notes, a habit my sister inherited.
I’ll never know the name of the woman who passed this recipe on to my mother, but she would have been a friend. Because sharing the food you love is one of the things friends do.
Somebody’s Mincemeat Cake Recipe
2 cups (1 jar) prepared mincemeat
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup rum or cognac
1 tbsp. grated orange rind
¼ cup orange juice
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
3 cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
In a large bowl, mix the mincemeat, walnuts, vanilla, rum (or cognac), orange rind, orange juice, buttermilk and mayonnaise.
Combine dry ingredients and sift into the wet mixture. Blend thoroughly.
Pour into a greased and floured tube pan (or use one that’s been sprayed with Pam) and bake at 325 degrees for two hours.
Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
Frost with buttercream icing using a cookie press.
¼ cup butter, unsalted
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp. milk
Beat ingredients together. The mixture will be very stiff.
Put into a cookie press and press frosting designs on top of cake.
Garnish with candied fruit.