Editor’s Note: We asked writer Ellen Cooney to send us a recipe that she always makes or plans to make this year for Thanksgiving. She doesn’t use recipes, she responded. She doesn’t even own a cookbook. Instead, she cooks by experience and instinct, using the ingredients that happen to be in her kitchen or at the market. OK, we suggested, how about if you send us a Thanksgiving recipe that a character in your novel might make. Go ahead and write it however you like, we told her; it needn’t be 1 cup of this and 2 teaspoonfuls of that creamed until pale and fluffy. In response, Cooney sent us this “recipe,” basically a condensed version of a chapter from her book. She credited her “beloved paternal grandfather, a phenomenal baker.” He “made his mince, without a recipe, exactly as I’ve described it, exactly as I’d memorized it long ago, as if planting it in my memory for a someday-novel.”


Pretend to know what you’re doing when really you are a bookish girl with a dream of disguising yourself as a boy so you can go to Harvard. Determine to show your family you are not domestically a loser.

Choose to prove yourself with mincemeat for a pie. Lay out on the table some apples to cut up, mince having come from the Latin minusculus, meaning teensy, which you know; you’re a scholar of Latin. When you chop the apples and other ingredients, keep in mind what passions you’re working out.

In a Boston shop, with your allowance for new dresses you don’t want, you looked around for things that might be good in a filling, and you bought jars of raisins, currants, shelled pecans, shelled walnuts, preserved figs, candied orange slices including the peels, and candied ginger. You have a small bottle of lemon juice and two pints of brandy, one plain, one peach. You have molasses, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Your house has no cookbooks, no written-down recipes. You never stuck around the kitchen to watch your elders cooking – you were too busy reading and studying because no one had told you yet that girls can’t go to college like boys.

You are fearless, undaunted, fired up. You will work in the kitchen the same way you write in your journal, putting in everything, dramatically, without measurements. You empty the contents of all the containers into a large bowl, after chopping up the orange slices, figs, and cloves. You throw in the apple bits. You stir it. Your brother wanders in – your brother whose Latin homework you’ve done all his life. He points out your failing. You forgot to acquire meat for a filling called MINCEMEAT. You claim to have done so on purpose. He calls you a radical. You take it as a compliment. You realize, proudly, you’re inventing something new!

You cover your bowl of filling and set it on a shelf so that all the ingredients can make friends with each other in a new and radical way, all blending and getting along and striving for achievement, like the idea of girls in a place of higher education.

And thus, dear Letty, whose dream could not come true, you have taken part in a major evolutionary stage of American pie making.

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