Between the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas falls the deer hunting season in our state of Pennsylvania. The first day of buck hunting is a holiday for the school kids who want to join in the hunt. My mother-in-law had always relied on someone in the family to harvest a deer so she could claim some of the fat, tallow, and bits of the venison flesh to make the filling for her mince meat pies. She would bake the meat pies for the Christmas holiday meals. She would occasionally use beef products to make the filling for her pies if there wasn’t any venison available, but that was something she would do only reluctantly.
Usually my brother or I would get either a buck or a doe or both. We frequently hunted together with our father and usually managed to bring down at least one deer and quite often more than one among the three of us. We didn’t allow any of the deer meat to go to waste and we would harvest as many deer as we had licenses. We liked the flavor of venison.
After we would spend hours in the outdoors hunting in all kinds of weather to find and to kill a deer, we didn’t really want to turn our hard-earned prize over to a butcher who might or might not salvage all of the meat from the carcass for us. We had heard stories about unscrupulous butchers and we were worried that all of the meat from our deer might not be returned, the meat might not be handled properly, or we might not get the meat from the deer that we had turned in to the butcher to be returned to us. We also did not like the fact that butchers used band saws to cut through the brittle deer bones splintering them and leaving slivers of bone in the meat.
When we were younger, we helped our uncles and our grandfather to butcher several hogs and a young bull at granddad’s farm every year. We had learned the basic skills for cutting up meat and it was only a small step from that to actually doing the butchering for ourselves. Our father had a garage/ shed at the back of his property. We would skin the deer and allow it to hang inside to cool before quartering the deer and eventually dividing and slicing the meat into the desired cuts.
If we found a stray hair we knew who to blame. Our cuts of meat may not have been as fancy or as perfect as those that a professional butcher could do, but we would first cut around the bones and remove them before slicing the meat. What was left for us to cut was all meat.
My brother liked to divide his deer to make steaks, deer sausage, and cold pack the smaller non-descript pieces of venison. I liked to cut my deer into steaks, cold pack the smaller pieces, and make deer jerky. Usually I could collect enough meat and fat from the rib cages to give my mother-in-law enough meat to make at least two mince meat pies and often more.
Following a recipe that she had used for years she would mix the raisins, currants, apples, citrus products, and spices together. Once they had cooked, she would put the mixture into glass jars and store them in the refrigerator until the filling was needed for the making of her pies.
It would be only one of the flavors of pie that she would bake for Christmas.