Thursday, January 12, 2012

Operation Mincemeat

In 1943, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu of the Royal Navy concocted a plan at the behest of the British military to divert the Germans' attention away from Sicily so that the allies could successfully invade. Montagu and a fellow intelligence officer, Charles Cholmondeley, figured that if they had a body wash ashore carrying letters between highly ranked British officers specifying Britain's attack locations as Greece and Sardinia instead of Sicily, they could fool the Germans into exporting their troops, thus reducing the amount of casualties the allies suffered. They found a corpse, a Welsh man named Glyndwr Michael who had died of rat poisoning, whom the medical examiner believed could pass as a drowning victim, and called him Major William Martin of the Royal Marines. He was given an identity as moderately ranked officer who was flying elsewhere in Europe to deliver his top secret letters. The briefcase was strapped to a chain, which was attached to his trench-coat and personal documents were put in his pockets including a love letter, a solicitor's letter, ticket stubs and a receipt for his shirt. 

To ensure that the Germans who would eventually find him understood why these letters would not be delivered through normal channels, personal and sensitive letters were included among the formal documents. When the submarine HMS Seraph released his body into the sea near the coast of Spain, currents brought him ashore where he was found by a fisherman, who alerted the occupying Germans. The Germans sent the letters back to the British consulate, as was custom, and Montagu had his resident scientist determine whether or not they had been opened: they had. He sent a message to his superiors, "Mincemeat swallowed whole." Mincemeat was the name of this entire covert operation and after the Nazis averted their troops to Greece and Sardinia, the allies successfully attacked Sicily. I was inspired after watching the film, "The Man who Never was," about Operation Mincemeat, to embark on my own mission.

Although there were lower stakes than the free world, I took my mission very seriously. I began with 1 and 1/4 lbs cubes of steak, which our butcher, Staubitz Market, generously cut for me. In a large creuset pot, I poured 1 cup of apple juice (feel free to use cider when it's in season) and the steak and waited for it to boil, turning the meat every once in a while so it cooked evenly. Once it came to a boil, I let it simmer for 20 minutes to tenderize the meat. Then I took each piece out and cut it into smaller bits, and put it back into the pot. While the meat was tenderizing, I peeled, cored and sliced four pears (use apples if you prefer). I added the fruit to the pot after I recut the meat in addition to 1 and 1/3 cups white sugar, a handful of citrus peel (orange and lemon), 1/2 cup of butter, 1 16 ounce jar of sour cherry preserves, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. You can also add 2 and 1/2 cups of raisins and dried currants if you wish. I let this simmer, without the lid, for 90 minutes. This stage is supposed to radically thicken your mixture, although mine was left slightly liquidy. This turned out fine, but I would like to explore why it didn't thicken appropriately. 

At the very end of the 90 minutes, I added 1/4 of a 16 oz can of pitted sour cherries, without adding the liquid they are sitting in. Turn off the flame and here's the controversial part for me: store it in the refrigerator for a week (this may congeal it more) so that the flavor has time to ruminate (official definition of ruminate: think deeply about something/chew the cud). I however, as I may have mentioned in my chocolate cake post, have a lack of patience when it comes to my culinary creations (ok, maybe it's just a sweet tooth). In short, I didn't wait a week, I waited two minutes, although I found some credible sources that gave me the go ahead. I warn you before researching mincemeat too much, that there are fanatics, and they are odd, very very odd. Who knew there was an art to throwing in every spice known to human kind into a pot filled with beef and sugar? They did.

I then put my oven onto 350 F and poured the mixture into my pie crust and let it bake for 40 minutes. I recommend orthogonal cross-hatching for your top layer of crust (if you aren't studying for a linear algebra final and getting it mixed up with cooking, just look at how I layered the crust in my pictures). I use my dad's pie crust recipe, wherein I take 1/2 cup salted butter and add it to 1 and 1/3 cups flour. Knead this together and add three tablespoons of ice cold water, continuing to knead. Once your dough is a singular mass, put it onto a piece of wax paper taped onto your surface and cover with another piece of wax paper. (Dust surface with flour). I then use my nifty ceramic rolling pin, which I can fill up with ice water, to flatten the dough to within an inch of it's life. You know the rest. Feel free to add a pinch of salt or sugar. You may need to make some extra for the cross-hatch pattern. 

Once the pie was ready, we sat down to eat and watch "The Man who Never was," and as I put the first piece in my mouth I thought, "Mincemeat swallowed whole!"


1 comment:

  1. Aside from the history surrounding Minced meat, the flavors were lovely and the textures were delicate. All in all the evening was filled with suspense, drama and left overs. Yay!