When Cow Tongue Was an Essential Thanksgiving Ingredient
It made American pies rich and indulgent.
"While families today might argue about whether to top their sweet potatoes with marshmallows or serve green beans with a mushroom-soup membrane, colonial cooks had different expectations for their Thanksgiving recipes. For one, pies were not just dessert. Meaty-yet-sweet mince pies, which descended from medieval European pies, held a special place at the Thanksgiving table. And one key ingredient of these indulgent pastries is long-forgotten: cow tongue.
"One of the most popular pastry coffyn fillings, however, was, mincemeat: a combination of finely chopped and cooked meat, sweeter ingredients such as apples, currants, and raisins, alcohol such as brandy, and beef fat (suet). Part of mincemeat’s popularity came from its function as a useful way to repurpose leftover or unused ingredients, from vegetables to meat scraps, such as offal or organ meats. Cooks could prepare the pies in advance, and after a hearty mincemeat dinner or breakfast (mince meat could be eaten any time of day), farmers could carry their leftovers into the field...
"How could an organ meat be considered integral to a festive Thanksgiving pie, and so rich and tasty that it tested Puritan sensibilities? According to food scholar Bruce Kraig, author of A Rich and Fertile Land: A History of Food in America, fresh tongue (as opposed to pickled tongue, as it was often eaten) offered a rich fattiness to mince pies. Similar to cow feet, tongue is rich in collagen and, when cooked for a long time, creates a tender and gelatinous structure and an unctuous, mouth-coating texture. Combined with sugar, alcohol, and dried fruits, the hefty pie was a true bounty.
"But with all that flavor, 'neet’s tongue' and 'neet’s fee'” eventually disappeared from the Thanksgiving table. According to Kraig, it’s possible that children started distancing themselves from old tastes and traditions. As wealth increased, 'muscle meats' also became more popular, until the 'meat' in mince meat was merely a vestige."