Funny old thing, the so-called Festive Season and the food that goes with it. It is strange mix of centuries’ old traditions imported from Europe which sit uneasily in the climate of a Zimbabwe Christmas. Up North, the holiday falls in the coldest, darkest days of winter and it is therefore appropriate to be stocking up on pies, puddings and dried fruit to provide fuel against the cold. But here we are in the height of summer where a bit of meat, chicken or fish on the braai, with a salad and a cool beer is surely the wiser menu to be aiming for!
However, colonial rituals die hard, and local supermarket shelves are laden with cakes decorated with snowmen, robins and jolly Santas cracking the whip over poor Rudolph.
Mince pies are among the most well known and enjoyed Christmas treats. They are made of either short crust or puff pastry, filled with a mixture of sultanas, raisins, currants, apple, mixed peel, spices, citrus juice, sugar, nuts, a dollop of dry sherry and a drop (or more) of brandy. The mixture goes uncooked – just left to soak and settle for weeks or months before use. It is delicious. A good pastry should be light, rich and slightly sweet.
This month’s column brings you a review of 12 options available in Harare. They were graded as follows – 2 stars for the pastry, 2 stars for the mincemeat and 1 star for appearance. Our findings were that there is little correlation between quality and cost. Here goes!
Bon Marché Borrowdale’s Puff Pastry Pie: ∗∗
A tough puff pastry forms a hard shell. The mincemeat is a layer at the bottom of a cavernous hole. The mincemeat is not bad though. 50 cents.
Bon Marché Borrowdale’s Short Crust Pastry Pie: ∗∗
Pastry is too thick at 7 mm all round, smothering the mincemeat. 50 cents.
Pick n Pay Avondale: 1/2 ∗
Thick, hard short crust pastry up to 10 mm thick. Filling is very sweet and sparse with little resemblance to mincemeat. Not a pleasant experience. 45 cents.
Spar Borrowdale: ∗1/2
A thick short crust overrides the taste of the mincemeat, which is spicy, though with too much clove. $3.50 for 6.
Food Lover’s Market Avondale: ∗∗1/2
This pie uses short crust pastry that is not rolled too thick. Mincemeat is fruit but a little too sweet and lacking spice. 60 cents.
Food Lover’s Market Borrowdale: ∗∗
Short crust that is too thick. Not as good as the Avondale counterpart. 50 cents.
Café Nush Avondale: ∗1/2
Thick, stodgy short crust pastry and bland mincemeat that has no recognisable fruit in the mincemeat. Though very pretty, these are also the most pricey at $1 each.
Vali’s Kensington: ∗∗
Covered in deep icing sugar, these have a good, thin short crust pastry but not nearly enough filling. 80 cents each.
Pemcol – Sam Levy’s & Ballantyne Park: ∗∗∗1/2
The puff pastry is far too thick, and not adapted from their excellent savory pies. Mincemeat is delicious though – bursting with fruit and pleasingly runny. $4 for 6.
Spar Ballantyne Park: ∗∗∗∗ 1/2
An excellent, rich, thinly rolled short crust at 2–3 mm thick that is brimming with luscious moist filling full of fruit that you can see and taste. $3.55 for 6.
Spar Ballantyne Park: ∗∗∗1/2
Their puff pastry pie is very nicely glazed and uses the same excellent mincemeat though less generously. The pastry is slightly too thick, making the pie on the doughy side. $3.30 for 6.
TM Newlands: ∗1/2
Short crust pastry rolled a little too thick. Filled generously with very sweet jam-like mincemeat. 45 cents.
Bravo to Spar Ballantyne – and Happy Christmas to all!