October was a big month for me as a boy. It was birthday time for my twin sister and me. Halloween came a week later, and right in between was the annual Pumpkin Festival in Sycamore, Illinois. Sycamore was over an hour away from our house in Hinsdale, but an old fraternity brother of my father’s was the pastor of the Episcopal church there. Culinarily speaking, that church was the epicenter of the whole festival, since it was there that the mincemeat was made.
It was an elaborate, highly clandestine operation. Dozens of women participated, however like a team of World War II code-breakers, none but the most senior had any concept of what they were doing. The recipe, you see, was a big BIG secret. Only one or two of the octogenarians working the kitchen actually knew the proportions. The rest of the team — mostly younger peelers and choppers — was arrayed outside the church kitchen and not allowed through the doors.
I confess didn’t appreciate mincemeat much in those days, but I vowed that someday I was going to get hold of that recipe…just because. Bill, our family friend and pastor, changed jobs several times in the ensuing years. Ultimately he retired to the Edgewater Hotel off Lakeshore Drive in Chicago (a building where my grandfather once worked as an elevator operator). I lived only about a mile from there in those days, so Bill would frequently ask me to drop by to either fix his computer or program his VCR. We had a lot of good times together, and almost every time I dropped by I thought to myself: I need to remember to ask Bill for that mincemeat recipe some time. For indeed the little old ladies of Sycamore had given him the recipe as a parting gift when he left, making him swear he’d never give it to anyone.
Their confidence was well-placed as it turned out. Bill always rebuffed my requests even though, as far as I know, they don’t make mincemeat at the Pumpkin Festival anymore. Bill died three years ago and to his credit he never divulged the recipe. I have a feeling he burned it. But I suppose that’s all for the best. Some secrets were never meant for mortal eyes.