Friday, November 13, 2009

Making mincemeat

Okay, friends:  it is time to start soaking your fruit.

I know that we've just packed away the Halloween costumes, and that many of you are thinking in terms of Thanksgiving menus, but it is only six weeks until Christmas . . . and making your own mincemeat is a really satisfying (even relaxing!) way to prepare for the holiday of all holidays.  It is easy, too; all you need is a big pot and a wooden spoon.

Mince pies are ubiquitous in England during the Christmas season. So much so, in fact, that the original delicacy is in danger of being debased.  People get so used to the cheap boxes of pre-made mince pies that they forget how utterly delicious the homemade version is by comparison.  When done right, commonplace things are ambrosial.

There is something about a homemade mince pie, with its meltingly soft pastry and mouthful of rich fruit, that makes me think of all of the coziest Christmas associations:  snow on the outside when you are on the inside, roaring fires, favorite carols, candles in the window, dark nights, a glittering tree, visiting loved ones. 
I do realize that not everyone likes dried fruit, or the Christmasy treats made with them.  (I think that I used to be one of these people, actually, but no longer!)  I grew up with baking traditions that revolved around cookies and candy, but in England you've got the holy trinity of dried fruit:  Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies.  Although I haven't abandoned the sugar cookies, the gingerbread men, the toffee or the peanut brittle from my childhood, all of these years in England have added their own cultural accretions.  Really, I couldn't contemplate Christmas without mince pies.

A few years ago I started making my own mincemeat -- a misnomer, really, as no one puts meat into their mixture these days.  Every year I try a new recipe, and I've had good results with both suet and butter.  I've added apricots, candied ginger and pear in place of the usual apple, but this year I was in the mood for something more classic. This recipe comes from Mary Berry's Christmas Collection.  (Was there ever a better name for a Christmas cookery writer?)  It is a very traditional recipe -- and I'm going to give it to you straight, just in case there are some mince pie neophytes out there who want to give it a go. 

Having said that, I made several alterations to this blueprint:  namely, I left out the apple, substituted pecans for the almonds, slightly reduced the mixed peel, and doubled the quantities of everything.  I made one batch with rum, and one with sherry.  I really fancy the idea of mixing in the rum-soaked fruit to some vanilla ice cream and making a Christmas version of one of my favorites:  rum-and-raisin ice cream.

I had planned on giving some of the jars as gifts, but I can't promise that I will follow through.  Last year, I had several jars from the previous year's canning sessions.  I gave one to a friend, and when I tasted how absolutely delicious this vintage blend was I was sadly tempted to ask for it back! 

We should probably make mincemeat in July, but who wants to think of Christmas then?  You need a cold, dank November day to really get into the spirit of boozy soaked fruit.

Special mincemeat

175g (6 oz) currants
175g (6 oz) raisins
175g (6 oz) sultanas
175g (6 oz) dried cranberries
100g (4 oz) mixed peel
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely diced
125g (4 oz) butter, cut into small pieces* (you could also use the traditional suet here)
50g (2 oz) whole blanched almonds, roughly chopped
225g (8 oz) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
200ml (7 fl oz) brandy, rum or sherry


Measure all of the ingredients into a large saucepan -- EXCEPT for the alcohol.
Heat gently until the butter has all melted, and then simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally to evenly distribute all of the ingredients.

Allow the mixture to cool completely, and then stir in the alcohol of your choice.

Sterilize your canning jars -- I tend to do this in the dishwasher, and then dry them out well in a low oven.  Spoon the cool mixture into the jars and seal tightly.  The longer you leave them, the better.
If stored in a cool place, they should last well for months . . . and maybe even until next Christmas!


kristina said...

Very impressed. I think you're now officially British!

I just purchased Mary Berry's Baking Bible before heading home. Also just saw a recipe for Christmas pudding ice cream in one of the magazines that was essentially mincemeat mixed into a plain base, and I thought it sounded super yummy too.

Have never tried making my own. Hmmm...

rachel said...

I needed a reminder, having decided not to make traditional Christmas cakes* this year. Mince pies, though....

*But I have a nice little recipe somewhere for a cake that has mincemeat and cubes of marzipan stirred into the mix, which is very popular with people who don't like Christmas cake.

Jelica said...

And I always thought that mince-pies were what the name suggests: pies with minced meat, which is something I detest (we do pastry with minced meat in the Balkans and I think it's hideous). This is a revelation! :)))

rxBambi said...

I have to admit that when I was little I thought mincemeat pies were made out of mice. Even though I know it's not, I can't get myself to try it. Goofy, I know. I feel the same way about kidney beans. I know they aren't made out of kidneys, but I can't eat them.
Haha. I think I need drugs.

julochka said...

i must admit that i learned something. mincemeat contains neither mince nor meat. who knew?

i might have to make some this weekend. it's that kind of weather. and i just bought new jars. which i also sterilize in the dishwasher.

i hope you're going to share some recipes as to what we do with this when it gets closer to christmas. tho' i suppose what we make now won't be ready yet then...sniff.

julochka said...

what's weird is that i have already planned modifications in my head (based on the fact that i have a jar of candied ginger open from my harry potter butter beer experiments).

and isn't suet something you give to the birds? what does it contain?

Anne said...

Oh, hooray! I admit that lately I've been a bit exasperated at all of the Christmas decorations going up everywhere--it's not even Thanksgiving yet!--but this! I can get behind this part of Christmas prep.

I made (and tasted) mincemeat last year for the first time, inspired by your post on it, and was instantly hooked. I can't wait to make it again. Your rum-raisin ice cream sounds delightful!

I've never done cold pack for canning. Do you process the canning jars once filled? Or does the alcohol eliminate the need for post-pack processing?

Jane Doe said...

Mince pie was a Thanksgiving tradition growing up and meat was included in the mixture. I still love my mom's recipe for homemade mincemeat that includes tart cherries, too.

Bee... I used your pie crust recipe the other day, it was everything you said, and a hit filled with apples and spices.

Char said...

my dad always loved mincemeat

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Well, yum!
I'm getting mentally ready to tackle Nigella's chocolate fruit cake any day now!!

dogimo said...

That looks great. I love weird, unidentifiably chunky-looking gunk in jars. I'm entirely sincere. If I passed that in shoppe I'd be picking it up, tipping it, turning it upside down on the way to the register and observing the reaction to gravity. Then I'd clunk it down on the counter and buy it.

I'm a sucker for all manner of chutneys. I've never had mincemeat - from the ingredients, it looks amazing.

♥ Braja said...

OMG i love you. I do. Thank goodness for Bambi :)

Bee said...

Kristina - And I thought that the mince/ice cream idea was all mine! Is there anything really new in the world of food?

Rachel - Mince pies are by far my favorite of the big three. They are really sociable, for one thing. Also, a bit of boozy fruit goes a long way. Also, the pudding gets served when everyone is already stuffed . . . while the cake doesn't usually get cut until the 28th in our house.

Jelica - Oh no! Mince pies are sweet, not savory. :)

rxBambi - Hmmm. I wish that you hadn't put those associations in my mind, hon.

Julochka - The great thing about mincemeat is that it begs for modifications and bakerly tinkering. Suet is just fat, actually; traditionally beef tallow, I believe. You can buy vegetarian suet, though.
I will definitely do a follow-up on this one! You've got to have the pastry recipe, too.

Anne - Good question. I think that the dried fruit/sugar/alcohol combo is more impervious to bacteria and you don't have to be quite as vigilant as you do with preserves.

T Opdycke - I'm really glad that you had luck with the pie crust. As for meat in mince, I should haven't been so quick to claim that no one adds it anymore. :)

Char - the older I get, the more I love it, too.

Pamela Terry - Ok, I have to check that out now. I had decided to NOT make fruit cake this year . . .

dogimo - Funnily enough, I do flip these jars every day. I like for the booze to run back and forth so everything gets evenly coated.

Braja - some humor always works.

christina said...

love to barbados! get da rum flowen in de fruit too!

Nimble said...

I keep thinking of the cartoon threat, "I'll make mincemeat outta him!"

It sounds good but I'm focused on pumpkin pie at the moment. Maybe I'll booze up some dried fruit next year.


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