Mincemeat, you either love or loathe this sweet, liquor-infused, fruity filling. Personally, I love it! (not sure I ever say anything different on here about any food but I really do!) Christmas without mince pies would be an abomination. Even if you find yourself more stuffed than the turkey itself & cannot bare the thought of another bite, yet alone dessert, out come the mine pies with their modest size & inviting Christmas flavours & suddenly you find, there’s room.
Whilst we consider mincemeat as part of dessert or something to accompany a cup of tea around the Christmas period, this wasn’t always the case. Mincemeat derived it’s name because that’s exactly what it used to contain, meat (yum). Usually made using minced mutton but also beef, rabbit, pork or game.
This is because mincemeat was actually developed as a means of preserving meat without salting, smoking or curing during medieval times. The mincemeat would’ve been used as the filling to a sizeable savoury pie. It was common in medieval recipes to combine sweet & savoury ingredient, desserts didn’t really exist then (what a world) so it was common practice to use sweet ingredients in meat dishes.
The sweetness usually came in the form of honey or dried fruits along with spices such as ginger & saffron. Rich spices & dried fruits came to the country with the returning crusaders from the middle east in the 12th century & so spices came at a high cost as they had to be imported. Spiced pies were therefore not an everyday meal for the average person, rather they were saved for important feasts such as Easter & Christmas, both of which were preceded by fasts (a hefty pie seems like a worthy reward?).
When fruits & spices became more plentiful & widely available in the 17th century, the sweetness & spiciness of pies increased. Over time the inclusion of meat in the filling fell out of fashion & by the 19th century meat had almost been dropped entirely with fruits, spices & suet taking over the show. Suet (hard grated fat from around the kidneys) became the go to replacement for cooks to enhance the flavour & juiciness of pies.
I’m a bit of a traditionalist & make my mincemeat on stir-up Sunday (the last Sunday before advent) along with the Christmas puddings & cakes. Under British tradition, stirring the ingredients was quite ceremoniously carried out. Each member of the family should give the mix a stir, always stirring clockwise to ensure luck & fortune in the coming 12 months (anti-clockwise is considered unlucky) & of course, making a wish as you do so.
Personally, my favourite part of the old traditions is that if you want to ensure good health & happiness during the upcoming year, then you should eat a single mince pie every day for the Twelve Days of Christmas (Christmas Eve until the 5th January). Inevitably, in doing so you will likely gain a few pound, so I’m not entirely convinced on the health benefits here but the happiness, well if you’re eating a spoonful of sweet, liquor-plumper fruits in a crumbly, butter crust everyday, that’s guaranteed!
(makes enough to fill a large 2ltr kilner jar)
- 450g bramley apples, cored & diced
- 50g blanched almonds, chopped
- 300g raisins
- 225g sultanas
- 200g currants
- 200g candied peel
- 100g dried cranberries
- 225g suet
- 350g dark soft brown sugar
- zest & juice of 2 lemons
- zest & juice of 2 oranges
- 4tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 of a whole nutmeg, grated
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3 tsp brandy
- 3 tsp amaretto
- Place all of the ingredients except for the alcohol & vanilla into a large, oven proof bowl & give a good stir
- Cover the top of the bowl with some cling film or a plate, set it aside & leave it overnight
- Remove the cling film or plate & give the mixture another stir
- Cover the top of the bowl with some foil & place in the oven at 120C for 3 hours
- Remove from the oven & set aside to cool, giving everything a good stir once in a while as it does, don’t worry if the fat is pooling & it look separated, as the mincemeat cools it will thicken
- Once the mincemeat has cooled down & the fats in the mixture are starting to solidify, stir in the alcohol & vanilla
- Once cold, transfer the mincemeat into airtight jars ready for filing those pies