15 November, 2006

November recipe: Christmas mincemeat

Yes, I know, it's only November, and Christmas comes earlier every year, but mincemeat has to mature for a few weeks before you can use it. So if you fancy making your own mince pies this year, November is the ideal time to start.

Why bother, when you can buy ready-made mincemeat in jars? Well, same reason as for any other food, I suppose: you know what's in it, and you can vary the recipe to suit your own tastes. Want more rum in it? Go right ahead (but leave some in the bottle to drink). Want it more or less sweet? Alter the amount of sugar. Someone in the family with a pathological hatred of cut mixed peel? No problem, miss it out. Fancy adding some glace cherries, dried apricots, chopped dates, almonds, nuts? Substitute some of the dried fruit with the equivalent weight of your preferred ingredient. (Yes, cherries in mincemeat is probably as heretical as potatoes in a Cornish pasty, but so what?) Prefer other spices? The choice is yours.

This recipe uses cooking apples, because the trees in my garden and my neighbour's garden produce cooking apples. If you prefer dessert apples, cut the amount of sugar by half and adjust to taste.


1 lb (approx 500 g) cooking apples, when peeled and cored
8 oz (approx 250 g) currants
8 oz (approx 250 g) sultanas
8 oz (approx 250 g) raisins
3 oz (approx 80 g) cut mixed peel
8 oz (approx 250 g) demerara sugar
0.5 tsp (0.5 x 5 ml spoon) ground nutmeg
0.5 tsp (0.5 x 5 ml spoon) ground cinnamon
0.5 tsp (0.5 x 5 ml spoon) ground mixed spice
1 orange
1 lemon
5 Tblsp (approx 75 ml) dark rum

Grate or finely chop the apples.
Mix with the dried fruit, sugar and spices in a large bowl.
Add the grated rind and juice of the orange and lemon.
Add the rum.
Mix well.
Pack into large jars and press well down. The less air there is in the jars, the better the mixture will keep.
Cover the jars.
Store in a dark cupboard. After about a week, open the jars, press the contents down thoroughly and reseal. By this time the sugar will have drawn some of the water out of the apples and the mincemeat will have started to form its characteristic sticky juices. Try to press all the fruit down so that the juices just cover the fruit, as it seems to keep better this way (I think because the sugary liquid acts as a preservative in the same way as in jam, but don't quote me on that).
Leave in a dark cupboard for 3-4 weeks to mature, then use in mince pies or whatever other dish of your choice.

The first time I made this I got the quantities wildly wrong and we were still eating mince pies after Valentine's Day. So I know it keeps at least that long.


Sean Carter said...

For that matter we get everything ready made and ready to eat, then why take all the hassle to make it at home...this is because anything home made and hand made is made with lot of love and care and every effort behind the process gives you a humongous amount of satisfaction which nothing can beat!!

Thanx for the recipe.

For some more Christmas ideas you can jus peep into my Holiday Blog...

Bernita said...

Think cherries are an excellent addition myself.
Thank you. All my recipes call for cooking the mix.

Carla said...

Hello Sean, and thanks for dropping by. Hope you enjoy it.

Bernita - Most of my recipes cook the mix as well. This one is the only one that doesn't. It's also the only one that doesn't include fat, usually suet, and I wonder if that's connected? Unless there was a mistake in the original and a line got missed out of the instructions? But it seems to work :-)

wil said...

Sounds yummy, but what exactly is "mixed peel"? The peel of what?

Constance Brewer said...

Carla, this is scarily similar to my grandmother's recipe. Have you been peeking??

I love mincemeat pie. Without the meat. But with the rum. :) Can't convince my kids to even try it. Teenage boys are barbarians. Maybe when they're 35 they'll appreciate it... In the meantime, more for me!

Carla said...

Wil - I think it might be called candied peel in the US? It's the peel of citrus fruits (oranges, lemons and sometimes grapefruits), chopped finely and cooked in sugar. I believe you can make it at home, but I buy mine from the supermarket.

Constance - Not to my knowledge! Unless your grandmother has Highland Scottish connections. I'm not quite certain where I found this recipe, but I think it's a modified version of one I copied down from a recipe book in a holiday cottage I rented in the North-West Highlands of Scotland a few years ago.

By the way, when looking for the answer to Wil's question I came across the Wikipedia entry for mincemeat, which says, "Operation Mincemeat was a World War II plan used by Allied forces to deceive its Axis counterparts by planting a basket of mince pies with false secret papers where it would be found by German spies." That's got to be a joke, surely? There was indeed an Operation Mincemeat in World War II, planting false plans about the invasion of Italy, but it certainly didn't involve mince pies.

Bernita said...

Don't remember any mince pies in accounts of Operation Mincement either!
Sardines, now...

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Thanks for the recipe Carla. I have made my own mincemeat in the past - courtesy of Saint Delia and it does taste better than shop bought - has that extra tartness I think.
I always make sure I have some left over to make mincemeat cake. I use a failsafe Mary Berry recipe for this and it's one of my standards, the dh being a fruitcake fan. (probably why he married me!)

Carla said...

Bernita - Ah, yes, the sardines. Sounds like you've read the same account of the operation as I have :-) There can't be many espionage plots that have turned on the enemy getting a joke, can there? As I said somewhere recently (was it on your blog?), no thriller writer would dare make up the stuff SOE did for real in the Second World War.
(If anyone out there has no idea what we are talking about and would like to, then clicking on the Wikipedia link in my earlier comment and following the links to Operation Mincemeat from there will give you a start, and if you want to know more, feel free to come back here and ask).

Elizabeth - I felt very smug walking past the mincemeat aisle in Sainsbury's this evening :-) Mincemeat cake is something I've never tried. Is it basically fruit cake with mincemeat instead of dried fruit?

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Carla, Operation Mincemeat sounds like one of those stories that could be turned into a good mid/late evening TV drama over the Xmas period!

Mincemeat cake:
I make mine in a 9 inch round cake tin, but the recipe calls for 2 small loaf tins. Use whichever's your preference. Basically heat the oven to 160/gas 3 and grease your tin/tins

Then you mix together 2 eggs, 5oz caster sugar, 5oz softened butter or margarine, 8oz self raising flour, 12 oz mincemeat and 8oz currants (I use whatever fruit I've got to hand)
Put mixture in tin/s level the top. Scatter over some flaked almonds and cook for as long as it takes for the cake to shrink from the sides and be risen and firm - the usual cake criteria stuff. It's a great way of using up spare mincemeat, but also a very fast flavoursome fruit cake. I usually keep a couple of jars of mincemeat in the cupboard specifically to make this cake.

Carla said...

Elizabeth - I'd certainly watch it if they did! Operation Mincemeat might be quite challenging to dramatise, because most of the excitement is intellectual - the attention to detail in creating the fictional 'Bill Martin', the German intelligence staff cross-checking and assessing and deciding whether to believe it or not. Might be a bit short on action (and sex scenes) for a modern drama, unfortunately. I think someone made it into a film back in the 50s.

Many thanks for the recipe - I'll give it a go when I next have spare mincemeat. (If I'd known about it the first time, I wouldn't have been making mince pies into February......)

Anonymous said...

Mincemeat and sardines??! *Heads over to Wikipedia, intrigued*.

Thanks for the recipe, Carla - sounds delicious. Maybe this will be the first year I make my own mincemeat. Elizabeth's cake sounds yummy, too.

Carla said...

Isn't that just the great thing about blogging, Alianore? Where else could a conversation start out on cookery and end up on covert military operations?

Do have a go at making your own mincemeat (the cookery kind). It's neither hard nor time-consuming - especially if you can get someone else to grate the apples, or if you have a food processor - and it's a lot nicer than the bought kind (unless shop mincemeat is different in Germany?). You can halve the recipe quantity if you just want to try a small amount; half-quantity should be just about enough to try Elizabeth's cake and a couple of trays of mince pies.

Anonymous said...

I've never looked for mincemeat here, as I'm always back in England for Christmas, so I'm not even sure if it's available. Must have a look. I can definitely get the ingredients, though. Yum, my stomach is rumbling at the prospect of homemade mince pies!

wil said...

Thanks for the definition Carla.

I've never tried mincemeat, but I just might have to give your recipe a try.

I suppose the prepared mincemeat serves as a pie filling?

ali said...

Mince pies on Valantine's Day? That's like an incentive to get it wrong ;).

Carla said...

Wil - Yes, its main use is as a pie filling, though see Elizabeth's comment above for a cake recipe. Mince pies are a traditional delicacy at Christmas in Britain (and maybe other countries?). They are usually tartlet-sized, about 3 inches in diameter (picture and recipe here), though sometimes people make a large pie and serve it cut in slices as a pudding. I use shortcrust pastry, but other people use sweet tart pastry or flaky pastry - the choice is yours. I believe they date back to at least the Middle Ages, though they contained a mixture of meat, dried fruit and spices up until about the middle of the 19th C, when the meat disappeared and they became a purely sweet dish. I would guess they originate from the tradition of cooking meat with fruit (and spices if you could afford them) for flavour - e.g. pork cooked with apples or prunes, lamb with dried apricots or oranges, beef suet roll with apples and raisins, duck with oranges, chicken with lemon, etc. I don't know when that tradition originated, though I should think it's very old, and it was certainly well established by medieval times. And still works very well today - all the above meat + fruit combinations are in my standard repertoire, for example.
Why not try making a few mince pies this year - you can claim it's following in an authentic (albeit modified) medieval tradition and call it research :-)

Ali - Well, as far as I know it's not a hanging offence to eat mince pies at other times of the year :-) I don't know why more people don't - it seems odd that you get wall-to-wall mince pies for a month until everyone gets bored with them, and then none at all for the other 11 months of the year. I quite often make mince pies in January and Februrary, though for some reason it still feels a bit wrong to make them before Advent.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

It's all your fault Carla!
We had a chicken and leek pie last night and after making it I had a small ball of pastry left. So becaue your blog was fresh in my mind, what did I do? Break out a jar of mincemeat and scrape together about 4 mince pies. Very tasty they were too, but not sure that eating chicken pie for main course and then mince pies for pudding is very good for one's health!

Anonymous said...

Sounds delicious. Reminds me as a teenager of cracking open the Baileys with my mum whilst I helped her with the Christmas mince pies, condensation on the windows, warmth from the oven and having a laugh with my ma.

You can never have too many mince pies.

Carla said...

Elizabeth - what's so reprehensible about pie for main course and pie for pudding? Sounds very reasonable to me :-)

Martyn - what a happy memory that sounds!

wil said...

Mmmm...yes, recipe research! Very tasty...errr...uhh...I mean informative. ;-)

Carla said...

Let us know how you get on, Wil!