Saturday, 13 December 2008

Mincemeat - It's not minced, and it has no meat in it!

Mince Pies are a traditional food eaten in the UK at Christmas. They first appeared around the 11th Century and were originally oblong casings filled with minced meat & 3 spices; cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves (representing the gifts brought by the 3 wise men in the Nativity story). It was considered good luck to eat mince pies on each of the 12 days of Christmas.

In the 15th Century mince pies still contained meat, but also had dried fruit & vinegar or wine in them, and were savoury, spiced meat pies, rather than sweet treats. By the 18th Century brandy & sugar were combined with minced meat, dried fruits & candied peel to make something more like the mince pies we know today. Over time, omitting the meat (but replacing it with shredded beef suet) became the common practice.

Here in the UK, you can buy mince pies, or jars of ready made mincemeat, from October or November to December. But where's the fun in that, eh? Making your own mincemeat is easy, and doesn't take much time, and the results are much tastier than anything you can buy in the shops. It's also easy to substitute ingredients that you're not too fond of. Think currants are horrible dead flies, not fit to grace a pudding? Don't put them in, then. Put some chopped apricots in instead. Or whatever dried fruit floats your boat. Don't want suet? Don't put it in then. Grate 4 or 5 apples or pears into the mixture instead. Fancy something a bit tropical? Replace the almonds with slivers of coconut & the currants & raisins with dried mango & pineapple, a splash of white rum and you've got yourself something special there.

This year my mincemeat recipe is inspired by a batch of cranberry-almond cookies. Mmmmm.

Cranberry Almond Mincemeat (makes about 1.5kg/3lb. That's a lot of mince pies)

150g/6oz/1 cup vegetarian shredded suet*
225g/8oz/1 1/2 cups currants
150g/6oz/1 cup dried cranberries (preferably unsweetened)
115g/4oz/3/4 cup dates, destoned & chopped
150g/6oz/1 cup raisins
225g/8oz/1 1/4 cup sultanas
115g/4oz/1 cup flaked almonds
1 apple, grated
90ml/6 tbsp clear honey
60ml/4 tbs dark rum
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Juice & zest of 1 orange

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. I roughly chop the dried fruit beforehand. I like the texture you get with it. You don't have to do it yourself though. An old English tradition is to only stir the mincemeat clockwise. Stirring anticlockwise will bring bad luck in the coming year. So stir it clockwise. Cover & store in a cool place for 2 days, occasionally giving it a stir & getting giddy on the rum fumes. Spoon into sterilised jars & seal. Store until needed.

*Yes, I know suet is Bad and Will Kill You. But this is a recipe I make once a year, so use the Special Occasion Defense. It gives the mincemeat a richer flavour & keeps everything moist. You can substitute it with 4 or 5 large apples (or pears) grated into the mix & a cup full of cider, apple juice or orange juice.

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