Despite a mixed heritage, I’m British at heart; a fan of the royals, grey skies and our beautiful gentle countryside. I like our crisp winter mornings, and our crazy weather, the disdain of londoners and the rosy-apple folk who sell you apples or take you a-wassailing. I like getting lost in ancient woodlands, tripping on gnarled roots, and spotting the flit of birds or foxes or deer through the slender trunks of trees, dreaming them to be unicorns and spirits of old.
Of our food heritage, I’m proud of a lot of things. Our fruit is wonderful- there’s nothing like a British strawberry, or Cherry, or our versatile, plentiful apples and plums and gages. Our brewing is top notch and real british ale makes the best gravy for pies and stews. My favourite traditional foodstuff, probably, is Mincemeat. Originally containing meat along with the mixed fruit and spice, over the centuries, with the availability of sugars far sweeter than other traditional sweeteners, as well as a change in tastes from the fruit/meat combinations popular in the 15th and 16th centuries to the modern palate, Mincemeat became a dessert item. Traditionally, even today, it contains suet or butter, but some prefer it without, whether they are vegetarian or not. Of course, vegetarian suet is available, but I confess that when it comes to homemade mincemeat, I don’t bother with suet of any sort.
Delicious in pies and tarts, some cakes and other desserts, making my mincemeats is a Christmas tradition. In the past, it filled my old family home with the smell of fruit and booze and spice, but now I get to horde it all to myself. As I type, my fingers smell of brandy and clementine, and my latest batch is cooling on the hob, ready to be jarred up and saved to make mince pies for a party this weekend.
The best thing about Mincemeat is how variable it can be. Shop bought Mincemeat tends to taste the same, and that’s no crime, but when you make it yourself you can choose your favourite fruits to some extent, manage the spices to your taste, and make it as boozy as you like. I have two or three favourite recipes; a Cranberry one (originally by Nigella, and I’ve not changed much) which has converted many Mincemeat haters to the cause, a Bramley Apple and Clementine one of more traditional flavours that is also safe for my Grandparents to eat (Cranberries can play havoc with their medication) and a lighter, sweeter aromatic Sugarplum concoction.
- 130ml Ruby port
- 200g Dark soft brown sugar
- 600g Cranberries
- 100g Dried cranberries
- 125g Dried mixed fruit and peel
- 1/4 tsp Ground cloves
- 2tsp Ground ginger
- 2tsp Ground cinnamon
- 1tsp Mixed Spice
- 1 Clementine or 6tsp orange juice
- 6 tbsp Honey
- 1/4 tsp Vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp Almond extract
- 50ml brandy
- Optional: 3 drops Orange extract
Over a low heat, add the sugar and port to your pan and stir gently until the sugar dissolves.
Add the cranberries and coat in the port syrup, stirring as needed until the berries begin to pop. If you are using frozen fruit straight from the freezer, allow a few minutes extra for the fruit to defrost.
Add the spices and dried fruit to the mix and stir in.
If you are using the orange juice, just add and mix it in. If you use a clementine, squeeze the juice into the pan and add the juiced halves of the fruit to the mixture. Stir to combine.
Let the mixture simmer over a low heat for 15-20 minutes until nearly all the berries are popped and the mixture is a deep, dark sultry red. Check it frequently in this time to make sure it doesn’t stick.
Take the pan off the heat and allow the mixture to cool for 15-20 minutes. It will become quite jellied.
Beat the honey, extracts and brandy vigorously into the mix until it becomes runnier and pot up, if storing, or pour into a storage bowl if you are going to use it within two weeks, and have fridge space. This recipe makes one good litre of Mincemeat- I filled a Kilner jar, with one pie’s worth left over.
If you are going to give the mincemeat as a gift, or store in jars for more than a month or so, add a splash of brandy to the top of the jar to help keep if preserved.
This concoction is obscenely red, with a few un-popped berries in this mix glowing like rubies. The flavour is tangy, sweet and spicy and the texture is jammy and delicious. I’ve been making this for several years now, and it makes me grin every time I do; it’s a treat for all the senses and so completely festive. My friends put in requests for pies made with this early in the year. Speaking of, I’d better get on with my pastry.
A full photoset is up on the Tumblr page.