“Half memoir, half travel, A Yank Back to England...is an absolutely wonderful book, not only about going home again but also about love and family and tradition and the passage of the years.”
—Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic (Washington
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Friday, December 18, 2009

A spoonful of Christmas

My recipe for Christmas mincemeat differs a bit from the traditional ones because I believe in using what is around your pantry. Basically, you'll need a combination of dried fruits-raisins, sultanas, currants, dates, figs, etc.-but, I think it matters not what kind of dried fruits you use. In the nut department, you are expected to use slivered almonds, but I used walnuts this year, and a few leftover pecan bits, with no ill effect. Same goes with the drinkie element. Brandy is traditional but I had rum and a little amaretto lying around, so I used that. Candied peel I omit altogether because, frankly, I don't like it. In short, feel free to improvise-you may even come up with a unique recipe!

For the mincemeat you will need
Two large Granny Smith apples. Instead of boiling them into a mush I peel and quarter the apples and sauté them in a little butter, before chopping the apple bits up. Now finely chop a heaped cup of your chosen nuts-almonds, walnuts, pecans, or what-have-you. Then grate the rind of a lemon and orange and chop. Reserve the juice from both fruits. You'll also need a heaped teaspoon of ground spices. Choose the spices you like best; cloves, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg. My family likes lots of cinnamon, not much nutmeg. Or add some grated ginger, now there's a thought...
You will also need three cups of mixed dried fruit. This year I used a cup each of raisins, sultanas, and chopped up dried apricots. Use whatever you want, or have to hand but remember, larger fruit should be chopped. Now add two cups of brown sugar and half a cup of brandy or other favored libation.
Fear not about the uncooked alcohol content if, indeed, you worry about such things. The demon drink will evaporate within a few days. And besides, you'll probably cook your mincemeat in a pastry or some such before eating it, which will "cook out" the booze. Unless you're naughty like me, and spoon it right out of the jar! Yum! Yum! (I get scolded though.)
Into all this stuff, grate a stick of butter. I suggest you freeze the stick first, makes life easier. If you're feeling daring or traditional, go right ahead and use 1/2 cup good quality beef fat instead, instead of butter. Whatever fat you use, don't forget to freeze it first before attempting to grate.
Now combine all the ingredients and liquids in a glass bowl and mix very well but gently. The mixture should be quite stiff. The spoon should be able to stand up in the mixture unaided, but not break! If it is too thick, add a little more rum, sherry, apple juice, or other tasty liquid. Now pop the bowl in the fridge and chill at least a day before plunking this classic confection into those clever airtight jars with the metal clamps and rubber rings. Alternatively, you can go right ahead and use the mixture for mince tarts or turnovers. Prodigal Wife folds little rounds of pastry over a bit of mincemeat, wonton-style but, as you see in the photo, I just plop a spoonful of the stuff on a molded round of pastry and bake till it's all bubbly.

Try to be patient!
Mincemeat improves with a little age. Try and give it a week or two. The difference is startling! This stuff will happily reside in your fridge for six months or more. But if you're like me, you'll find your mincemeat far too irresistible to last beyond the season to be jolly....and why should it? After all, a spoonful of Christmas...


Maggie said...

I'm sure your mincemeat is wonderful but all I can remember is the Christmas my evil Grandmother made mincemeat and insisted we eat it and was angry when we didn't like it. When Grandma went in the kitchen, my mother let us scrap it into a plant in the dining room. :)

The Prodigal Tourist said...

That's sad (funny though)--I can assure you that no one scraps this stuff into a plant!

parTea lady said...

That sounds (and looks) so delicious. I've always enjoyed mincemeat. When I was a child my Mom made mincemeat pies or tarts at Christmas. I've never tried making it myself, but you make it sound easy - and rewarding. Yum!