It has finally happened. Commercial mincemeat officially has no meat in it. I read very carefully the ingredient list on a prominently displayed jar the other day in the grocery store and saw none. It used to be that there was a mere trace of beef in the stuff, then that dwindled to a hint of meat extract. Now there is no mention at all. Mincemeat is now truly vegetarian.
Some people won’t miss the meat, but historically, mincemeat was a way to preserve meat — sometimes tongue, sometimes tougher leaner pieces — for use later in the season and making mincemeat pie was a Christmas tradition. Some early New Englanders who chose not to celebrate Christmas made mincemeat for Thanksgiving instead, because who would want to do without mincemeat pies altogether? Here in Maine, mincemeat was a good way to use venison from hunting season, and neck meat came in handy because you can just boil it off the bones.
If you like hearty, rich mincemeat with meat in it, you can make homemade mincemeat this week, and it will be ready for pies by Christmas. If you lack venison, substitute inexpensive, lean beef. Suet, along with lard, has a bad reputation these days, but is really a necessary addition for proper flavor. Sweetening is adjustable. Some recipes call for molasses plus sweet cider and sugar in some combination. Personally, I am a cider and brown sugar fan, and I do use brandy. Feel free to increase the proportion of apples to meat if you wish. Know also that the spicing is variable, too. Really plan to suit yourself.
Many of you will prefer to chop the meat and apples in a food processor while some of you have an old-fashioned crank grinder. For whatever reason, I pull out a wooden chopping bowl and a chopping blade I have had for years. It takes energy (read calories) to use it, and I like the amount of control I have over how finely the meat, suet and apples come out. It may be that you will need to add more liquid. I want to hear a soft squishing noise when I stir the mincemeat, and I add cider until the mixture glistens.
The recipe below that I have used for a few years now is based on three or four older recipes that I have and it will make enough mincemeat for two pies. Double it or halve it. I usually put mine in a crock and keep it in the unheated wood room between the house and barn.
You can keep yours in the fridge or even can it.
Yields two quarts
1 pound of lean beef or venison
4-6 ounces beef suet
2 pounds of apples
1 pound of currants
1 pound of raisins
1½ cups of brown sugar
¼ cup brandy
1 pint of sweet cider
Juice and rind of a lemon or orange
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon cloves or allspice
1 tablespoon nutmeg
Put the beef and suet in water enough to barely cover it and cook until the meat is fork tender. Take the meat and suet out and allow them to cool until firm enough to handle. Chop finely and put into a large bowl. Peel (if you wish), core and chop the apples. Chop the raisins coarsely. Mix the meat, suet, apples, raisins and currants together and add the sugar, brandy, cider, orange or lemon and spices. Mix together and cook over a low heat until the apples are translucent and the raisins and currants have plumped up somewhat. Cool and store in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
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