It's late December and the snow is again swirling by the windows, and so I am feeling Christmassy. Tree is up, garland is hung, flickering candles are strategically arranged around the room. I could work on writing my cards, or gift hunting for those last few hard-to-shop-for people (why is it so hard to know what certain people like?), but I'm not in the mood for that. Instead, I want to turn the oven on and bask in its warm gentle hum, stir a bubbling pot of something sweet and sticky with a wooden spoon and fill the house with the scent of Christmas.
And so I decide on mincemeat.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, cooks in medieval kitchens across Northern Europe stirred exotic spices and dried fruits into pies made with ground meats and animal fats. The meats and fats were commonplace but, mixed with the spices and fruits, they were transformed into the sacred realm of Christmas fare.
We hardly think twice about a clove or a quill of Cinnamon these days, but back then they were treasures brought back in long, arduous journeys from faraway lands people could scarcely imagine if they tried. Everything about them was permeated with luxury and mystique.
We also now know that these spices are imbued with all manner of health benefits as well — with Cinnamon supporting healthy blood sugar levels, cloves bursting with nutrients or Ginger supporting a healthy inflammatory response. So, they aren't just exotic and delicious, but quite sensible and good for us, too.
Slowly, over time, as tastes changed and sugar became more widely available, the meat began to disappear from the ingredient list altogether and eventually the animal fats (suet and lard and all the good stuff) fell out of favor too — till just the dried fruits, spices and sugar were left to hold reign.
Baked into pies, spooned over ice cream or even slathered on top of a piece of hot buttered toast, there is nothing meaty about mincemeat now, except its past. And yet, even well into my twenties I wouldn't touch the stuff because I was convinced it concealed undisclosed chopped-up animals (mice being what I most strongly suspected, which is what you get if you take the n out of mince). I wonder how many countless others make the same mistake. When at last my error was corrected and I tried my first spoonful, I was overcome with grief for all the years I had wasted not eating mince. Such a travesty.
Just like jam, you can make a big batch of mince and then can it or freeze it. It makes a wonderful gift for the foodie in your life, and it also is just absolutely essential to making Christmas feel like Christmas in my opinion. Bake it into small handheld pies like the Brits do for all your holiday gatherings and enjoy along with a good glass of sherry or port. I can't think of anything more Christmassy than that.
This is my current favorite mincemeat recipe. I prefer to make it without any added sugar as I find it is quite sweet enough with all the dried fruits and I like the slight tartness of the cranberries coming through, but please sweeten to your liking.
- 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
- 4 cooking apples
- 100g or 2/3 cup raisins
- 100g or 2/3cup dried cranberries
- 100g or 2/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
- 100g or 2/3 cup prunes, chopped
- 200g or ¾ cup fresh cranberries
- zest and juice of 1 orange (or 2 clementines)
- 1 vanilla pod (or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste)
- 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon Ginger
- ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1/3 cup of brandy or rum (optional)
- Start heating the coconut oil or butter in a large saucepan.
- Peel and chop the apples into small dice and add them to the pan along with the dried fruit and cranberries.
- Zest the oranges and add the juice.
- Slice open the vanilla pod and add to the pan along with the spices and brown sugar if using.
- Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cranberries are all burst open and the apple is soft.
- Add the brandy or rum, if using, and let it bubble away for a minute or two to cook off the alcohol.
- Spoon into sterilized jars and seal with tight fitting lids.
What else can you do with mince aside from making mince pies?
- Use it as the filling for chocolate truffles
- Use at as the filling for a Christmasy oat crumble
- Serve it warm with vanilla ice cream
- Spoon it on top of yogurt
- Eat it with toast, waffles or pancakes
The world is your oyster!
Writer Danielle Charles Davies holds a Bsc in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and completed the two-year clinical training program at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier, VT. Her writing has appeared in Taproot, The Journal of the American Herbalist Guild, and Kindred Magazine, among others. She lives in Northern Michigan with her husband, two dogs and eight ducks. She blogs at www.bluemoonkitchen.com.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.