When I began the research for A SNOWFLAKE AT MIDNIGHT, I knew I wanted to include traditional holiday foods, something distinctive with a smell that would bring to mind memories of the season.
Mincemeat pies leapt out at me. Why? Because it was a dish dating back to the 11th century. Because I’d seen jars containing sugary dried fruits upon store shelves labeled ‘mincemeat’. But without a trace of any animal protein. I had to know why. A brief online search turned up the answer. Once, mincemeat pies did indeed contain beef, but due to things like the rationing of meat during wartime and a shift in tastes away from savory-sweet combinations, the named ingredient was dropped from most recipes.
The use of cooking with suet also fell out of favor, though there’s been a revival of traditional fats in certain circles as our society gradually comes to realize fats such as suet and lard and butter did not deserve the villainy ascribed to them. Read more on that here.
With my story set in 1884, I wanted to try the genuine article, and so I set about reading recipes, considering ingredients and developing one of my own that was true to tradition. Of course I love it – or I wouldn’t be posting it here for you to try! Mincemeat, it’s now on my menu.
1 pound finely chopped beef (quality steak or stew beef, not ground beef)
1 cup chopped beef suet
3 cups finely chopped tart apple
1 cup dark brown sugar
(3 cups total):
- 1 1/4 cups raisins
- 1 1/4 cups currants
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
(1/4 cup total):
- 2 tablespoons candied lemon peel
- 2 tablespoons candied orange peel
1 lemon, its zest and juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1Tablespoon ground mace
Important note: To avoid any bitterness, I suggest making your own candied citrus (see below) and using a fresh lemon, rather than dried peel and bottled juice.
Add at end:
3 Tablespoons brandy
(Note: If you prefer to have the alcohol cooked out, add them at the same time as the other ingredients.)
Combine all ingredients except for the brandy in a medium-sized pot. Cook, stirring until all the meat is browned. Turn the temperature to low and gently simmer uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. This allows the oils of the spices to release, melding the flavors together. Stir in the brandy.
Spoon the hot mincemeat into a container. As the mixture cools the suet will harden. Allow the mixture to rest in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. If you want to store it longer, you can freeze the mixture for months. Makes about enough to fill one pie shell.
Once the flavors of your mincemeat have married, it’s time to choose a crust. I chose a store bought, pre-made pastry dough. I rolled it out between parchment paper, then used a drinking glass to cut out round circles. I dropped those into butter-greased muffin tins, added a dollop of mincemeat, then added more dough on top. You could just as easily prepare it as a full-sized pie. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees F (adjusting for the specifics of your chosen crust).
As a gluten free household (by necessity, not choice), I can’t offer a good, tested recipe for a crust. Gluten free dough, lacking all the awesome binding power of those glutens, tends to fall apart. Flakey is another serious challenge. So if you’ve any amazing pastry dough recipes (full-flour or gluten free), to share, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
*Candied Orange and Lemon Peels
As store-bought versions often taste horrible, I suggest you make your own. I found THIS BLOG POST that I followed closely, making a huge batch of candied citrus. Dried and chopped, I divided them into 1/4 cup portions and froze them. A big effort to start, but quite simple to pull from the freezer for later cooking projects.
Oversimplifying, you peel your oranges, lemons and limes (removing the white, inner pith), cut them into slices, then boil them in sugar water until they grow soft. After removing them from the syrup with a slotted spoon, toss them in sugar to further coat them, then leave them on drying racks until they grow hard (this takes a long time – for me, about a day). Chop. Portion. Freeze.