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.
Cannot believe that I have FINALLY found someone who actually likes Mincemeat 😳 let alone that they like the original version that calls for meat well im definitely in shock. I’m 60 yrs old and have eaten it since just about birth, lol. Though I’ve never worried about what crust recipe to use….I don’t use any and enjoy it straight from my own canning jars at room temperature ummm, so delicious 😋. My mom’s recipe is a little bit different than what you used she adjusted to fit our family which was no Brandy, but we do use apple cider that’s just starting to go “hard”. We also use a nice Eye of the Round that we grind the old fashioned way using a very old & heavy hand-cranked meat grinder, we don’t use the candied fruit, well🤔… we do use candied orange peels but in the Whiskey Sour’s we enjoy afterwards 😉. If I can locate my mom’s original recipe I will definitely pass it on. I have not been able to make it, my mom’s Snicker-doodle’s or her Pizzelle’s since I lost her😒but… I think that maybe
this year I will try to bring back some of her long standing and sorely missed holiday traditions
Thank you for putting the smile on my face and helping me to remember those memories with more smiles than tears 😊
Once I found Megan’s recipe for gluten-free pie crust, I stopped searching. See “Gluten Free Pie Crust” on her website “Allergy Free Alaska”. I use butter and psyllium husk powder (1 tsp) in place of the palm shortening and xanthan gum.
Gluten free pie crust…
We love Bob’s Red Mill GF Piecrust mix. My non-gf husband can’t tell the difference.
If you want to try an easy modern mincemeat recipe I love (and use every year) Delia Smith’s oven baked mincemeat (it’s on the internet).
Having lived in Canada I know you can swap mixed ground spice for pumpkin pie spice and Bramley apples for Granny Smith (or other cooking apple or tart eating apple) to get a very similar taste.
Personally I add glace cherries, swap the suet for the same weight of butter, leave out the nuts (my granny doesn’t like them) and throw in a handful of dried cranberries (or two).
I’ve never tried gluten free pastry, but we do use a shortbread crust recipe, with corn starch and wheat flour. So I wonder if it might work as gluten free with some xanthan gum to stop it being completely crumbly. We’ll have to trst it out – any excuse for mince pies in our house! Warm with a spoonful of heavy cream to be extra Christmassy – yum!
Yes to the puff pastry! Schar’s GF puff pastry worked best for me. The other brand I tried was just ok.
Omg- these look amazing !
Going to make them next weekend and think I will use puff pastry for my dough if choice x