There are some dishes that are inextricably linked in my head with a particular person – for better or worse. Sometimes there are people that are indelibly linked with food. The author of today’s guest post is one of those people … and definitely for the better.
Indeed, my first memory of her is food-related (and muffins at that) and following the 5 years of working with her its still right up there with lasting impressions. All to the good, I assure you. Her love of baking – and all things foodie – was pretty legendary in the office and we shared many a discussion about recipes, cookery programmes and even once the relative merits of a Kenwood mixer versus a KitchenAid …
For those of you who are somewhat confused, there is no meat in mincemeat nowadays (although traditional recipes include some kind of animal fat such as beef suet), and is a mixture of chopped dried fruit, spices and distilled spirits and is very much a part of Christmas tradition here in the UK, most often used as a filling for sweet pastry pies.
I have a jar of this mincemeat, and look forward immensely to making some mince pies with it!
Years ago I read about making fat-free mincemeat in a slimming magazine, so I tried it ‘because it was healthy’. I realised the suet adds absolutely nothing to mincemeat and if you leave it out, you get more of the good stuff per bite. As a bonus, it’s inherently vegetarian, indeed vegan if that’s your thang. Over the years I’ve refined it so you get this: juicy and succulent, bursting with plumptious fruit. I’ll save the fat for the pastry, where it belongs! And maybe a dollop of brandy butter and some cream…
There is no greater start to the festive season than an hour or so making this mincemeat on a Saturday morning, whilst listening to Christmas songs. The aroma of the simmering mixture fills the house with luscious Christmas smells. I defy even the most bah-humbug of Scrooges not to feel festive – not to mention, hungry – after that. And all this joy for just a bit of chopping and stirring. Ho-ho-ho!
(But I should rename it really. It doesn’t sound very inviting, when Christmas is all about plenty. Maybe “Fantastic Festive Fat Free Mincemeat”? Or better yet, leave out the ‘fat free’ bit and don’t tell anyone, they’ll never know! Yeah. Fantastic Festive Mincemeat it is.)
- 250g Dark Muscovado sugar
- 250ml cider
- 750g cooking apple flesh
- 500g sultanas, raisins, currants or a mixture
- 100g dried cranberries
- 75g dried or glace cherries
- 75g chopped mixed peel
- 50g stem ginger from a jar (drained weight – about 4 or 5 balls of ginger)
- Zest and juice of a lemon
- ½ teaspoon powdered allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
- 90ml brandy, or other spirit of choice (I used Amaretto this time which is yum, as is Cointreau)
Let me first say, this recipe is not an exact science. You can vary the dried fruit and flavourings completely to suit your tastes. Like a tropical mincemeat? Use dried pineapple and banana in place of the cranberries and cherries, and use rum (or Malibu!) as your spirit. Hate ginger? Leave it out. Cooking for somebody who shouldn’t have alcohol? Use apple juice instead of cider, and omit the spirits (maybe use an extra squeeze of lemon). Me, I love all of it! But my favourite variation is this one, loaded with citrus and ginger and with a nice boozy kick.
1) Cut apples into wedges, then peel and core each wedge. Chop each wedge – roughly, but not too large. To get about 750g of flesh, you need about 1kg of apples – 4 large or 6 smaller Bramleys, as a guide. But if it’s not exactly 750g, don’t worry. Somewhere in the right vicinity is fine. The apple will start to go brown before you’ve finished. Don’t worry about it. It’ll be browner by the end!
2) Finely chop the stem ginger – it’s about 4 balls, drained.
3) Pour cider into a saucepan and add the sugar. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.
4) Now add the the remaining ingredients apart from the lemon juice and spirit. Stir to mix and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about half an hour. Keep an eye on it – what you want is about 3/4 of the liquid to have evaporated, the remaining liquid to be syrupy and the whole thing to be pulpy and generally look like mincemeat! Bear in mind that as it cools, the remaining liquid will thicken and you can stir it into the mincemeat, so it’s fine to have some left when you stop cooking.
5) Meanwhile, sterilise some jars – wash well in warm, soapy water. Rinse, then heat them in a cool oven (120C/250F) for 10 minutes or so until they’re dry and hot.
6) Once the mincemeat is ready, remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes or so before adding the lemon juice to taste – start with half, taste, and add more if you think it needs it. Then stir in the spirit. If you’re not sure about how strong you want it, add half to start with (90ml is 6 tablespoons so add 3 tablespoons), stir to mix and then taste. Add the remainder to taste.
7) Once it’s cooled slightly, add into the jars. Keeps for weeks in the jars, thanks to the sugar (I’ve eaten it the following Christmas too, but it was in the fridge the whole time in between). Also freezes well.