"Pyes of mutton or beif must be fine minced and ceasoned with pepper and salte, and a little saffron to coloure it, suet or marrow a good quantite, a little vyneger, prumes, greate raysins and dates…”
This 1545 recipe for “shred pye” in A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye closely resembles modern mince pie recipes, except for the meat. Medieval cooks frequently combined sweet and savoury ingredients and used veal, rabbit, venison, boar, poultry and game birds – even swans – in these dishes. Exotic dried fruits and spices lent prestige to the tables of the wealthy and their extensive use reflected contemporary thinking about digestion and the four “humours” of the body.
The original term “mincemeat” remains in common usage, although “fruit mince” now describes the same product. Meat content gradually diminished and vanished completely by the late 19th century. Mrs Beeton’s 1861 mincemeat recipe still contained a pound and a half of beef and three pounds of suet!
Suet or lard persists in many modern mince- meat recipes and this flagrantly fatty fat deters many health-conscious cooks. You may omit it, but I believe it binds the mincemeat together and adds unctuousness and subtle flavour.
To my palate, many bought products taste primarily of sugar. When making your own, don’t oversweeten it and let the fruit flavours shine through.
I recently excavated from my pantry depths a jar of home-made mincemeat dating from sometime in the Pleistocene. Expecting ruin,
I found a mellow mélange of spicy brandied fruit unimpaired by almost a decade in darkness.
I’m not recommending such a gestation period, but a generous slosh of what my grandmother called “the doings” improves both flavour and longevity. Be as wanton as you like with the brandy – in the interests of preservation of course.A Very Merry Mincemeat
Experiment with candied pineapple, cumquats, dates, prunes, figs, grated carrot and even green tomatoes for different flavours. Fat is optional.
3 cups diced, peeled cooking apples, eg granny smith
200g each: sultanas, chopped dried apricots, currants, mixed peel
½ teaspoon each: ground cinnamon, coriander, black pepper, fennel seeds, nutmeg and cloves
500ml apple or orange juice or apple cider
100g suet, lard or vegetable suet, grated or chopped
150-200g brown sugar
150ml brandy or dark rum, plus extra
In a large heavy-based pot, combine all ingredients except suet, sugar and brandy. Bring to a low simmer, cover and cook 1 hour, stirring occasionally. When liquid has evaporated, add suet, sugar and brandy. Mix well. Fill sterilised jars, cool and top with a tablespoon of brandy. Seal well and store in a cool, dry place. The mince-meat may be frozen. Makes about 1.5kg