Few people today know the taste of true mincemeat. And that explains why very few people I know actually actually enjoy mincemeat versus simply eating it out of tradition (or being forced to so as not to offend Grandma). Yes, sadly real mincemeat is a long-held tradition dating back to the 11th century that’s been largely lost in the last century.
And I say lost, not because it’s been erased completely, rather because mincemeat has changed so much, some of its most important elements having been left out, that it just barely resembles its original ancestor. Of the many traditional British dishes that have undergone some form of alteration over the years, mincemeat has probably changed the most. That is largely due to the common omission of mincemeat’s two key ingredients: Meat (traditionally beef or lamb) and suet.
Things like wartime rations on meat, British culinary tastes moving away from sweet-savory combinations, and shifting trends away from the traditional use of suet (read my article on why you should use suet and lard – in short, medical research confirms our ancestors were right after all!) contributed to the gradual moving away from the inclusion of meat and suet in mincemeat. The result of these changes is manifest in the tiny mince pies of today that are almost sickly sweet without the savory meat and suet to round out the flavors and also fairly flat and one-dimensional in flavor profile without the complexity of the savory ingredients. This beloved dish of both the common folk and royalty (savored by generations of kings who enjoyed mince pies during their coronations and at their stately tables) sadly has been reduced to something that is a mere vestige, a residue, of what it once was – the spirits of centuries ago hover over what is passed off today as mincemeat while clenching their fists and wailing in agony.
Okay, that’s a little dramatic.
Many generations ago people would experience mincemeat as a robust and sweet-savory meat-based mixture that conjured up what seemed like a thousand flavor sensations. Pair that with the incomparable texture that suet contributes to pie crust as it’s baked with the mincemeat and it’s no wonder that mincemeat pie was a heralded favorite for many centuries in the United Kingdom and then made its way to become a tradition in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Northern Europe, South Africa, and the New England region of the U.S..
Mince pies are still considered an essential accompaniment to holiday dinners today. But to be truly “traditional”, mincemeat requires meat and suet.
Christmas Pie by William Henry Hunt (1790-1864)
A note about SUGAR: Centuries ago mincemeat was far less sweet than it is today. Though it was made with fruits to add sweetness and to help preserve it (the fructose content), no sugar was added. Feel free to cut back on the brown sugar if you prefer.
A note about MEAT: If you’re put off at the thought of adding meat to mincemeat like our ancestors did for centuries, think of it this way: Imagine a Moroccan tagine – a dish of beef or lamb that is slow cooked with dried fruit, nuts and a myriad of aromatic spices. It’s downright amazing. Mincemeat, which not surprisingly originates from the Crusaders bringing the spices and method back with them from the Middle East, is a very similar concept: Beef that is simmered with dried fruits, nuts and a wonderful host of spices. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? The mincemeat is stored for a while (under a layer of fat, a centuries-old method of preservation) so the flavors can deepen, and then it’s baked in a flaky pie. Heaven.
Another aspect that has always been off-putting to me about mincemeat is the overpowering flavor of the commercial candied citrus peel that’s called for in most recipes. It has a strong chemical-astringent flavor that many people dislike. For that reason I use and highly recommend making your own homemade candied citrus peel for this mincemeat. Trust me, the flavor is incomparable and puts the store-bought stuff to miserable shame. And good candied citrus peel gives mincemeat an incredible flavor boost. That said, if you don’t mind store-bought candied citrus peel and want to save yourself the effort, feel free to use it.
Check out our post on How To Make Candied Citrus Peel.
A note about the SUET: While you can substitute butter (and even coconut oil, though that will greatly alter the flavor), I highly recommend suet for both flavor and texture, especially if you’re making mince pies. If you’ve ever made pie crust with suet you’ll understand – the end result is flaky and flavorful perfection unlike anything else. When you’re baking your mince pies the suet will bake into the pie crust enhancing texture and flavor.
I usually make my own suet when I have access to some kidney fat from locally-raised, grass-fed cows. But for a store-bought option I recommend Atora Shredded Beef Suet from England and a household name since 1893.
A note about PRESERVING: Traditionally mincemeat would be made the year before it’s eaten to give the flavors time do develop and deepen. While time does improve it, it is delicious eaten within just a few days. However, if you want to store it there are several options:
Refrigerator: If you omit the meat it will last for up to a year in clean sterilized jars (some keep it several years in the back of the fridge). The layer of fat on top seals off the mincemeat from any air which results in food deterioration. This is a method of preserving that’s been used for many centuries. If you include the meat it will safely last in your fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Freezer: Either with or without meat, mincemeat can be frozen in airtight containers or in ziplock bags for up to 6 months.
Canning for long-term storage: If you want the traditional meat version to keep longer you can process the quart-sized mason jars (leaving 1 inch headspace) in a pressure canner (not a water bath). Spoon the hot mincemeat into sterilized quart mason jars leaving 1 inch headspace. Use a clean moist rag to wipe off any oil from the jars. Seal and process in a pressure canner according to the time and pressure outlined in the chart below and the mincemeat will keep for up to a year:
|Recommended process time for a dial-gauge pressure canner.|
|Canner Pressure (PSI) at Altitudes of|
|Style of Pack||Jar Size||Process Time||0 – 2,000 ft||2,001 – 4,000 ft||4,001 – 6,000 ft||6,000 – 8,000 ft|
|Hot||Quarts||90 min||11 lb||12 lb||13 lb||14 lb|
Let’s get started!
Combine all of the ingredients, except for the brandy and/or rum in a medium-sized pot.
If you’re adding meat, which I highly recommend, you’ll add that at the same time.
Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. At the end, stir in the brandy and/or rum.
Note: If you prefer to have the alcohol cooked out, add it at the same time as the other ingredients (note, the flavor of the brandy/rum will be less pronounced).
Pour the hot mincemeat into sterilized jars. Let the jars cools. The liquid suet on top will gradually harden into a protective layer which will enable you to safely store your mincemeat.
**For instructions on different methods for storing your mincemeat, including how to can it for long-term storage, see the blog post section above on Preserving.
This mincemeat is delicious used immediately but for optimal flavor let it sit in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks before using.
Use this mincemeat to make Homemade Mince Pies or create your own twists by using it for mincemeat cake or muffins!
Few people today know what REAL mincemeat should taste like, today's version paling in comparison to the mincemeat that has been a household tradition for centuries. Give this traditional version a try and even if you've always hated mincemeat this may just be the one to convert you!
- 1 pound (450g) finely chopped beef steak (optional but HIGHLY recommended, otherwise use an extra 1 1/2 cups raisins or currants)
- Note: Traditionally made with beef or lamb and can also be made with wild game
- 1 1/4 cups (330g) raisins
- 1 1/4 cups (330g) currants
- 1/2 cup (150g) golden raisins
- 2 cups (1 large apple) finely chopped tart apple
- 200 grams shredded beef suet
- 2 cups (450g) dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons candied lemon peel
- 2 tablespoons candied orange peel
- STRONGLY recommend using Homemade Candied Citrus Peel
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (50g) finely chopped blanched almonds
- 1 lemon, its zest and juice
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons brandy
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
Combine all ingredients except for the brandy and rum in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and gently simmer uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Stir in the brandy and rum. (Note: If you prefer to have the alcohol cooked out, add them at the same time as the other ingredients.)
Spoon the hot mincemeat into sterilized jars. As the mixture cools the suet will harden, creating a seal to help preserve the mincemeat. NOTE: See blog post for different ways to preserve the mincemeat, including refrigerating, freezing and canning for long-term storage.
Makes about 1 quart. Feel free to double, triple, etc, as needed.
Note: Mincemeat is traditionally stored for several months before using to allow time for the flavors to deepen, however this mincemeat is also delicious eaten within just a few days.
Note: Another common way to make mincemeat is to skip the cooking process and to pack the raw mixture directly into sterilized jars and store in the fridge for at least 2 days and up to 2 weeks (be sure to use the freshest meat) and then to cook the mixture directly into the pies. If you're planning on storing the mincemeat for a longer period of time, follow the instructions for cooking it. My preference is to cook the mixture either way because it brings out the flavors of the ingredients, releasing the oils of the spices and melding the flavor together.