Mincemeat is one of the most important elements of a traditional British Christmas. Foreigners find the name rather confusing, expecting minced meat, rather than dried fruits preserved in alcohol, which is used to make different kind of festive treats.
The famous mince(d) pie has been a popular Christmas dish since the 13th century in England, the recipe was brought back from the Middle East during the crusades. The filling (mincemeat) originally did indeed contain meat, which they combined with fruits and spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, mace). Later, during the Tudor monarchy, due to the lack of fresh fruit, dried fruits were used instead, and the vinegar was replaced with wine then brandy. When sugar became more easily available, the filling became sweeter and eventually the meat was left out, leaving only the beef suet, which acted as a preservative. These days even the suet is left out, so the result is a thick, lumpy jam used for making various desserts and sweets.
In traditional recipes dried fruits, candied citrus peel, fresh citrus peel, chopped apple are mixed with suet, then left overnight in a cool place (sometimes wine or brandy is poured on top). The next day it’s cooked in the oven, covered at a low temperature (120°C), for 3 hours or so. When cooled, brandy is mixed in, and it’s ready to be jarred. Sometimes they add grated suet to the cooled jam too for better preservation. This version can last for at least a year. In the earlier, meaty recipes only alcohol is used to preserve the mixture and left for two weeks to age before jarring – this version can last for up to 10 years!.
You can buy mincemeat in most shops but nothing beats the home-made versions, which really aren’t that difficult to make. The problem is that there are hundreds of recipes around, and it’s pretty daunting trying to choose the right one, particularly that the ingredients are not that cheap when added altogether.
The other thing is that you need to be organized – in mincemeat the flavours should infuse for at least a couple of weeks, so it should be made at the end of November at the very latest, so that you can make mince pies and other lovely treats during the Christmas & New Year celebrations.
Here are a few easy, vegan mincemeat recipes that are gluten and dairy-free too, so suitable for most people:
Few tips for making Mincemeat
If you find a good, basic recipe, you can add other ingredients too – you can consider the following:
- Nuts – use mixed nuts or just pecans, walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts, whatever you like! You can dry-fry these for a couple of minutes to add a more interesting flavour to the mince. Add the nuts to the cooled mincemeat.
- Candied & dried fruits – use any mixed candied peels, fresh citrus peels, candied fruits, dried fruits (figs, raisins, sultanas, cranberries, apricots dates) or crystallised stem ginger
- Alcohol – it could be rum, cognac, calvados, orange liqueur, cherry liqueur, cranberry liqueur, port etc. If you want to use the mincemeat for kids, then leave out the extra brandy at the end, or set aside a jar with no added spirits. Alcohol added during cooking is not a problem, as most of it evaporates, so if’ you’re going to use the mincemeat only for baking, then even the additional alcohol shouldn’t be an issue.
- Sugar – dark brown or muscovado sugar gives a special, caramelized taste to the mincemeat, but do be careful as it does make the jam extremely sweet. For this reason many recipes use the less intense demerara or light muscovado sugar. It is important to taste the mincemeat when it has cooled, you can always add more sugar, if needed! In many recipes the jam is cooked together with the sugar, but if you mix it in at the end, the mincemeat will have a more crunchy texture which you may prefer.
- Spices – mixed spice, ginger, cinnamon & nutmeg are the most common spices but you can add other spices you fancy too in order to make it more zingy!
- Lifetime – most home-made mincemeat can last for months, even years, if kept in a cool, dry place. When opened, always keep it chilled though!
- Gifts – Mincemeat makes a lovely present for friends and family – take a jar with you to parties, it will be appreciated! See Christmas gifts in a jar>>
Here are some lovely recipes using mincemeat we’ve made here at Cooktogether:
Mince pie recipes
- Easy mince pies
- Orange mince pies
- Gluten-free mince pies
- Puff pastry mince pies
- Super easy mince pies
Cakes, sweet treats made with mincemeat
- Cranberry and mincemeat tartlets
- Christmas strudel
- Mincemeat puff swirls
- Mincemeat brownies
- Mince pie twists
- Hot cross Mincemeat Buns