Mincemeat. It sounds like ground beef, but that is “minced meat.” In Anglican countries, mincemeat equals Christmas, as far as I’m concerned. It is a mixture of finely chopped fruit, spices, dark brown sugar, and liquor that’s used primarily as filling for Christmas pies.
But there’s so much more you can do with it: Look at my recipe for pheasants filled with mincemeat, for example.
The first recipes for mincemeat hark back to the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, when cooks still worked with kidney fat as a thickening agent for puddings, which weren’t always sweet. Often they were hearty, but served with something sweet. Think blood sausage, which also contains many spices, and which we like to eat with baked apple and cinnamon, or think about hearty pancakes with bacon and syrup.
This is how the name for this filling came to be: Because leftover chunks of infrequently used meat, including kidney fat, were used, it received the name mincemeat (ground meat). In Ireland they still use the kidney fat (suet), and it adds another layer to the flavor, similar to how goose fat has that effect on baked potatoes. But I replace it with butter, which tastes just as good and is lots easier for us Dutch.
Because mincemeat requires many ingredients, it’s best to make a lot at once. Preserve it in a jar in the pantry, in a cool spot, and you can have fun with it the entire Christmas period.
Put all the dried fruit, the apples, butter, and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the butter has melted, then add the almonds, orange zest, vanilla, the spices, and salt.
Let simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Let cool in a wide bowl. Stir in the liquor, and scoop the mincemeat into squeaky-clean jars.
Let stand for a day or more, to allow the fruits to absorb all the liquid.
You can keep the mincemeat in the fridge, provided you keep it in a clean jar, for 2 to 3 months. If your mincemeat dries out because the dried fruits have absorbed all the liquid, add some more brandy. Alcohol is a preservative, so the mincemeat will keep for a long time.
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