Traditional Mincemeat Recipe

mincemeat

After making my last batch of Quick Mincemeat, which found its way, then disappeared into, one of my Thanksgiving desserts, for some reason, I got a hankering to make the real-deal. I don’t know what possessed me, but when I get something stuck in my craw, it can take the Jaws-of-Life to get it out of there.

Making traditional-style mincemeat requires one not just to mix up bunch of dried fruits and candied peel, but also demands one to include a generous blob of animal fat in the mix. Thus, I began my search for suet in Paris. Which you wouldn’t think was all that hard. However I’ve learned that here, some things take a little less thinking-about, and a little more legwork than one might think the situation should really warrant.

uncooked mincemeat

I figured one of the many butchers at my local outdoor market would have kidney fat, no problem. But at each stand, they just solemnly shook their heads “Non.” When I told them I needed it to make a dessert, you can imagine their Gallic reaction.

C’est normale for me when I’m trying to find something specific around here. With my luck, even if I’m searching for a four-legged table, I’ll go to the magasin des tables, which’ll have every conceivable kind of table—except for the kind with four legs.

So I headed up towards Belleville, to the huge boucherie Robert & René (13, rue Faubourg du Temple) where I figured they’d have such oddities.

The butcher winced when I told him I was making un truc anglais, which, with all respects to my British friends, is a normal reaction when you mention something edible that’s from across the Channel. Calm down…I share your pain, as I get it as well when I mention American food, too. Which is why I pass out so many brownies around here. Perhaps some of you British folks living or visiting here might pass around something delicious to change the tide around here, like Neal’s Yard cheese, crumpets, or treacle tarts. Euros are for losers, take it from me: brownies are my best local currency and I’ve won beaucoup de converts.

suet Persian berries

After putting on my saddest, most dejected face, one that I’d perfected over the years (which usually doesn’t work on the French, but I still sometimes give it a shot anyways), he told me he could dig some up, and then he went into the back. When he returned, he handed me a giant pink slab, and told me it was no charge. Which was great, but what was I going to do with five pounds of suet? I can’t exactly have a sidewalk suet sale, can I?

So my rule about Paris, the one that goes “Whatever you’re looking for, they’ll have everything—but…” still lingered, but I wasn’t going to quibble at the overload of suet at this point as I tried to tick ingredients off my aide-mémoire. Except next up, I could not for the life of me find currants. Every shop I went into had plenty of raisins; dark, light, and all shades in between, but no one had currants.

candied lemon peel

Then I remembered I had some tangy little red berries from Iran, which are called barberries that I bought at a Persian market a few weeks ago, and thought I’d use them. In a recent chat with a British expat friend, she scoffed at a recipe she saw that mixed dried cranberries into their mincemeat. But I reminded her that since mincemeat was likely a way to preserve the harvest way-back-when, if her forefathers and foremothers had cranberries, they probably would’ve used them. And cuisines change; new foods get discovered, better techniques come along, and so on and so forth, so I felt justified doing a little cross-cultural fiddling.

And after all, I’m an American, living in France, making an English conserve, from fat I got from an Arabic butcher, from suet that he found who-knows-where. And since I’ve gone that far, using a Persian ingredient is the least of my transgressions. So I made my tried-and-true multicultural recipe and technique.

mincemeat

And eventually I finally got real currants, which are called raisins de corinthe, just in case you need to know those kind of things (like I do) and some more candied peel, which I happily bought for this next round. As for the fat, I still have 4 3/4-pounds of suet leftover in my freezer, so that in the future, I have a cushion to fall back on. Albeit a rather fatty one.

Mincemeat

One quart

You can swap out any finely-diced fruits, like I did, although to be close to authentic, it should be pretty raisin-heavy. I’ve seen recipes using everything from dried cranberries, figs, and prunes.

In England, one can buy vegetarian suet, which I’ve never used, but folks say that it works well. I was also thinking that coconut oil might work, so if anyone experiments with that, I’d be interested in knowing the results. You can also make my Quick Mincemeat, which has no fat or animal products.

  • 8 ounces (225 g) dark raisins
  • 8 ounces (225 g) currants
  • 4 ounces (110 g) golden raisins (sultanas)
  • 1 large, firm apple; unpeeled, quartered, cored, and diced
  • 2 ounces (55 g) candied orange peel, chopped
  • 4 ounces (110 g) suet, grated or finely-chopped
  • 1 cup (215 g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (each) ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg & allspice
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • zest and juice of one orange
  • 3 tablespoons brandy

1. Mix all the ingredients together, except for the brandy.

2. Heat on the stovetop until the suet has completely melted and the mixture is heated through.

3. Remove from heat, cool, then stir in the brandy. Pack into a jar and refrigerate.

It’s best to let mincemeat stand at least a couple of weeks before using. I store mine in the refrigerator, and have kept it for up to one year. If you’re interest in canning it, you can find USDA approved canning methods.

Mincemeat can be crumbled into apple pie or crisp, or baked by itself, or with sliced apples between two layers of pie dough to make a mincemeat pie.



Related Links

Mincemeat and Apple Jalousie (Spittoon Extra)

Quick Mincemeat

What is suet? (Wikipedia)

Making Candied Citrus Peel (Simply Recipes)

Mincemeat (Delia Smith)

Mincemeat Pie (Alton Brown)

Traditional Mincemeat Pie Recipes from 1953 (Slashfood)

46 comments

  • I’ve won over a few of the French with brownies as well…

    Cheesecake coming up next !

  • I have never heard of baking mincemeat in the oven – which doyennes were they? Name names! If you want to go one step further than suet, Hugh F-W has a recipe in his River Cottage Year for mincemeat with beef mince which is the really traditional way of serving it. Doesn’t get cooked at all until you make the pies. Wonder what your butcher would have made of that.

  • This is a wonderfully funny story! When I lived in Germany I had the faces pulled at my native British cuisine CONSTANTLY-even more irritating since Germany hardly has the culinary reputation that France does (don’t get me wrong I do really like German food, especially the cakes and the bread, but I really wanted to show them good British stuff too! They wouldn’t even let me give them lamb and mint :o().

    I made this Pam Jam’s Pear and Ginger Mincemeat this year:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/nov/24/recipes.features

    She works for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage (she’s their preserving guru!) and it is lovely. I made it last month and let it mature. Beautiful.

  • You must be able to get this stuff from somewhere in the UK by mail order. It would make your life easier, and you can make the veggie version which would remove a large amount of the ick factor. I’ve never heated mincemeat at all, and neither have my mother or grandmother…just mixing it all together and leaving it for a month works pretty damn well. I use the Delia recipe (which looking at your method, I’d guess you used, but possibly had the oven too high??), but the consensus in my family is that the heating is entirely unnecessary. Instead, I mix all ingredients, leave them to stand for a week with occasional stirring, then jar it for a month. Works like a dream. The nice thing about the Delia quantities is its particular moistness from the apples and sugar. The mix of dried fruit gets varied – I just used a mixed pack this year, because I was really short on time that weekend, and it’s been great. The important bit is the mix of dry stuff versus fresh stuff versus liquid, I think… When you cook it, the fat melts THEN and coats everything nicely… I suspect the intention with heating it gently for a long time is to better distribute the fat around the fruit, but it hardly seems necessary, especially for as long as 3 hours!).

    Erm. I’m quite enthusiastic about mincemeat, aren’t I?!

  • Sian: That looks like a tasty recipe, and was surprised that she bakes hers for 2-3 hours at 250F (130C) so I presume you didn’t have a problem. Thanks for the link.

    Hazel: I do have a thermometer in my oven and since it didn’t smell burnt, I wanted to stick to the original technique and see what it yielded. Gulp…

    I actually don’t mind the beef fat, and heaven knows, I have enough of it in my freezer to make about fifty or sixty batches of mincemeat, but the vegetarian option might be in my future if I run out : )

    Elaine: I didn’t want to name the culprits since I perhaps share some of the blame for not trusting my instincts and taking it out sooner. I was just giving them the benefit of a doubt and thought by trying it their way, I would learn something new.

    At least the birds were happy!

  • But how did it taste??!!

  • This is a hysterical post! Thanks for the laugh (and for ridding Paris of one more pigeon — if the poop that has been known to drop on us occasionally at the Parc Monceau from the trees above smells like suet, I’ll know who to blame!).

    Your pics look awesome though, up until the end…..I had my first mince pie yesterday and it certainly is an interesting flavor combination. I had been calling them mincemeat pies for forever so now I finally know what they are called, and thanks to you, exactly what goes in them! Happy Holidays!

  • My mom used to buy “condensed” mincemeat in tiny boxes and make delicious cookies from it. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it had beef in it. I guess that’s why it’s called mincemeat. I like vegetarian mincemeat too, but because I grew up eating the non-vegetarian kind, the idea of beef in mincemeat doesn’t gross me out. On the contrary, I find the history of all these old foods fascinating, the way they are a direct link from the middle ages and are only eaten at the holidays.

  • Your final mincemeat looks jewel-like and beautiful. My mother used to make it, but I never found out which recipe she used. So if I make it I will use yours. BTW, Jane Garmey’s recipe in “Great British Cooking” includes suet, almonds and other lovely things but no cooking. She leaves it out overnight covered with a cloth in a cool place before canning it.

  • Your second recipe looks fabulous. And yeah, the 1st reminds me why I rarely want to use an English recipe. I wish you’d posted this a couple weeks ago so I’d have it ready for xmas dinner! Ah well…

  • David, you might like to check out this recipe, which has given us great results, only has to be made once every seven years or so, and really evokes the old-school mincemeat nicely:

    Old-School Mincemeat

    When I read your post I thought instantly of the above, at least partly because of the quinces in it. (And the French cider!) We have trouble getting them in Ireland, but I’m sure I remember seeing them in the markets in Paris when we passed through last.

    Hope this helps you for next year! :)

  • You’ve made my day. And even though it’s only 7.27am I am confident no one is going to top the smile you just gave me.
    love ‘tasty’ sam x

  • PS – you can make some fantastic steamed puddings with that leftover suet – that’s what we did at the pudding club with June Taylor & your mate Trisha last year. We could only get massive blocks of it here in SF too. Wholefoods do it btw, if you ask.

  • One of my aunts always made mince pie at Christmas, but I’m pretty sure the first step of her recipe was to open the jar of mincemeat she purchased at the supermarket. I have a feeling the homemade stuff tastes much better. Are you going to attempt some more English desserts with all of that suet you have?

  • I find it amusingly quirky that you’ll eat animal kidney fat-covered raisins but you won’t try fattened duck liver and chocolate!

  • erica: I love that phrase “amusingly quirky”…it’s almost, dare I say…politely British?
    ; )

    barbra: I have another English dessert on my docket, but Marks & Spencer sent me a huge gift basket full of things and I have to work my way through that as well.

    sam: Whole Foods? You tease!

  • Actually true mincemeat really has meat in it. I have our families original recipe that dates at least to the late 1700′s. I know it sounds strange, but it is delicious… and people love it when they come for our annual fete….. even after I tell them it has meat in it. It also has suet, but I usually don’t mention that. For some reason people seem to have more of an aversion to suet in their desserts than meat. Anyways, we my family has been making it every year for centuries, they even saved all their ration cards to make it during the wars, so I think it could be described as an ‘original’ recipe:)
    Cheers

  • please don’t change the “winching” because it makes me happy to think that the more one winches the more French one becomes.

  • You might be interested in James Beard’s recipe from Delights and Prejudices. He starts it months ahead and it includes a brisket I think, which ages in a crock in the basement (who has a basement?) covered with brandy.

  • Daivd, my brain is playing up as I have no memories of cooking the Pear and Ginger mincemeat, it was a genuine surprise when you said that, but my other half assures me I did, for 2 hours on the lowest heat of the oven! No problems, our oven is gas and to be honest I used butter instead of suet as I’ve never used suet in my life and thus am irrationally wary (next year…).

  • The French reaction to British food really annoyed me while I was in France, especially as Parisians ADORED the English café I worked at: such double standards.

    You really don’t need the suet! You can just add a little melted butter instead: yummier and easier to get hold of. I don’t know why anyone would want to add suet to a mince pie…it’s hardly nice stuff.

    And I never heat my mincemeat: whatever recipe said to bake it?!
    I just combine dried fruit, dark muscavado sugar, spices, orange or apple juice and brandy, then leave to marry for a few hours, then bake.

    This year I included roast quince instead of grated apple, I love that fruit and it’s such a seasonal treat.

    Here’s a post on a baking community about my first mince pies of the season..

    http://community.livejournal.com/bakebakebake/1660434.html#cutid1

  • I have never baked mincemeat until it is baked in the pie.
    About that lump of fat…. we always rendered the fat to make it into suet. The left behind bits were called dripping and are great on toast.

  • david said : ” At least the birds were drunk ! ”

    looks like cats of your neighborhood will have the chance to taste some “drunk poultry” recipe for christmas :)

  • Oh what lengths we’ll go for a craving…

    I had a similar (albeit American version) of suet seeking…which lead me to a butcher that begrudgingly offered me the white stuff (I must admit, I winced when I got a good look at it) for my ragu.

    It’s also quite comforting that the quintessential French “Non” look is given to everyone, not just me!

  • Oh David, you continue to inspire. Meilleurs Voeux sweetie from sunfilled Sydney.

  • David, Would one use the whole quart for a mince meat pie? Also, I loathe cloves, how do you think cardamom would work in its place?

    Chaz

  • I bought suet as a lark last time I was in London. Threw it away after never using it – but it was as easy to find at Sainsbury’s or M&S and dirt cheap. Love mincemeat and mince pies – the luxury mini mince pies from Harrods are delicious. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

  • Sian: Thanks for the link. The Guardian website has become one of my favorite food/recipe haunts. They have all sorts of wonderful recipes from great chefs, including Ottolenghi and Fuchsia Dunlop.

  • many, many years ago a friend and i spent hours making and canning authentic mincemeat. after we cleaned up the disaster area of a kitchen we left the dozen Ball jars to cool on wire racks while we stepped out to get a coffee and some fresh air.
    when we returned several hours later we were shocked to see the once warm, beautifully rich mahogany mincemeat had transformed into opaque white glass vessels with darks bits showing here and there. we were so disgusted by the volume of fat we dropped the jars straight into the garbage.

  • Barberries are edible? The birds pluck them from the barberry bushes near our house during the winter, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they are people food. I’m not about to harvest any. The thorns on the bushes go right through leather gloves. They are a nightmare to prune. Also, Illinois is already having a harsh, icy winter, and the birds are going to need anything they can get. So, what do barberries taste like?

  • hi Linda: Apparently these are! The Persian market I got them, they told me they mixed them with rice. I mixed them with hot orzo last week, adding plenty of parsley, chopped shallots, and vinaigrette. They’re fruity, tangy and tart, but not overly so. Almost like dried red currants would taste. I’m now officially hooked on them.

    I read the French have the same berry, called épine vinette (berberis vulgaris) that they make a jam from. I’ve never seen them fresh in Paris, but I’d love to get my hands on some to make a pot of that ruby-red confiture.

    Just be sure if using wild berries to check with your local agricultural cooperative extension to make sure they’re edible!

  • Barberries were hugely popular in England for centuries – they seem to have dropped out of favour towards the end of the nineteenth century, I think partly because they shared some sort of fungus which then infected wheat crops, so the barberry bushes were all pulled out. It is perfectly historically reasonable to use barberries as a substitute for other dried fruit.

  • I am confused by all of this talk of suet. My mom was also mystified when I mentioned this to her – my grampa used venison and my grama carries on the tradition with beef (they are/were in Arizona of Scottish/Welsh/English background).

    Mince pie is my favorite for Thanksgiving and Christmas, with a big scoop of fresh whipped cream.

  • Michelle: the suet doesn’t replace the meat, which British ‘mincemeat’ hasn’t contained since the 19th century. It’s a totally different factor.

  • I have a recipe from my great-great-grandmother for a traditional english christmas pudding using suet that we still make every year. The full recipe uses 2 pounds of grated suet and 16 eggs, and makes 2 very large puddings. They are usually made at leastt 1 month in advance, and will keep up to a year if kept in a cool, dry place.
    Grating the suet is a lot of work, but it does make the skin on your hands nice and soft!

  • Past 5am and I am sleepily drooling over my laptop – your site is a blessing for the Gluttonous Insomniac, Mr. Lebovitz. Or maybe a curse,
    considering this GI is currently watching her waistline low-GI style.
    Still, a bit of torture is good for the soul.

    I’m crazy about mincemeat and maybe I’m a bit daft, but I’ve never
    liked suet and never really understood the need for it – is there a
    scary-sciency reason why butter isn’t suitable? The same goes for my
    (pardon the pride) fabled Christmas Pudding To End all Christmas
    Puddings. No suet has ever sullied it and I would defiantly stake my
    left buttock on its being the most delicious xmas pud in the whole wide
    world. It’s reverently prepared every September with plenty of grated
    butter, lots of prunes (in addition to the usuals – and why no prunes
    in the mincemeat, I ask?!) and a big glug of guinness. No chopped nuts,
    just ground almonds, and the texture is like lush juicy uninterrupted
    velvet, especially when chilled and served in slivers as a treat. It’s
    left in a dark place until the big day, aside from the fortnightly
    toothpicking-with-brandy, and my god… there’s nothing like it. I say
    this with caution, but: it’s better than chocolate.

    Just while we’re on mincemeaty things, I don’t know if they’re popular
    stateside or in France, but one of my big anchor memories from
    childhood is my mum taking me to the bakery some lucky afternoons for a
    currant square. Only pic I could find on google, apparently the Scots
    call them ‘fly cemeteries’: link.

    Mincemeat type filling sandwiched between two crumbly layers of pastry.
    But here’s the rub: there were two distinct types, both labelled
    currant squares. One was the moist mincemeaty type filling with looser
    fruit as shown in the pic, but the other had a much more solid, drier
    (yet moister!) and puddingy filling. It was also spicier, maybe even a
    bit peppery? I’m guessing the difference is just the addition of
    breadcrumbs, flour and spices, but I’d love to know how they’re baked.
    If anyone has a recipe for the dense puddingy-type spicier currant
    square I would probably trade my grandmother for it. Or at least lease
    her out…

    P.S. I would love to see a Lebovitz Christmas Pud, if you take
    requests! And, by the way, a national institution she may be, and a joy
    to watch in action, but I’ve never prepared a Delia recipe that
    absolutely worked. I assumed I was just an inept freak.

  • The butchers in any of the supermarkets around here (Laval) Leclerc and Carrefour and Super U will give you beef suet for a few cents if you ask them. Make sure you ask the butcher and not an assistant, otherwise you’ll get THAT look.

    Molasses, on the other hand, is not so easy to find.

  • You inspired me to look for a version using coconut oil–here it is! http://www.wholefoodmatters.com/?p=51
    I think I am going to play with all 4 versions I have now collected, using the candied orange and lemon peel I just made while looking at the version in the SF Chronicle this week!

  • I’ve tried several recipes for mincemeat (including the kind with real minced meat in it), and my husband always says “That was okay, but I like the kind you get in jars at the supermarket better.” I made this one for Thanksgiving, and everyone really liked it, including the husband, who says it’s better than the kind you get in jars at the supermarket. It looks like this one is the keeper. (I got the suet at Savenor’s in Cambridge.)

  • Haha. The only time I’ve had mincemeat, believe it or not, was in a food technology class in high school. It was sickly stuff out of a jar, and we baked it in puff pastry shells in metal tart trays with remnants of food from the previous 30 years stuck to them. Needless to say, I haven’t tried it since. I still see that jarred stuff around in the supermarkets, but my local healthfood store sells a version in their refrigerator. I’m very tempted by your coconut oil suggestion…and because I’m soooo hip and cool and modern, I feel like adding pinenuts. And walnuts. And cranberries. And…whisky. Or is that going too far?

  • Hi David,
    I think one of the “doyennes” must have been Delia Bloody Smith (she doesn’t advertise her middle name much, surprisingly). She roasts her mincemeat for some time in the oven. I tried it once and ended up with burnt mincemeat.
    I have since realised she actually can’t cook.
    Anyway, yes I have tried using coconut oil instead of suet for mincemeat for my vegan step-daughter. It worked well, though gives a mild coconut flavour to the mincemeat, which isn’t a detraction. Also I found I needed less than the same weight of suet, as it is an oil and runs everywhere otherwise.

    Slowly working my way through all your blogs since I discovered you a couple of months ago. Just got 2009 and 2010 to go now.

  • David, I saw suet yesterday in that store : http://www.ethnic-angel.com/ (Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, métro “Grands Boulevards”

  • Hm, I used the Delia recipe last year and it turned out quite delicious and not at all burnt. Maybe you should check the temperature of your oven, David? Anyway, as I recall, her reason for baking (though I don’t know why cooking on the stove wouldn’t do the same) is that her recipe has a higher content of apples and so by melting the suet and completely covering the fruit, you are ensuring it is preserved and will keep. She says that the jars will keep (without processing, mind you) for a year or more.

    That said, I have noticed a certain…cultural difference…between the Brits and Americans on preserving/canning matters. The Brits probably think the Americans are over-cautious – and to Americans the Brits seem quite cavalier in their attitude to food safety!

  • P.S. I used vegetarian industrially produced suet – perhaps that has a higher burning temperature than the real stuff? In any case, drop me a line if you want me to mail you a box or two as it’s easy to add to my weekly Tesco order!

  • This year I made a truly traditional mincemeat which had both suet and finely chopped venison. The venison adds a lovely soft buttery texture. According to the recipe, the quantity of booze in it is sufficient to make it last for ten years in a jar in a cool spot. It is delicious uncooked and cooked.

  • Isla: they are indeed fly cemeteries – at least that is what we call them in New Zealand (which probably inherited them from our Scottish forebears. They are also called fruit slices and here is a recipe if you are still looking: http://www.scotlands-enchanting-kingdom.com/fruit-slice-fly-cemetery.html

    I prefer the drier sort which I suspect this recipe is not as it has only one dessertspoon of cornflour in it – but it does have mixed spice.