The Real Mincemeat

November 18, 2011

All year long, we've been hosting Charcutepalooza, the meat extravaganza masterminded by bloggers Cathy Barrow (our own MrsWheelbarrow) and Kim Foster.

Each month brought a new challenge (e.g. duck prosciutto, salt curing), and a new roundup of the best posts -- which we've featured on Food52. Charcutepalooza will culminate in a competition offering an amazing grand prize (details here). You can see a list of past challenges here, read the rules here, and see a list of the bloggers who've signed on here.

This time, Cathy's talking mincemeat. The kind with meat in it.

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charcutepalooza. my mincemeat experience.

Photo by Cathy Barrow

I had such hope for this post. Sometime back in the summer, I learned of the availability of beef suet and an idea was hatched.

It became my own personal Charcutepalooza extra credit. The sweet side of meat preservation – just in time for the holidays. Real mincemeat. Sweet, savory, boozy. Intense. It’s how bits and pieces of beef have been preserved for hundreds of years.

Photo by Cathy Barrow

And so it began.

I have a long history with mincemeat. It was my mother’s favorite pie, and joined apple as dessert at both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. This mincemeat was decidedly vegetarian, out of a jar. My mother would top her piece of double crusted pie with a dab of well whipped fresh cream. The next morning, there would be another piece for breakfast.

What was this mysterious substance hiding in the Cross & Blackwell jar? Arriving a week or two ahead of Thanksgiving, sent from my Grandmother (who knew a special British foodshop in Harvard Square) my mother emptied the jar of mincemeat into a small glass bowl. It smelled so sweet and full of mysterious spices. Stirring once or twice, she would pour brandy over the mince until it was just covered. “To plump the raisins.” Covering the bowl with a folded towel, she’d tuck it onto the top shelf of the pantry, to mingle for a week or more.

Photo by Cathy Barrow

Thanksgiving morning’s pie making is a memory so deep and strong. Early morning in the kitchen, with a turkey to make and stuffing to bake; silver polishing and table setting, and all the other projects of the day still to come; dusting the counter with flour and rolling out the chilled dough with measured strokes. The smell of brandy and raisins fill the kitchen as coffee brews. To this day, Thanksgiving pie making starts at 6am and by breakfast time, the pies are out and cooling on the sideboard.

Scrape. Boil. Mince. Grind. Steep.

I researched mincemeat all over the web and in several old and new cookbooks. The idea is decidedly Medieval, when strong spices and sugars and liquor would mask the taste of slightly “off” meat. No need to let your meat rot – in fact, there’s no need to include meat at all. But I was intrigued with the conjunction of sweet and savory and meaty, and needed to follow it all through. This recipe is a big jumble of everything I read. Some of my favorite bits of information came from NCFHP, David Lebovitz, Alton Brown.

Photo by Cathy Barrow

Suet is some crazy stuff. I put it on the counter and circled it like prey. It scared me, I’ll admit it. It was ugly. Joe Pastry has a great post on shredding suet that guided my knife. It made me shudder.

Pam the Butcher offered her advice on the best cut of meat. Arm steak – from the chuck – is what she called it, and it included a nice marrow bone for Louie.

Photo by Cathy Barrow

I made candied orange and lemon peel and gathered currants, raisins and dried cherries. I mixed the meat, fat and liquids with the fruits and started warming a pot of dark, scary looking stuff. From there, I just riffed until it smelled the way I wanted it to smell. Like Christmas.

Now What?

So I have six quarts of meaty mincemeat. I thought they would be perfect all pressure canned and ready to be gifted out to more adventurous eaters, one or two saved on my shelf for a year, to see if the boozy flavor gets stronger. In the interest of science and all that.

Photo by Cathy Barrow

The first batch of jars in the canner – six quarts and two pints – siphoned. I immediately scooped out the hot mincemeat into a new batch of sterilized jars and reprocessed. Siphoned again. Only two pints sealed, and I’m not entirely confident.

Now there are five quarts of mincemeat in my already crowded refrigerator. They need to steep for a fortnight. (You say things like fortnight when making food with suet.)

Photo by Cathy Barrow

After two weeks, I opened a jar and, with four pie crusts ready to be transformed, began searching for the perfect mince pie. It seems mince pies are a holiday tradition in the UK, and most often served as small tarts or hand pies – small because they are so rich.

Testing. Testing.

One quart jar of mincemeat moistened with some brandy and steeped a few days, then went through several iterations.

Fill miniature muffin tins with 3” pastry circles, 2 Tbls. of mincemeat, and top with a pastry star Filling bubbles up and over, thus gluing the tartlets permanently (seemingly) to the muffin tin. Of those that released, the filling is totally dry.

Photo by Cathy Barrow

Cut out 6” circles, tuck into buttered, floured ramekins, top with a circle of dough and a rope edging, pinching edges together. Vent. Filling not as dry, but once extracted/popped out of the ramekins, they are not that appealing.

Double crusted pie, well vented. Moist filling, but…the truth is, it’s not the mincemeat of my childhood. The meat gets in the way.

Photo by Cathy Barrow

I’ll make mincemeat again, but I’ll omit the meat, and the suet.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rhissanna
  • MrsWheelbarrow
Four cookbooks. 100s of recipes online. It all started with Food52


Rhissanna August 31, 2022
Ditch the meat, but keep the suet. You can buy it pre-chopped and make steak and kidney pudding or jam roly-poly.
MrsWheelbarrow August 31, 2022