I made mincemeat from scratch last night. And again this morning. What took me so long? I mean to do it every year, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t managed to for at least a decade. (I’d remember. And I won’t make that mistake again.) I adore mincemeat, applied liberally by spoon or by tart. And yes, it likely has a lot to do with the season during which they’re eaten – I can’t think of another food so exclusive to Christmas as the mince tart – but what’s not to love about a dark jammy mix of dried fruit, citrus, apples and spices? And of course most things are their best selves when they’ve been homemade vs. mass-produced.
I started with grated apples and chopped pears, along with raisins (two kinds) and currants, the zest and juice of a lemon and orange, some brown sugar and spices. Nevermind the suet – I used a bit of butter instead, which when you think about it has the best flavour of any solid fat out there. There isn’t much to the method – all that needs doing is some chopping and grating and tossing in a pot – and it could all be streamlined by a few pulses in the food processor. But even by hand I started making it at 3, wanting to beat sundown (photos and all), and it was ready and bubbling on the stove when the boys got home from school at 3:40. So not a big deal.
I looked to Delia for advice, being the matriarch of British cooking and all, but her formula required fresh apples and dried fruit to marinate of their own free will, with no heat to help things along. Others called for cranberries, which I love, but feared would take over the mincemeat. I have a particular idea of what mincemeat and mince tarts should taste like, and thus a very clear finish line. And I’m not sure I want my mince tarts tasting of cranberry sauce. I also don’t have 2-3 weeks to wait for my fruit to transform into mincemeat. Heat coaxes the juices out of the fruit and helps the raisins absorb it, and transforms the lot into a thick, sweet mass in about 15 minutes. (You could pop it into a pressure cooker instead, and let it go for 5 minutes or so.)
It has a better texture than the jarred stuff, I think – cooked down but still chunky, not mushy. The raisins and currants are soft but distinct. If you want a finer texture, you could roughly chop it all up first, or blitz it in a food processor – some mincemeat is almost pasty – or smoosh it with the back of your spoon as it simmers. Once cooled, it will keep in the fridge for weeks or months, if you can keep from eating it. (Apologies for the pre-dawn photos by kitchen light – I made this batch of tarts to bring in to CBC this morning. My car smelled great.)
My only motivation to stop eating it at the stove, with a spoon, is the promise of mince tarts. Made with butter pastry and small cut-outs set on top as partial lids – a small star cutter works great here, but I didn’t have the gumption to go down the basement and look for it at 6 am.
Mince tarts for breakfast, lunch, dinner and elevenses – yes?
If you like boozy mincemeat, add about 1/4 cup brandy, bourbon or rum after you remove the pot from the heat. This would make a fab hostess gift, packed in little jars for sharing.
To make tarts, preheat the oven to 375F and roll a batch of pastry (enough for a single crust pie) out on a lightly floured surface to about ¼-inch thick. Cut out circles with a cookie cutter or glass rim and press into ungreased muffin tins. Reroll the scraps once and cut out small rounds, stars or other shapes if you want your tarts lidded.
Fill each pastry cup with mincemeat and either leave open or lay a cut-out piece of pastry on top. If you like, brush with a little milk or cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let cool until warm, then run a thin knife around the edge to remove them from the pan.