Are you the sort of person who:
- Closed the cover on Little House on the Prarie thinking ‘there’s just not enough of that old-timey drudgery around these days?
- Finished your Christmas shopping in March, finished your gloating about having finished your Christmas shopping in September, has untangled the fairy lights twice and then tangled them again for fun in the last week and now feels the days are empty before the big day itself?
- Doesn’t mind committing about 3 hours to a recipe without having the first idea how the end product – which you now have enough to feed the street with – will taste?
- Has an open-minded attitude towards possible poisoning and accidental ingestion of hallucinogens?
Of course you are, right? Then have I ever got the recipe for you.
Today we’re taking on one of Mary’s two mincemeat recipes. Mincemeat might not feel particularly timely here in mid-November, but it needs about 3 weeks (so I’m told) to mature, so it’s as well to start thinking about it if you’d like to make your own. Because it can’t be tested yet, and because I have several doubts about this, I think you might want to treat this as an experiment rather than a fixed and final recipe.
UPDATE: since posting this, I have seen a recipe for something else entirely which suggests using the zest of half a lemon in lieu of 50g candied peel. This would mean I’ve overstated the amount of zest you need below by about 12, and you should use the zest of one lemon for a closer substitute. I’ve also seen this recipe for lemon mincemeat which looks really really lemony, so you never know, perhaps we’ll be okay. I am not that optimistic.
Here’s Mary’s recipe, over two pages this time:
Assuming none of you are running a bakery (really, don’t look here for advice if you are), we’ll need to reduce the quantities to a quarter of those above,convert to metric and do a bit of rounding, to give us:
680g Bramley apples, chopped finely
170g dark muscovado sugar
zest 12 lemons
You’ll also need:
Sterilised jars to hold a capacity of 2.5 litres.
A really big mixing bowl
I’d suggest you only attempt this amount of zesting if you have a microplane grater.
Here is where most cookery instructions don’t give you quite what you need to know. 90 per cent of this recipe is chopping up the apples and zesting the lemons. You should know that it will take you a long time. Don’t start on this unless you have a good hour or two free.
To chop up the apples: you don’t need to peel the apples but you will need to core them. I used the juice of two of the zested lemons to keep the apples fresh while I was chopping, but given that it’s going into mincemeat I’m not sure that was all that necessary. In case you’re wondering what 4 Bramley apples look like chopped up, here’s the answer:
I have a bit more to say on the subject of lemon zest, but we’ll get to that later. Here’s what 12 naked lemons look like (look away if you’re easily embarrassed):
Now add all of the ingredients into a really big bowl and mix them up. You will most likely find that it’s easiest doing this with your hands. If you’re like me you will approach mixing things with your hands with trepidation and then find you’re enjoying it.
Your mixture should look like this. Pack it into your sterilised jars and then hide it away somewhere dark for at least three weeks.
Are you sure about this?
No, not at all sure, and we won’t know whether it’s worked for another 3 weeks or so. I have doubts, but I will say that the immature mincemeat tasted sort of joyful, sweet and slightly bitter. We’ll see. If in the meantime you’d like a recipe from a respectable source instead, there’s some in the last question below.
The zest of twelve lemons?
This is one of the bits I’m least sure about. Mary’s original recipe scaled down calls for 110g lemon peel.
I zested 12 lemons then I weighed the result:
I imagine she actually meant candied peel. There cannot be a recipe for 2 and a half litres of mincemeat that calls for about 26 lemons to be zested, can there? Particularly when you remember that Mary was making four times this amount. So I consider that I’m using this as a substitute for the peel that she really meant, and luckily I happen to really like very lemony things.
I’ve only ended up on this page because Google promised me intoxication and hallucination and you’ve short-changed me with some sort of English Christmas thing.
Lovely to meet you, and thanks for reminding me about the other things I have doubts about. To take them in turn:
Doesn’t that seem like a huge amount of spice?
Yes, it does. Mary’s recipe calls for half a pound of each for a mixture four times as big. So half a pound is 227g, divided by four is 56.75g, call it 60g for roundness. 60g is about two of those little Schwartz spice jars. Which if it were most spices would just mean you’d end up with the risk of an over-spicy mincemeat. But it’s worth being a little careful in the case of nutmeg: it’s toxic, can inhibit your liver’s ability to process substances found in cheese, red wine and chocolate (or, approximately 67.3% of my calorific intake), and is a mild hallucinogen. Not the nice kind of hallucinogen, but the kind that leaves you with a feeling of ‘impending doom’ as this report from the BMJ makes clear. Joshua from the Eclectic Quill once worried he’d ingested too much nutmeg and ended up inadvertently collecting stories from teens who really had not had much fun after trying nutmeg as a legal high. So, really, careful of the nutmeg. No one likes impending doom.
Do I honestly think it’s going to be a problem here? Not really, unless Christmas really gets to me and I end up eating all the contents of one of the 1 litre jars with a spoon. You will generally eat mincemeat in small doses and you shouldn’t get anywhere near the toxic dose.
Intoxication, then? 140ml of beer is probably not going to get me drunk.
Well, no, but this brings me on to a comparison with other recipes and something new to worry about. Here is Delia’s recipe where she does something fancy with melting the suet, and says that she does it because ‘in the past people used to have trouble storing [mincemeat]. This was because the high percentage of apples oozed too much juice and the juice started to ferment.’ Lord, I hope not. If those jars explode all over the assorted bags-for-life, rechargeable batteries and half-full paint tins in the downstairs cupboard there’ll be hell to pay.
The BBC has another recipe – this one uses demerara sugar but I think ‘moist sugar’ should translate to muscovado so that’s what I went with. It’s worth noting also that all of the mincemeat recipes seem to have brandy or rum as their alcohol content. I’m not above adding brandy to the mix I have when it comes to making the pies if I need to, but one of the reasons that I wanted to try this recipe is because it included beer, and I thought that unusual. Mind you, I don’t have a doctorate in Mincemeat Studies or anything.
Then there’s this one, which seems to be very well reviewed, on allrecipes.co.uk. Its USP is that it is suet-free. I will say that I’ve never used proper suet because of a weird squeamishness I have, but vegetarian suet is nothing to be scared of. Perhaps I should have used proper beef suet this time for authenticity’s sake, but I have the excuse that a Very Special Christmas Guest is a vegetarian.
(with thanks to the Graphics Fairy for the slightly disturbing girl in the pie)