Missing something in your holiday treats? 

Good old mincemeat is the comeback kid

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - back in fashion Mincemeat tarts are making a comeback this holiday season.

Call it the Tiny Tim of Christmas treats: Overlooked by some but determined to appeal to all our hearts, mincemeat is making a big comeback this holiday season.

From London to New York, people are rediscovering this former Christmas star that's basically been sidelined for years as trendier holiday treats grabbed the spotlight. You know—the flow-icing cookies; the chocolate mini-cupcakes about to topple over with their red and white icing high-rises; the sickly candy-cane fudge.

Even British food king Jamie Oliver is offering a fresh twist on mincemeat this year: adding butternut squash to lighten up his classic mincemeat. And why not?

The weird thing is, my family has pretty much pulled a Bob Cratchit all this time, faithfully sticking by good old mincemeat year after year, pink fudge and shiny sprinkles notwithstanding. But then we're a plain-dealing people, not easily swayed by trends.

To top it off, there have always been Scrooges who hate mincemeat like they hate a lot of good things. A mince tart? Bah! Pass me some crappy candy. So I was happy to read in a Wall Street Journal article by freelancer Kathleen Squires that James Beard, too, was a mincemeat Cratchit, sticking by it Christmas after Christmas. Mind you, it was a few decades back that Beard had his iron grip on American cuisine.

According to the article, food stylist Jeanne Voltz confided recently that she still has a jar of Beard's homemade mincemeat. Beard died in 1985, so that mincemeat has to be at least 33 years old! Voltz's mom was a food editor and friend of the old cooking master, and the family had spent two Christmases with him. Both times he served mince pies, which Voltz described as "cognac-drenched and fruit-forward, with 'a remembrance of briskets past.'"

Briskets. Of course. James Beard was nothing if not a pillar of American cuisine, so his mincemeat recipe, which you can find in that WSJ article or Beard's classic Delights and Prejudices, contained meat, and a lot of it: Three pounds (1.4 kilograms) each of brisket and beef tongue, and 1.5 pounds (680 grams) of beef suet for five pounds (2.23 kg) of mincemeat, all of it soaked, repeatedly, in great baths of sherry and cognac.

The thing is, Americans still use meat in their mincemeat but the English, ironically, don't. This is a quirky twist because England is where mincemeat originated, and early recipes, which date back to the 1400s, are based largely on chopped meat and fruit. Wine and vinegar were also used originally, but by the middle of the 18th century these were usually replaced by distilled spirits, such as brandy

The Escoffier Cookbook corroborates all this. Published for the U.S. market as an updated and Americanized interpretation of Escoffier's 1904 classic, Le Guide Culinaire, the mincemeat recipe is loaded with meat—and brandy. But lots of variations exist.

In the U.S., according to Larousse Gastronomique, venison is also used, and some recipes for mock (meatless) mincemeat use green tomatoes. Larousse also offers quite a few interesting possibilities, including Christmas mincemeat omelettes. Add a little rum, grated lemon rind and sugar to the beaten eggs, then, just before folding the omelette, add a couple of tablespoons of mincemeat. Yum.

Many meatless English mincemeats use suet, as did my Irish/English nan. But an ancient recipe in Food in England for Mincemeat of Lemon dating back to, maybe, 1650, uses neither suet nor spices.

So are you ready to ride the trend and try making some mincemeat yourself? It's not hard if you use my mom's trick, below. You won't have to stand for an hour, chopping, and you won't be disappointed. The results are deeply rich, syrupy and fragrant—exactly what we crave this time of year. Plus you don't even have to make your own pastry. Frozen pie and tart shells do the trick (Tenderflake are best).

Mom's easy, gussied-up mincemeat

For every two cups of "store-bought" mincemeat, as my mom calls it, add the following: 1/2 c. shredded, peeled apple; 1 tsp. or more mixed spices (especially cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander); 2 tbsp. each diced citron, diced candied orange peel and diced candied lemon peel (or you can cheat and use 6 tbsp. of the deluxe candied mixed fruit you can find in a plastic container in the baking aisle of most big grocery stores; I know Save-On-Foods has it); 2 tsp. orange juice; 1 tsp. lemon juice; 2 tbsp. whiskey or brandy; 1 to 2 tbsp., to taste, of rum or sherry. Mix well, cover and let stand 24 hours before using. Note: You can use any kind of "store-bought" mincemeat, but mom recommends President's Choice.

To add a Whistler touch to all things mince-y and meaty, here's Kelly Fairhurst's recipe for rum sauce from Whistler Museum's popular Whistler Recipes cookbook. Kelly, who was famous for her pies, moved to Whistler in 1958 to raise a family. She and her husband, Dick, built Cypress Lodge (now the hostel), where many a mincemeat pie was served to happy campers over the Christmas holidays.

Kelly Fairhurst's rum sauce for mincemeat pie

1/2 c. butter

1 c. sugar

2 tbsp. water

1/4 c. rum or 1/2 tsp. rum flavouring

Dash of nutmeg

Cream butter and sugar together. Add water. Stir over low heat until mixture starts to boil. Remove from heat and add rum and nutmeg. Serve over warm mince pie. Makes one cup.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who says that any of the above books make great Christmas gifts.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

Latest in Glenda Bartosh on Food

More by Glenda Bartosh

© 1994-2019 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation