Whenever someone mentions the word ‘mincemeat’ to you I expect your first thought is of a spicy fruity concoction, closely followed by mince pies. Although this is correct, I expect few people imagine (or even know) that mincemeat used to contain real minced up meat – hence its name.
The recipe originated in England some 500 years ago as an alternative method of preserving meat rather than salting or smoking it. Mince pies made with real meat are less sweet and denser than the more modern fruit only version and were traditionally eaten as part of a main course with more meat than fruit being included into the recipe. In the 17th century as fruits and spices began to be more widely available, they began to be included more than the meat. As the dish got sweeter accordingly, the meat was lost altogether from the pies and they were transformed into the sweet treats we now recognise and love today. You can still buy traditional meat mincemeat, but more from specialist shops and delis than from supermarkets as there is not a high demand for it.
I chose to make the sweeter meat free alternative, so I suppose really I should rename them fruitmince pies. Hehe I quite like that. The recipe I used was from Delia Smith, although I made a few adjustments by replacing the mixed peel in the recipe with dried cranberries and apricots as I thought this would give a better more festive appearance and flavour. The recipe is also a little unique in its own right, as most recipes tell you to just mix the fruits and then pack them raw, into jars. However, this one instructs you to mix all the fruits together and leave over night to blend and develop before baking the mixture in a very low oven for a few hours to allow the suet to melt and everything to mix and mingle together. You then douse it in alcohol and seal into jars. Although this might sound a little odd, when you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Think of when you make a rich fruit cake, you leave the fruit to soak overnight in alcohol, and it develops and smells good, but just think how wonderful it smells after being slowly baked for a few hours. The smells and flavour then develop to a whole new level, especially when left to mature for a few weeks before eating. I tasted a little of mine before jarring it and it tasted amazing, much better than shop bought with can often be overly sharp or bitter. This was bursting with fruity flavours, full of warming spices, sweet plump fruits, a great zestiness form the fresh lemons and oranges with a slight nutty flavour. The ruby red cranberries, apple and apricots were a lovely contrast to the darker more traditional fruits. I can’t wait to see what it tastes like in a few weeks time.
Homemade Christmas Fruitmince
450g Bramley apples
225g shredded suet (I used vegetable suet)
115g dried cranberries
115g dried apricots
350g light soft brown sugar
Zest and juice from 2 oranges
Zest and juice from 2 lemons
30g slivered almonds
4 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
6 tbsp Brandy
You will also need 5-6 jam jars.
Peel, core and finely dice the apples. Add to a very large bowl with the rest of the fruits, chopping the apricots into small pieces using a pair of scissors.
Zest the lemons and oranges into the bowl and then cut in half and add all the juice too.
Sprinkle over the sugar, spices, almonds and suet. Chop the hazelnuts into coarse pieces and add to the bowl.
Give everything a good stir together, ensuring the juice and sugar are evenly distributed over the fruits.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to sit for 12-24 hours in a cool place.
The next day, preheat the oven to 120C and set your oven shelves to the lowest part fo the oven.
Transfer all fruit mix into a large ovenproof/casserole dish, cover with a lid and place into the oven for three hours.
Remove from the oven, and place your jam jars in the oven to sterilise.
Stir the fruitmince for a few minutes to cool slightly and to ensure the melted suet and sugar evenly coat all the fruit.
Add the Brandy and stir well.
Remove the jars from the oven, immediately fill them with the fruitmince and screw on the lids.
Allow to cool before storing in a cool dark place for several weeks before using.
Makes around 2.75kg or 6lb of fruitmince